PSEA members step up to the plate on NCLB reform

Published June 2007 Voice

By his own admission, Robert Radnich was not what you’d call an active PSEA member.

“I was kind of a reluctant union member at first,” said Radnich, a science teacher at Meadville Senior High School for 17 years. “I just kind of sat in the wings for a lot of years.”

That is, until No Child Left Behind changed all that.

“The thing that prompted me was, within our own district, we had a meeting with community and school board members [on NCLB],” Radnich said. “I went and I really saw from the community end and school board’s end of things, that there’s a problem here and we need to fix it.”

Radnich, a member of the Crawford Central Education Association, cites NCLB as changing his whole perspective on activism as an association member. Working with the local community group, he’s helped to create a local website, www.fixingnclb.org. He’s met with his member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Phil English, on the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is NCLB’s formal title. And he’s representing Northwestern Region as part of PSEA’s ESEA Reauthorization Cadre (PERC).

NCLB’s relentless focus on standardized testing is the key reason why he became involved, Radnich said.

“For myself and other teachers in my district, it’s the idea behind NCLB that you’ve got this test, this test, this test,” Radnich said. “There is a total lack of ownership from the students, who are not really put into the equation. It’s only being used to evaluate and punish the schools and the teachers.

“It’s a hindrance to letting teachers do some of the things that they can do best in their classes,” said Radnich. “Testing and evaluation will not go away, but it needs to be changed so that students have ownership of it and so it actually helps the students.

“I’ve always had the mindset of you can sit around and complain or you can get out and get involved and vote. I plan on being involved throughout the rest of my career. I don’t want to just coast into retirement. I see the importance of what I do.”

A new generation of activists like Radnich is being spawned thanks to NCLB, said PSEA Vice President Jim Testerman. “We have an opportunity this year to be a part of something which I believe is incredibly positive,” said Testerman, who is heading up the PERC group’s efforts during Congress’ consideration of ESEA reauthorization this summer.

“When President Bush signed the last reauthorization of ESEA into law as the No Child Left Behind Act, the input of PSEA and NEA members was largely ignored by Congress,” said Testerman. “But this year, we have an opportunity to work with a new Congress for a renewed national discussion about public education.”

Another such activist inspired to take action on NCLB is Stephen Kozol, a social studies teacher at Upper Merion Area High School. Kozol recently testified at Radnor on ESEA reauthorization on behalf of PSEA and NEA before the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee.

“I found my experience in testifying before Congress extremely exciting and rewarding,” said Kozol. “I want to make a contribution toward changing NCLB for the better, and this reaffirmed my belief that we have a great chance to do something very positive for children and public schools in the weeks and months ahead.”

Rebecca Pringle, a middle school science teacher in Susquehanna Township School District and a member of the NEA Executive Committee, said Radnich and Kozol are typical of the new breed of NEA member activists cropping up across the nation.

“We are witnessing something exciting in the Association, because members all over the country are realizing that with the new Congress, teachers and school employees now have a place at the table,” said Pringle, a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Members are realizing their activism to change NCLB is in keeping with the highest standards of professionalism—to change a law that has profoundly affected our professional lives.”

More than 1,000 PSEA members and Pennsylvania community members to date have participated in recent “Virtual Town Hall” forums. PSEA, the Pennsylvania Parent-Teachers Association, AFT-Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators are jointly hosting the virtual town hall teleconferences to discuss the law’s effect.

“Virtual Town Hall” forums so far have included Rep. Jason Altmire (D-4th District), Rep. Joe Sestak, (D-7th District), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-8th District), and Rep. Christopher Carney, D-10th District).

NEA’s Positive Agenda

NEA's priorities for the 2007 reauthorization of ESEA focus on a broad range of policies to ensure every child has access to a great public school.

The following five priorities are crucial to realizing the goals of improving student achievement, closing the achievement gaps, and providing every child with a quality teacher. You can find the full summary of NEA’s Positive Agenda for Great Public Schools at http://www.nea.org/esea/posagendaexecsum.html.

  • Accountability That Rewards Success and Supports Educators to Help Students Learn
  • Smaller Class Sizes To Improve Student Achievement
  • Quality Educators in Every Classroom and School
  • Students and Schools Supported By Active and Engaged Parents, Families, and Communities
  • Resources to Ensure a Great Public School for Every Child.

Congress is expected to begin consideration of ESEA reauthorization as early as June. PSEA and NEA are offering a variety of ways for members to get involved.

“Whether you have time to help just a little or a lot, there are opportunities for members to show our members of Congress why it's important to make some positive changes to NCLB,” said Testerman.

If you only have five minutes:

  • Sign up for the ESEA/NCLB Update, a biweekly email newsletter, to stay on top of the latest news on NCLB and our efforts to improve this law. Send an email to ESEAinfo@nea.org.
  • Become a cyber-lobbyist. You can use PSEA’s Legislative Action Center from the PSEA website (www.psea.org) to send a pre-formatted message to your members of Congress. Click on the “Let’s Fix NCLB” button on the homepage.
  • Tell your story. Use NEA's online form to tell us how NCLB is affecting you, your students, and your school. Personal observations and stories are critical in getting members of Congress to understand how these federal mandates are affecting teachers and school employees in the real world. Go to http://www.nea.org/esea/tellyourstory.html.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about a specific concern you have about NCLB. Be sure to include your proposal for change. NEA and PSEA both have facts and more news and background information about NCLB/ESEA that may help you write a letter. Go to www.psea.org and www.nea.org/nclbaction/facts.html.

Take the next step

For members who would like to play more of a role, use the “Let’s Fix NCLB” button on the PSEA website or the NEA NCLB/ESEA Action Guide at http://www.nea.org/nclbaction/index.html.

“Our chances for success on ESEA reauthorization are very good and the more member involvement we have, the better our chances become,” said Testerman. “I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions with NEA and other state affiliates on this, and right now PSEA is being looked at as an example of how to do this the right way. Years from now, I hope our members can proudly look back on the work we are doing on ESEA and say, I was a part of that effort.”



Member Advocacy Center


Featured Video