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May 29, 2009 at 3:35 PM

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Calling all teachers to the table

Posted by Lynne Varner

National and local teachers unions haven't tried to hide their concern - or hostility - when it comes to proposed educaton reforms.

In this state, the Washington Education Association vigorously opposed an ambitious reform bill approved by the state Legislature earlier this month. In doing so, the union crossed swords with typical foes, business groups and education reformers but also typical friends including Democratic lawmakers and the PTA.

Nationally, President Obama's push for merit pay, quality teachers and easier ways to fire poor-performing teachers has been met with cautious applause and downright dismay by the national teachers union.

Now comes an olive branch of sorts from Sen. Russ Feingold. The Wisconsin Democrat proposes a national advisory committee of teachers to monitor the impact of federal policies, including the No Child Left Behind law.

The Teachers at the Table Act of 2009 offers teachers a valueable platform from which to make their case to Congress and federal education officials. Service would be limited to Teachers of the Year and other highly-regarded educators, lending the group an important measure of gravitas. Annual reports would create the kind of documentation educators need when making their case about local impacts of federal mandates.

What's wrong with this?

Nothing that I can see. Highly qualfied teachers taking a seat at the table and helping to chart out the next steps of education reform can only be a good thing. Unions for teachers and other school employees have legitimate concerns about the way changes in education will impact them.

Their issues deserve attention. And this committee might be a route to getting them aired. Otherwise, cue up the same old drama: Unions understandably concerned about some reform efforts take a hard line and oppose all reform efforts. Unfortunately, they get steamrolled. This happened in the recent Washington state legislative session when lawmakers, knowing they'll likely pay a political price, voted for ed reform. Even nationally President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have continued their push to shake up public education. Groups normally friendly to education labor unions, such as the NAACP, are with the President on education reform. This issue is even producing strange bedfellows namely Congressional leader Newt Gingrich and the Rev. Al Sharpton , vocal and united in their support of Obama on education reform efforts.

Time to blur the ideological lines and get on board.

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