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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 6, 2006

Teachers' union seeks No Child revisions

By Phil Davis
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. An overwhelming majority of delegates from the nation's largest education union approved a plan this week to aggressively lobby Congress for reform of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The National Education Association has fought to change the measure since its beginnings in 2001, but this is the union's most organized effort to date, said Joel Packer, the NEA's policy manager on the act.

"We're moving from just being critics to saying this is our own vision," Packer said. "It is very powerful because it's the voices of classroom teachers."

In an hourlong discussion, only three of the 9,000 members of the union's Representative Assembly argued against the lobbying effort. They said the law was too flawed to fix and wanted the union to focus on repealing it.

Union leaders say the basic intentions of No Child Left Behind quality schools and skilled teachers are good. But the government's "obsessive" focus on testing student skills and punishing failing schools undermines education, said Becky Pringle, a member of the NEA Executive Committee that drafted the policy.

The plan calls for increases in the $23.5 billion budget authorized by Congress and a decrease in the number of students in each classroom. The union also is calling for a national minimum wage of $40,000 a year for teachers.

The NEA will push the government to move away from testing as the sole benchmark for success or failure. The teachers favor a series of benchmarks that reflect students' differing demographics and abilities.

The No Child Left Behind Act was championed by President Bush as a way to hold schools accountable. It is up for reauthorization in 2007, but NEA President Reg Weaver said he expects debate on reform after the 2008 presidential election.