New NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in the latest edition of the journal Thought Into Action
has an interview that indicates a major change in NEA effort to link the two levels of education. Part 1 of the interview is below. Part 2 is in next blog.
Dennis Van Roekel, a 23-year teaching veteran and
longtime activist and advocate for quality education,
became president of the 3.2 million-member
National Education Association in September.
Prior to his election at this year’s Representative Assembly, the high school math teacher
from Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Arizona, served two terms each as NEA Vice
President and NEA Secretary-Treasurer and has held key positions in all levels of the Association.
During his time as an NEA leader, Van Roekel showed a keen awareness of higher education issues
and an ongoing interest in enhancing the role of higher education within the Association.
An Interview with
Dennis Van Roe
THE NEA HIGHER EDUCATION JOURNAL
SPECIAL FOCUS: The Seamless Web of Education: Pre-K to Graduate School
THOUGHT & ACTION: The pre-K to graduate school concept, the seamless
web of education.What does it mean?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL To many practitioners, it means starting with pre-school
and creating one interrelated educational experience for a student, all the way
through graduate school. I think much of the research on learning that’s been going
on now suggests we should think of education as a lifelong process—from birth
through graduate school and beyond. All of those committed to this principle must
work to strengthen the linkages between pre-K-12 and higher education.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Is education different now than it was, say, 50 years ago,
so that we have to look at it differently?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: The world has changed, and we have to change.When
you think about what our system of education was designed to do, 50 years ago or
100 years ago, compared to now, we’re preparing students for a very different world.
For example, look at the number of new jobs that are going to require education
and training beyond high school. Fifty years ago, if you finished high school, you
were done. Your education was completed, and you went to work. Only a small
percentage of high school graduates went on to college. Now it’s much different.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Are we talking about a complete restructuring of
education in the United States?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: The word I like to use is transformation. Education is
moving into its next natural phase. It’s not that someone has done anything wrong.
The world has changed, and we need to think how we—educators—can also
change, to serve the needs of students. Sometimes, people focus on the system,
rather than who it’s designed to serve.When you think about education from the
point of a student, it makes a great deal of sense to have a seamless process, instead
of the disconnected systems we have now.
THOUGHT & ACTION: What role are educators, actual educators, playing in
this restructuring, and is it a prominent enough role?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: It’s not prominent enough. We’re not invited to the
table, in many instances, and we should be. But, it’s also our responsibility to talk
about what is needed from our professional point of view.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, in which NEA plays a prominent
role, is an affirmative movement to articulate a vision for 21st century learning,
with authentic standards in learning and, just as important, systems that will
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INTERVIEW: DENNIS VAN ROEKEL
enable students to meet those standards. Standards-based education is not a good
solution when you have the wrong standards in place. So we need to get these
things right in the formative stages. And as we look forward, we as educators
should have a clear idea about what we are preparing our students to do in 10
years. Not only must we be invited to these discussions, we should advocate our
own solutions about what kind of educational transformation is needed, based on
how we see the world changing around us.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Some see the move to align higher education and K-12
as an attempt to bring the standardization and teach-to-the-test mentality of
the No Child Left Behind Act to higher education. Is there a danger that the
seamless web of education will mean higher education develops the undesirable
standardization that plagues K-12?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: I know that fear exists. And there are moves to
standardize certain aspects of higher education. Our affiliates in Wisconsin,
Wyoming, and South Dakota are currently struggling with standardization efforts
in terms of curriculum and academics.Obviously, we must pay careful attention to
anything that moves us in that direction. The best way for faculty to respond to
decisions that threaten their traditional responsibilities is to get involved in P-16
or P-21 initiatives and be part of the decision-making that’s taking place.
Ultimately, I believe the potential to maximize student success by aligning higher
education and K-12 should outweigh the fears.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Are there examples of where this seamless web venture
is working for students?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: Currently, the pre-K to G initiative is not a well-defined
concept. You have to look at the programs state by state. It’s not fair to assume
they’re all the same and then try to assign a value of either good or bad to them.
You have to evaluate them individually and promote the good ones and oppose the
ones that won’t work so well.
One initiative I’ve come across that intrigues me is in Connecticut. It’s called
the CommPACT, and it’s a partnership of parents, the community, teachers
unions, the College of Education at the University of Connecticut, and the NEA
Foundation focused on closing the achievement gaps in eight inner-city schools.
This kind of effort is an important component of the seamless web.We often
think of the pre-K to G movement as the transition of students from high school
to college. Maybe you go to college a year earlier or you earn credit while you’re
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94 THE NEA HIGHER EDUCATION JOURNAL
SPECIAL FOCUS: The Seamless Web of Education: Pre-K to Graduate School
still in high school. But I think of it as much more than that.
In the CommPACT initiative, faculty from the University of Connecticut will
work side by side with teachers. And the most critical component is that the
decision-making takes place at the building level. So the College of Education
comes in and says, “Here are the three programs or curricula that we found, based
on our research, have a positive impact on closing achievement gaps at the early
ages. Which of these do you want to use?” Then the university faculty, the
teachers, and the community work together to make the programs effective. That’s
a very different way of working proactively and viewing how the pieces all fit
together. And I think that’s exciting.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Why should NEA higher ed members be concerned
about pre-K to graduate school initiatives?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: The vast majority of our K-12 members were trained in
those colleges and universities where our higher education members teach.That’s one
big connection. The vast majority of students our higher education members are
teaching come through our K-12 system. The interdependence just seems so obvious.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Some of our NEA members in higher education feel
that they will not be at the table when NEA makes decisions about the seamless
web. Are these fears justified?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: No, higher education members will be at the table
within our organization. One of the things that I think works against NEA being
seen as a pre-K to G organization is that the largest concentration of our higher
education members are in very few states. More than 80 percent of NEA’s higher
education members are in 10 states. That leaves a whole lot of states that don’t
have higher education members and, consequently, just aren’t aware of higher
education issues. Somehow, we have to increase the awareness in those states of
the importance of higher education.
Last year, the Advisory Committee on Membership dealt with the
question: What would NEA have to do to really be seen as an organization that
speaks for pre-K to G? We need to keep working at that. As we talk about a
seamless web of education, we need to make sure our higher ed members are
involved. I would love for the outside world to see NEA as an organization of all
educators, representing all levels, including universities and colleges.
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INTERVIEW: DENNIS VAN ROEKEL
THOUGHT & ACTION: Could you talk more about the charge you gave to the
Advisory Committee on Membership, to help define NEA as the voice of
higher education. How do you see that progressing?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: The subcommittee on higher education members
completed the first draft, and they were ready to take it to the next draft. I know
they could have done it in another two or three meetings. But I said, please don’t.
What we need to do is to find a way to build this conversation with others beyond
the advisory committee.
I don’t believe the way NEA becomes an organization that is truly pre-K
to G is by someone defining the answer and giving it to everyone else. That’s how
it works now. There needs to be a process that actually engages people. Through
engagement, we need to enable states that don’t have members in higher education
to understand how NEA becoming a pre-K to G organization affects them, and
vice versa. Everyone needs to understand that we—pre-K, K-12, higher
education—are in this together. But that understanding comes through engaging
people—you can’t just tell them.
THOUGHT & ACTION: Do you see a possibility of the entire organization
engaging or taking part in this discussion?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: Absolutely. The only way it will ever become an
organizational issue is if the whole organization talks about it. But this presents
challenges. I have to find ways to get into conversations with the Board of
Directors about seeing ourselves as a pre-K through G organization. There have
to be conversations between K-12 and higher education. We don’t do enough of
that. Regional conferences, for example, have very little in the area of higher
education programming. How do you change that? And, if you’re in a region that
has very few higher education members, who would go to a session if it’s seen only
as higher education? We’ve got to find a way around that. In addition, NEA will
have to do more in the policy area of higher education if we’re to be taken seriously
as a pre-K to G organization. Our voice needs to be heard dealing with policy
issues and other questions for higher education on a national level. This is a key
role of the national organization.
Labels: NEA policy for k-16 education implementation