Founded in 1857 "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching and to promote the cause of education in the United States," the National Education Association has a long history of fighting for the rights of educators across the nation. That type of activism continues today as the challenges facing educators at all levels continue to mount. Black Issues sat down with NEA President Reginald Weaver to address pressing educational issues including assessment, vouchers, funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, parental responsibility in the education of their children and to suggest possible improvements.
Birthplace: Danville, Illinois
Education: B.A., Special Education for the Physically Challenged, State University, Normal, III.; M.A., Roosevelt University, Chicago.
Title: President, National Education Association, September 2002 to present.
NEA Service: Local Association President, Harvey, ill., (1967-1971); Illinois Education Association President (1981-1987); NEA Executive Committee (1989-1995); NEA Vice President (1996-2002).
Other Affiliations: Executive Board, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education; Board of Governors, Joint Center for Political and Economie Studies; Board of Directors, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Selected Honors/ Awards: National Conference of Black Mayors President's Award; Ebony Magazine Influential Black Educators Award; Illinois Education Association's Human Relations Award.
BI: What is the biggest barrier that the nation faces as a whole in terms of (public education)? What is the thing that you would tackle first?
RW: What I would do is get the commitment of the policy-makers and tell the policy-makers that I want them to make sure that every kid has what 85 percent of the richest parents have for their children. Eighty-five percent of the richest parents in this country send their children to a public school, and they send them to that public school because that public school has smaller class sizes, state-of-the-art technology, qualified and certified teachers, ... counselors, parental involvement, adequate and equitable funding. And I'm saying if it's good enough for 85 percent of the richest, then why is it that it should not be good enough for all children?
Bl: Do you think that the phrase "A Nation at Risk" (the title of a 1983 report that brought the country s attention to a broken education system) was an overreaction or was it really a much-needed wake-up call?
RW: I think it was basically a political statement, because many of the things that they talked about we have been talking about for years, but nobody would ever listen to us. Even now, with the so-called "No Child Left Behind," we support the goals, because those goals are ours - closing the achievement gap, hiring qualified teachers, high standards of accountability. Nothing is new. The issue is they did something that I couldn't do, and that is to implement it. We didn't have the authority or the funds to implement it, and that's where they got us. Now, they only find out that they can't implement this in the district either because they don't have the funds. One thing that 1 have learned, as an educator, is that reform without resources does not work. And so, to say that a nation is at risk because of the poor public schools, well, I think that the people who are making those statements, they know what the issues are. The question is, do they have the commitment to put all of the resources there and do something about it?
BI: The No Child Left Behind Act places ? great deal of emphasis on the use of testing as an assessment tool. Canyon improve education through assessment?
RW: It depends on what you use the assessment for. I believe that as long as an assessment process is used appropriately and as long as the assessment process has input from people who are going to be using it, and as long as it is not abused, then I think that assessment has a place. …