National Teachers Union Chief Visits To Encourage Closing Performance Gap


Posted: Sept. 21, 2005

Reg Weaver, the president of the National Education Association, had a message Wednesday for students and teachers at Twenty-First Street Elementary School in the heart of Milwaukee's central city.

And, being not only the most prominent teachers union leader in the United States but a very sociable guy, Weaver decided to break up the formal celebration of a large NEA grant, meant to support efforts to close achievement gaps for Milwaukee students, and take the message in a spontaneous parade of big shots to three classrooms of fourth-graders.

With about 40 people in tow - Wisconsin first lady Jessica Doyle, MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, other MPS officials, a raft of national, state and local teachers union leaders - Weaver marched unannounced into each of the classes, where reading lessons were under way.

He told the students that many people thought they weren't able to learn what they should learn, and he told teachers that many people thought they weren't doing a good enough job teaching the kids.

But, he said, he and the people with him were there to say those people were wrong - the kids are learning, the teachers are doing good work and things are going to get better for how children like these are doing in school.

The spur-of-the-moment pep talk followed a more sedate ceremony in which local officials and NEA leaders talked about a $500,000 grant the national union was making. The money will support training of both new and experienced teachers in many MPS schools, as well as related efforts aimed at closing gaps: low-income children and children from racial minority groups generally do not do as well academically as better-off white children.

The NEA grant, which was announced previously, is expected to be renewed for four more years and total $2.5 million. That's provided leaders in Milwaukee are able to demonstrate that they are making progress on things like graduation rates, what courses students are taking and test scores.

"Let's make this thing work," Weaver said.

Weaver said that things that work in closing the gap include keeping class sizes small, having qualified and certified teachers, providing adequate and equitable funding, developing strong parental involvement and offering safe and orderly schools.

Carol Edwards, director of programs for the NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education, said a big reason Milwaukee won the grant was the way community institutions with sometimes opposing interests had come together through an effort called the Milwaukee Partnership Academy to work on gap-related issues. Participants in the effort include MPS, the teachers union, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Private Industry Council and colleges and universities.

"We think you have something to show to the entire country," she said.

From the Sept. 22, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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