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S.D. Teachers Celebrate Hold on Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind

Unionized San Diego teachers are celebrating a hold on re-authorizing No Child Left Behind -- including 24,000 from the San Diego area. The California Teachers' Association has helped block the legisl

S.D. Teachers Celebrate Hold on Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind

Unionized San Diego teachers are celebrating a hold on re-authorizing No Child Left Behind- including 24,000 from the San Diego area. The California Teachers' Association has helped block the legislation. It's concerned is that new legislation will link teacher pay to test scores. Jodi Breisler reports from Washington DC.

On a balmy afternoon at the White House, President Bush is pushing Congress hard to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.

Bush: Instead of just hoping for the best, we've asked states to set clear standards and hold schools accountable for teaching every child to read and do math at grade level. That doesn't seem like too much to ask.

But outside of the Rose Garden, that has not been the consensus. The California Teachers' Association or CTA has taken on not just the President, but also the lawmakers they're used to supporting. The group has spent over half a million dollars to oppose House Education Chairman George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi- both of California.

CTA President David Sanchez says his 340,000 members feel betrayed by a plan to link teacher bonuses to how well their students test. It would allow a school district to give teachers an annual bonus of up to $12,500 dollars paid for by the federal government. Sanchez says this "merit" pay forces teachers to focus too much on teaching to tests. He says this will make it tough for California to recruit needed teachers.

Sanchez: We need 100,000 new teachers within the next ten years and if new teachers coming into the profession know ahead of time their salary could possibly be connected to how well children do on the test, why would you want to go into the profession?

Sanchez has been telling his members to lobby Congress to stop Miller's proposal. And that includes pressure on San Diego Democrat Susan Davis who is on the House Education and Labor Committee.

At the Capitol, Davis says she understands their concerns.  Davis says No Child Left Behind's intent was totally different from how it's been implemented.

Davis: It's something that celebrates progress that children make in the schools. Our teachers do this all the time, and they felt the way it was being administered took that from them, um, so that we weren't able to see that growth of every child.

Education Chairman Miller isn't so understanding. He says the teacher's union is not telling the whole story on merit pay.

Miller: Nobody's suggesting it should be strictly on tests, although the CTA is trying to suggest that's what the bill does, it doesn't. It weighs a whole series of factors around school improvement, around professional development that benefit teachers. That's why teachers more and more are getting enthusiastic about the idea of performance pay.

Amy Wilkins is part of the non-profit advocacy group The Education Trust. Wilkins says she does not understand why the teachers' association has a problem with performance pay. She says the pay plan will help districts recruit more teachers to work in poorer schools along the border.

Wilkins: If we are ever to hope to get our most talented, our best and brightest teachers with the kids who need them the most, we need to say 'yeah, this is a harder job and we're going to recognize you.

Wilkins says the teachers' unions should be happy that Miller's plan is more expansive than the President's. In addition to test scores, Miller wants teachers to be evaluated by their peers and school principals. On the other hand, some Republicans want bonuses to be based on test results alone. Davis says teachers need a more self-generated system.

Davis: A voluntary effort on the part of schools that would respond to grants that would have some pay for performance in that part of it. But there also are I think some wonderful ideas about how schools use best practices and how we might reward them for those best practices and the schools could decide.

This is just one fight of many over No Child Left Behind. And it's hard to guess who is teaming up with whom. Minority groups like La Raza and the Urban League are partnering with business interests in support of the testing. And some conservative Republicans agree with teachers' unions that the whole thing should be scrapped. These battles are forcing the Congressional Leadership to delay No Child until 2008.

 From Capitol News Connection, I'm Jodi Breisler for KPBS News.