April 9, 2008 — National Education Association President Reg Weaver called upon reformers of American public education to back their initiatives with resources and discussed the problems of the federal "No Child Left Behind" requirements when he visited a University of Virginia "Contemporary Education Issues" class Tuesday in Ruffner Hall.
Weaver is currently in his second term as president of the 3.2 million-member NEA, the nation's largest professional employee organization.
In an energetic lecture to assistant professor Carol Anne Spreen's Curry School of Education class as well as interested faculty and community members, an animated Weaver gave advice to the master's in education students based on his 30 years of experience in education and his background as a middle school teacher. He urged the future teachers to follow his lead and "step out of the box" when they get into the classroom.
"If, in fact, you want to engage your students, you cannot be dull and boring," Weaver proclaimed.
According to Weaver, the message of the NEA is simple: "Every child deserves access to a great public school." He said that in America, the richest country in the world, too many young people are being denied quality public education.
While Weaver called for improvements in public schools, he stressed that no progress could be made in education unless teachers and administrators receive the necessary support.
"You can't have education reform without having resources," Weaver said. "Ask the superintendents here. Ask any of the teachers here. It is absolutely impossible."
Just as teachers are held accountable in their jobs as educators, policymakers must also take responsibility for providing the necessary funding for education and to ensure that funding is equitably distributed to all schools, Weaver said.
He added that the achievement gap in education between different racial groups would only narrow with smaller class sizes, more qualified teachers and increased communication between schools and the community, and not with "one size fits all" programs like "No Child Left Behind." Weaver warned that one high-stakes test should not determine the future of a child.
"When [lawmakers] passed this law, they had good intentions," Weaver said. "They did not do it out of spite. They actually thought, or were convinced, that this law was going to do something to help kids. But when they tried to implement the law, there were a lot of unintended consequences."
Weaver fielded questions from the audience about his international work, teacher retention in the U.S. and participation of Virginia teachers in unions.
As members of the University's NEA student organization presented him with a Virginia education T-shirt, Weaver encouraged all the students to join his organization when they entered the work force and emphasized his commitment to working for better public education.
"If you see a crazy man on TV advocating for you, I want you to know that crazy man is me," Weaver said. "But it's all with the purpose of making sure that these kids have what they need."
In addition to holding the position of president of the NEA, Weaver also serves as vice president of Education International, which represents 29 million teachers in 169 countries worldwide, and is on the executive board of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and is an honorary life member of the National Parent Teachers Association. He was named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony magazine and received the Congressional Black Caucus Education Braintrust's Great Points of Light Award in 2006.