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ISEA president outlines agenda

By Staff | Oct 14, 2008

Chris Bern

Going from teaching math in the classroom to representing a statewide educational association would be a daunting task for anyone. But for Chris Bern, president of the Iowa State Education Association, it’s a way to make publicly known the issues that teachers face every day and bring them before lawmakers at every level.

Bern stopped for a visit at the Daily News Monday morning.

Bern was elected last April and took office June 15. The Knoxville mathematics teacher is on a two-year leave of absence while fulfilling his duties as ISEA president. A Buena Vista University graduate, Bern taught at Woodbine before coming to Knoxville.

Interestingly, while some people may have the opinion that the National Education Association leans toward the Democratic party, there was a good reason the NEA platform and the Democratic party share similar views this year. Bern said Arkansaas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the only Republican presidential candidate who completed a questionnaire required of all presidential candidates who wanted to participate at the NEA national convention a year ago July. He shared the dais with seven Democratic candidates who completed the questionnaire.

At its convention this past July the NEA endorsed Barack Obama’s candidacy for president.

Statewide, the Iowa State Education Association is satisfied with how lawmakers have treated education, Bern said.

“We’re pretty happy with what the state has done as far as quality teacher pay,” Bern said. At the end of this school year, Iowa will have gone from 42nd to 25th in teacher salaries. “It’s a huge improvement,” he said.

The next point of focus for the ISEA is improving teacher professional development. The organization is also focusing on improving salaries for teacher aides and other support personnel.

“They provide a vital resource to teachers,” Bern said.

He said the ISEA is also focusing on improving salaries for community college teachers.

In the area of technology in the classroom, Bern said funding remains a big problem with the elimination of the technology fund for education. By focusing on professional development, the ISEA hopes to update teachers’ skills in using technology in the classroom.

The ISEA supported making the school infrastructure local option tax statewide, giving poorer school districts a more equitable share. “We wish some of it had been used for programs,” said bern. Foreign language offerings could definitely benefit from additional program funding, Bern said.

Another area with which ISEA takes issue is No Child Left Behind.

“There are significant changes that need to be made and it needs to be more fully funded,” Bern said. The ISEA, and teachers in general, would like to see less emphasis on testing with NCLB.

With a limited emphasis on reading and math, No Child Left behind has limited funding for other programs, said Bern.

“It really has hurt a lot of areas,” he said. Bern noted most notably that music programs have suffered as well as vocational and foreign language programs.

Another agenda item for ISEA is to ensure adequate funding for Area Education Agencies that lend support to local school districts.

Bern said the ISEA also wants to ensure that early childhood programs are supported with certified teachers.