Their current hot-button campaign is related to dropout rates among the nation's high schools. (At some point, I guess, they might address the nation's junior high dropout rates, but we have to credit them for starting somewhere.) They have developed - get your wallets out! - a twelve point action plan that, given enough resources (read: your tax dollars) should go a long way toward improving students' chances for graduation.
Allow me to summarize the 12-Step Program... um, 12-step...
Boy, does that sound familiar...
Sorry. Anyway, here is a summarized version of:
NEA's 12 Dropout Action Steps:
1. Mandate high school graduation or equivalency as compulsory for everyone below the age of 21.
The only thing worse than compelling a child to learn at a government standard pace is compelling them to graduate by a federally mandated age. I have never liked "No Child Left Behind" precisely because I don't believe the government is smart enough to determine just how old Johnny should be when he begins to read. Or do math. Or dissect frogs. I homeschool precisely because I know my children well enough to know when they're ready to learn those things. The government will never be that smart. Ever.
2. Establish high school graduation centers for students 19-21 years old
Aaaah. Everyone say it with me: "More schools require more teachers! More teachers require more funding! More funding requires that some other program(s) be cut from the budget!" No matter, so long as their almighty union grows. The NEA uses the term "specialized instruction" to describe this step. Specialists tend to cost even more money than generalists, last time I paid any attention. Speaking of which:
3. Make sure students receive individual attention
Now they want to push lower class sizes all the way to down to 18. Can't do that without MORE TEACHERS, ER, MONEY. Can you?
4. Expand students' graduation options
Hm. Whenever I see the phrases "creative partnerships" and "alternative schools" in the same paragraph, I instantly think of "designer graduation requirements." The professional educators have shown themselves incapable of standardizing on a single set of graduation requirements. What makes them think they'll be any more successful in managing multiple standards?
5. Increase career education and workforce readiness programs in schools
This puts me in mind of the old "Career Development" programs they tried on us in the 70's. I kept taking so-called "aptitude" tests, and consistently (I mean, every single year) those tests told me I should be a physical therapist. Either I was lying, or they were. Now I'm a computer geek. Whom do I blame for that??
6. Act early so students do not drop out
Ya think?? That's a brilliant line of thought, except for one small problem. This is where they continue to tout "universal preschool" and "full-day kindergarten" (high quality, of course!) along with any number of other programs designed to rob a child of its childhood forever. For heaven's sake, what is wrong with letting a kid be a kid?
7. Involve families in students' learning at school and at home
This sounds suspiciously like something we in the church tout all the time, except for two worries: First, they use the term "new and creative ways" which always means "more expensive." Second, nowhere do they address any of the real societal pressures that make involvement so difficult. Things like: both parents working outside of the home; gang influences; self-destructive popular culture, and so on. Show me a comprehensive, sensible solution to those problems, and then I'll be impressed.
8. Monitor students' academic progress in school
9. Monitor, accurately report, and work to reduce dropout rates
Haven't schools been trying to do just this for decades now? I mean, it hasn't worked so far... what makes the NEA so sure it'll work now? If anything, the word "monitor" in union-speak always (and I mean: always) means "bureaucracy." Which, I'm sure, would be staffed by more professional educators, yes?
By the way, read the full paragraph for step 9 carefully. Is it just me, or doesn't that smack a little of profiling?
10. Involve the entire community in dropout prevention
Give the NEA an A+ for effort on this one. This step I can actually get behind and enthusiastically support. I'm all for making it easier for parents to attend conferences with teachers, and community involvement in the learning process. I've seen examples of such things in many communities, and think some things (like the release time from work policy) ought to be encouraged nationally. Go team.
11. Make sure educators have the training and resources they need to prevent students from dropping out
Well, duh. Nothing new here... that's what we send educators to school to learn, no? As for resources... well, as my ex-teacher wife might say, there's never enough of those. However, using my ex-teacher wife as an example, I could also say that the best resources she brought to the classroom were the ones she created herself, using little more than her imagination, her talents, and some relatively inexpensive materials. I'm not saying she didn't spend a lot of money as a teacher - certainly she never made more than a pittance compared to many industries. However, what she did, she did out of love for her students. That made all the difference. It makes even more of a difference in our little completely-self-funded homeschool today.
12. Make high school graduation a federal priority
Finally we get to the bottom line where the NEA is concerned. Give us $10 billion a year for the next 10 years or you'll never see your education again! And if your state doesn't toe our nationally-mandated line, we'll withhold your funding! BWAAHAHAhAHahahahah! All your education are belong to us!
Really, if they wanted to build a twelve step program, whatever happened to admitting you have a problem, praying to God to know his will concerning the problem, and having a spiritual awakening?
Now, that's a twelve step program!
BY THE WAY... lest you get the impression that Mrs. Woody is not actually still a teacher; nothing could be further from the truth. When I called her an "ex-teacher," what I meant was "ex-professional-teacher." Now, as a homeschooler, she has found a much more rewarding career as an educator, and her credentials have never held more power than they do today. The only difference is that we don't call her "teacher." We call her "Mom."
UPDATE: Mrs. Woody gently reminds me that, love me though she does, she is most definitely a professional educator. It is, after all, her life's calling. What she really is, she still gently reminds me, is an ex-public school-teacher. One might even call her a recovering public school teacher, if I may further flog the overworked analogy.