Successful Students

Eskelsen Joins CA Rep. Judy Chu and AFT’s Weingarten in Plan to Strengthen Schools

Congresswoman Judy Chu, D-CA unveiled her plan to improve the nation’s education system, proposing a new framework for school improvement models to be included in the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary and Education Act (No Child Left Behind).

“The current models emphasize firing and closing. I want to change the discussion to focus on success,” Chu said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “You can’t have a school without teachers and principals. We must work with them to do what’s best for the students”

NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen joined Rep. Chu at the press conference, along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Deitra Reiser from the National Association of School Psychologists and Tonda Taylor Bean, a parent and Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Eskelsen lauded Rep. Chu’s framework, titled Strengthening Our Schools: A New Framework and Principles for Revising School Improvement Grants, which is based on promoting flexibility and collaboration, removing barriers to student success and fostering teachers and school leaders. “You don’t design a system around a problem, you design it around a solution,” Eskelsen said.

The NEA and Rep. Chu want Congress to imagine new ways of strengthening schools as they work to reauthorize ESEA. Three of the current school improvement models, turnaround, restart and closure, are punitive and are based on expediency, not research and long-term plans. The transformation model incorporates collaboration, flexibility and accountability.

Eskelsen used Putnam City West High School in Oklahoma as an example of how educators are already boosting achievement and changing the status-quo with plans similar to what Rep. Chu proposed. At Putnam City West, a quarter of the student body is English Language Learners, two-thirds live below the poverty line and forty percent of the students come and go in any given school year. Eskelsen explained how NEA members at the school came together with administrators, parents and business leaders to find the strengths and weaknesses of their school. They organized classes to emphasize why the class was relevant to students. They partnered with technology centers. They reached out to families. They trained teachers to design individualized instruction plans. Since these efforts were enacted, the graduation rate at Putnam City West High School has increased by 70%.

Part of Chu’s framework recognizes that schools cannot dramatically improve on their own. Collaboration with the community, parents, businesses and policymakers is a key factor in designing models that work.

Bean echoed the call for success through partnerships and doing what is proven to work. As an actively engaged parent in her children’s’ schools, she knows she’s not unique. She said parents are a resource ready and willing to do what it takes to help all students achieve, and that parents are the ones able to provide continuity to the education process. “We must make family engagement a critical component in all school turnaround strategies,” Bean said.

View Rep. Judy Chu’s report Strengthening Our Schools: A New Framework and Principles for Revising School Improvement Grants.

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