Why? Most teachers in the U.S. are qualified, compassionate and generous. They manage to keep children engaged even as more and more students are crammed into their classrooms. They console students fearful and sad after their parents have lost their jobs. They invest their own salaries back into their classrooms when cities and states make drastic budget cuts. On Saturday afternoons, they answer parents’ phone calls about homework. Almost every day they bravely face questions from skeptical policymakers about their abilities and commitment.

Still, there is room for improvement, but we must make our choices wisely.

That’s why, for the first time, the NEA is calling for an overhaul of both teacher accountability and evaluation systems. Our policy for teacher evaluation is as follows:

Teacher tenure – or career status – should not be automatic. Teaching is a profession, not a job. The NEA believes teachers should earn career status based on their performance on evaluations. A teacher who fails to meet expectations, after being given a reasonable opportunity to improve, should be counseled out of the profession or be subject to a swift and fair dismissal process.

Our policy also calls for fair, regular and comprehensive evaluations of all teachers based on multiple indicators - including the limited use of standardized test scores in evaluation plans based on tests that are valid, reliable and high quality measures of student learning and growth.

The development, implementation and enforcement of these high quality systems are top priorities of NEA and our affiliates. We will lead this critical work.

I’m looking forward to discussing these reforms next week as I participate in NBC’s “Education Nation” summit. This summit is a chance for all factions of the debate - teachers, administrators, lawmakers, and parents - to get together to hash out our differences and to lay out a real roadmap for change that preserves the dignity of our teachers while ensuring parents and lawmakers have clear standards for results.

We must start from the premise that most Americans, while greatly concerned about the state of education in the U.S., believe there are some very good things that are happening out in individual schools, led by individual teachers. As thought leaders it is our job to find, identify and duplicate those reforms that are working. We know what evaluation and accountability systems would look like if they were really designed to improve professional practice and student learning.

NEA’s goal in proposing this new system was to find solutions, not scapegoats. Our new policy offers a fresh vision for the teaching profession grounded in ideas that are realistic and that reflect the best of what is already being done on the ground. This new policy will certainly advance student learning and improve teachers’ practice in the future.

Americans trust their individual school teachers to teach and care for their children. As a nation, it’s time we start trusting teachers’ voices on reform.

Dennis Van Roekel, a 23-year teaching veteran and longtime activist for children and public education, is president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.