NEA Director Report
April/May 2015 Board Meeting
ESEA bill moves forward:
The fight to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act continues to march ahead in Congress, and even though the proposal in the Senate includes some items that NEA can support, the bill still has plenty of room for improvement.
While the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a version of the bill 22-0 on April 16, a similar bill in the House stalled in late February.
The Senate proposal received bipartisan support, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The Senate bill, which has been named the Every Child Achieves Act, still contains 17 mandated tests and did not receive support from NEA until just before its passage out of the HELP Committee, said Mary Kusler, NEA’s Director of Government Relations.
NEA was convinced to support the bill when the Senate added “multiple measures” of student success, especially for elementary and middle school students, and a requirement that states must include at least one measure of school or student support in their accountability systems, Kusler said.
Absent from the Senate proposal is any mention of two items that NEA has lobbied against: Adequate Yearly Progress and federal requirements for high-stakes teacher evaluation.
NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, “We can now improve something that doesn’t have AYP. There is nothing in there that the federal government gets to say that it will evaluate you.”
Although these two “poison pills” aren’t in the Senate bill that is expected to make it to the floor in late May or early June, nothing prevents senators from trying to add them back in. In fact, some members of Congress have said they may introduce amendments to the bill such as vouchers or something they call Title 1 “portability.”
NEA opposes both of these amendments. Vouchers take public money that could be used on schools and divert the money to private schools. Studies show that vouchers have not been successful in improving student performance.
Title 1 portability is the idea that federal funding would follow individual school children to their school location. Portability dilutes Title I funds and fundamentally destroys the purpose of the program, which is to provide financial assistance to schools with high numbers of children from low-income families.
Although the path to reauthorization remains murky, President Garcia encouraged all NEA members to contact their senators and encourage them to pass the Senate bill. “Getting something out of the Senate that will end for all time the (high stakes) toxic testing at the national level is critical,” Garcia said. “If we do that, we can end this national nightmare.”
One of NEA’s main policy goals in reauthorization is to remake education accountability systems so that they work to actually improve schools. Where AYP includes test-and-punish systems, NEA has proposed an “opportunity dashboard.”
NEA’s dashboard idea, which is sometimes called “multiple measures,” calls for the evaluation of schools based on a wide range of success indicators. NEA has divided them into three categories: student success, quality educators, and quality schools.
The Senate bill includes many of the items under the student success column, but very few under the quality educators or quality schools column. NEA is suggesting that including more of these measures will give a better picture of which schools are successful, which are not, and why.
In addition, many members of Congress are now willing to concede that access to resources and programs matters for students. However, Congress hasn’t included additional funding, but instead has shifted much of the decision-making process to states.
One big gain in the Senate proposal is a major expansion of collective bargaining rights. Currently, collective bargaining is only in Title I under school improvements. The new proposal adds it to Title II under educator provisions.
NEA member engagement on ESEA has been very high. To date, more than 150,000 emails have been sent to Congress. “This is our single greatest important issue that will come before Congress,” Kusler said.
And the pressure needs to continue. When NCLB was passed in 2001, it took the Senate seven weeks of floor debate to complete the bill. However, only 28 of the current 100 Senators were in the Senate at that time. This time the Senate hopes to pass the bill with two weeks of floor debate.
The path to passage in the Senate is the first step to getting a reauthorization. After that, either the House must pass a bill or the Senate bill could go to something called “pre-conference” where the House could take up the Senate bill in its entirety. Finally, the bill would need to be signed by President Obama.
“The higher the vote in the Senate, the better the momentum to get a bill to the President’s desk,” Kusler said. “This is all about the need for educator voices in this process. There are a lot of people in DC who say that they speak for educators, but WE are the educators.”
The current effort to reauthorize ESEA is the fourth attempt since No Child Left Behind was first passed in 2001. However, ESEA itself went into law in 1965, thanks to the efforts of President Lyndon Johnson.
Many in Congress are frustrated with the federal waivers that states have been granted by Education Secretary Arne Duncan over the past four years. Duncan’s initiative dovetailed with the Race to The Top grants that were created thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010. Duncan’s efforts pushed even harder to tie teacher evaluations to test scores—an idea that almost nobody believes will be successful in improving student learning.
The bill that has stalled in the House, known as HR 5, was first introduced in July 2013. This bill included annual testing, didn’t protect educators’ voices in decision-making, included Title I portability, and had inadequate funding.
In February when the House took up HR 5 again, the representatives did include some amendments that were supported by NEA. Parent opt-out provisions were added, paraeducator qualifications were restored, some collective bargaining protections were added, audits of assessments to look for redundancy were added, and there was an allowance for local assessments.
The Senate bill remains the most likely place to improve the reauthorization bill. NEA will continue to focus on its key priorities: better and fewer tests, an “opportunity dashboard,” charter school accountability, fight against so-called “choice” amendments, and work to advance educator voice in the workplace.
• Reauthorization of ESEA will not pass without your action. Call or email Congress now and urge them to end the “toxic testing,” create a new accountability system using NEA’s “opportunity dashboard,” and empower educators to lead.
What’s in a name?
The Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) is the newest name for the federal legislation.
• ESEA: Elementary and Secondary Education Act (first passed in 1965)
• NCLB: No Child Left Behind (reauthorization of ESEA passed in 2001)
• RTTT: Race To The Top (Grants connected to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010)
Labor secretary preaches ‘shared prosperity’:
President Barack Obama’s cabinet appointments haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with NEA, but that isn’t the case for Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.
Pitching a message of “shared prosperity” and union strength, Perez energized the NEA Board of Directors with a rousing speech on May 1 in Washington, DC. “When unions succeed, America succeeds…. Thank you for expanding opportunity and protecting access to opportunity.”
Perez said that education is the great equalizer. As the son of Dominican immigrants, Perez grew up in Buffalo, New York, and once worked as a trash collector. He went on to earn a Harvard University law degree, worked in the Justice Department as a civil rights prosecutor, and was an aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Perez was appointed Secretary of Labor in July 2013, and has overseen a continued expansion of economic success across the country. America has had 61 months in a row of private sector job growth, following the loss of 2 million jobs in the three years before Obama took office, he said.
He noted that 2014 was the best year for economic growth since the late 1990s. “But the growth in the late 90s lifted more boats. Now the prosperity we see now is lifting more yachts,” Perez said. “How do we take the wind at our backs and be sure it’s shared with everyone?”
Perez said that the Wall Street bonus pool last year was $28.5 billion, and that’s roughly twice as much as the total wages earned by all the minimum wage workers in America. “How do we ensure shared prosperity? How do we build that staircase to shared prosperity?” he said.
As a child, Perez recalled that his parents sacrificed family vacations to put money into the family’s education fund. “I learned firsthand the education dividend,” he said.
Later, as a school board member in Montgomery County, Maryland, he saw firsthand what a partnership between the union and the school district could do to bring good results for everyone.
Perez also worked with immigrant parents, many of whom were not proficient in English. He said he was sometimes asked why more Latino and African American parents don’t get involved in their child’s education. He said the answer was obvious. “When you’re working three jobs it’s kind of hard to get to the PTA meeting. Stop asking stupid questions and start doing something about income inequality.”
Perez is bullish on career and technical education. He sees many opportunities for young workers in information technology. “There are 5 million open jobs and many of them are in IT. Let’s take that fluency with gadgets and turn it into middle class jobs.”
Perez said that conversations in the White House are centered on giving workers a voice, and the president wants business to collaborate with labor because everyone benefits. “Businesses that take the high road are also taking the smart road,” he said. “When workers have a voice in the workplace, it’s good for the bottom line.”
Shared responsibility a key to making successful schools:
As Congress and education leaders across the country turn away from the failed promises of No Child Left Behind, NEA rolled out the first draft of a new vision of accountability at its May meeting.
The NEA Accountability Task Force submitted six recommendations to the board, which will be brought forward to the 2015 Representative Assembly in Orlando.
The 28-page report was produced in response to the 2014 RA’s charge to “develop plans for a full system of public school accountability.”
The majority of the report defined NEA’s elaborate vision of a successful school. Relying heavily on the Great Public School criteria and ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, the task force touches on all aspects of a successful public school—from students, to teachers, ESP support, facilities, and resources.
“This is our vision of a public school system where we have students, educators and all schools succeeding and everybody knows it,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “We didn’t use the word accountability in the recommendations section because it’s really about ‘shared responsibility’ for the system.”
Referring to No Child Left Behind, the report said, “The existing scheme and haphazard policies, masquerading as a system of accountability for schools, students, and educators, is broken.”
The Task Force called for a clear break from the current system. “In order to break this cycle we must move from accountability based on labeling and punishing to shared responsibility, based on supports and resources that contribute to and ensure the success of students, educators, and public schools.”
In order to accomplish this, the Task Force wants each school to conduct an annual review using NEA’s school success indicators. The review would be followed by schools deciding to “self-select for additional supports depending on their level of need.”
Determining the scope of the problem would be up to the educators at the school, who would use “collaborative inquiry” to determine the cause of problems. The educators could also ask for external support to diagnose the problem and propose solutions.
Once the plan was created, educators in the school would have to “opt in” to the plan or choose to transfer to another school.
The Task Force’s solution is a far cry from the current system that rewards affluence and punishes poverty. Although the U.S. is home to some of the best schools in the world, the Task Force wrote that, “we have created a system wherein success precipitates success, while failure too often precipitates further failure. To break the negative cycle, we must fundamentally change the ways we resource our schools, the manner in which we define success, and the methods we use to identify and correct problems.”
The report included a Japanese proverb that said, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” The Task Force wrote, “America’s students and educators are awakening from an education nightmare, replete with unfulfilled promises and false hope.”
America’s students total 50 million and almost half are students of color, while nine percent are English language learners and 13 percent receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In addition, two percent—almost a million students—are homeless.
The report said, “Rather than starving struggling schools of resources and forcing them to narrow their curricula to meet narrow standards of success, in the Task Force’s vision, challenged schools are showered with support and recognized for providing a rich palette of offerings to their students. Instead of assuming a school’s educators are the ‘problem,’ the Task Force’s vision starts with the assumption that the educators in a school are the people best prepared to diagnose the root causes of a school’s struggles and generate solutions, as long as they have access to trusted experts to provide advice and support.”
“The goal is having schools that are trusted to do what is best for students, have the capacity to do so, and provide the highest quality education to each and every student.”
Recommendations: 1) Establish a coalition to support this new vision of how to measure and assist schools, 2) Expand ideas to include ESPs, higher ed, and other educators, and design the components of this new system, 3) Build a “school success” tool that uses ideas from this report, 4) Craft a Policy Statement for the 2016 RA, 5) Convene a panel of experts to map out strategies to achieve the report’s goals, and 6) Present an action plan to the NEA Board of Directors by September 2015.
NEA 360 gets go-ahead from board:
The NEA Board of Directors agreed to continue work on NEA 360, a computer management system designed to help the union connect all of its data systems.
Five states have been piloting NEA 360, which is expected to cost $24 million to get operational. The board approved money in the budget to continue the project, including $1 million from the NEA contingency fund.
Members will be able to access all of their membership information online and make changes, as well as express their interest in programs and services that NEA offers.
“We will better understand what members want, and be able to have ‘two-way’ conversations,” said Karen White, NEA’s project coordinator. Connecting with members through electronic devices hasn’t been something NEA has been able to do with its current system.
NEA 360 is a combination of numerous data systems within the organization and is being implemented by two companies: Salesforce and Abila.
Maury Koffman, a member of the NEA Executive Committee, urged the board to approve completing the project. “Think about the opportunity cost of not acting on NEA 360,” he said. “It is absolutely essential that we do what is necessary to know our members.”
The new system will be compatible with tablets and iPhones, and it will also allow members to move from state to state and not have to sign up as new members, White said. It should also help to connect with new, younger members. In the next six years, 2.2 million new educators are expected to be hired.
“At the end of the day, if member engagement is our salvation, and if member empowerment and professional practice is our intent, then NEA 360 is the tool and the investment to take us there,” White said.
Much like Amazon or Facebook, NEA 360 will have interactive components that let members connect with other members and share information. This sharing is a form of organizing, and with 3 million members, that is NEA’s strategic advantage.
David Watts, a board member from Illinois, said, “This is going to be relevant to our members and connect with our members like we never have before.… The Koch brothers have this, why wouldn’t we want the same tools.”
Some board members expressed concern about member data being stolen, and White said that NEA is making data protection the top priority. She said that Salesforce hired people to test the system and that NEA 360 got the “gold seal of approval.”
“There is nothing more important than the safety of that data,” White said. “We’re going to continue to make sure that security is the highest priority issue.”
Although the majority of the cost of NEA 360 is being picked up by the national association, state and local affiliates could see some increased costs in order to make sure their own computer systems can connect. In addition, there could be training costs as staff and leaders at the local level work to understand NEA 360.
O’Brien answers questions about educators and opting out:
NEA General Counsel Alice O’Brien reported to the NEA Board of Directors on the increasing trend of parents to opt their children out of federally-mandated testing.
With the entire nation taking tests, and more and more parents choosing to opt out their children, O’Brien said that many state affiliates are experiencing issues with NEA members who want to know what role they can or should play in assisting in the opt-out movement.
O’Brien said that a constitutional right to not test doesn’t exist, but three states have passed laws that allow parents to opt out. The states are California, Utah, and Wisconsin. Four other states have limited opt-out rights, although the laws in each state differ.
O’Brien said that educators should be cautious when it comes to advising parents about whether to opt out their children on standardized tests. Many states prevent educators from talking to or encouraging parents to opt out their children. Even the three states that permit opting out limit educators for encouraging the practice. O’Brien said that First Amendment protections do not exist for educators in this area. She also cautioned educators against refusing to participate or grade these tests.
Although NEA does not have an official position on the topic, President Lily Eskelsen Garcia wrote on her blog, Lily’s Blackboard, about the topic on April 25 (lilysblackboard.org). She said that she supports the rights of parents to ask questions about the validity of tests, who paid for them, and how the results will be used, as well as how their student’s privacy will be protected. But she said making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. “The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that the assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.”
On other legal topics, O’Brien reported that the Supreme Court is still considering whether to take the Friedrichs v. CTA/NEA case. This case would give the court the chance to end the practice of “agency shop” dues collection. Sometimes known as “agency fee,” these provisions allow unions to bargain in contract languages requiring all employees to pay at least a portion of union dues.
O’Brien also reported on the case of Bain v. CTA/NEA, which argues that union members who opt out of paying for the portion of their dues spent on politics should still be able to vote in union elections.
Hawaii finds success with immersion:
Protecting indigenous languages isn’t easy, but in Hawaii a culture-based curriculum is putting the Hawaiian language on solid ground.
Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, an assistant professor at the Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikolani College of Hawaiian Language, encouraged the NEA Board of Directors to support the protection of native languages.
Kawai‘ae‘a sang a song in her native language about the arrival of the day and its beauty to the board members. “Our music is considered to be our poetry and our literature,” she said.
Hawaii nearly lost its language after the islands became part of the U.S. around 1900 and the Hawaiian language was banned, she said. “It’s been really, really hard to recover.”
Kawai‘ae‘a said Hawaii has about 3,000 students in immersion programs.
But what makes these schools even more unique is that they teach all the subjects in Hawaiian. Kawai‘ae‘a said, “teaching through the culture and about the culture are equally important.”
Transgendered youth wants understanding:
Stories about “coming out” usually refer to people who reveal that they are gay, but the term can also apply to transgender people.
And that was the case for Daniella Carter.
“When I was 14, I came out and was open about my gender identity,” Carter told the NEA Board of Directors on May 1. “There was no place I could call home that was caring and accepting. So I chose to live on the street. It was a horrific time in my life.”
Carter has risen from tragedy to become a leader in the transgender community. She was recently featured in a documentary called, “The T Word.” She has worked with celebrities and politicians on health care and discrimination issues for transgender youth.
Carter said that as a child she would stay home from church and “have her own church,” which included dressing in her foster mother’s clothes. She was punished and said she still has visible scars under her neck where her foster mother cut her with a knife.
At school, a sympathetic teacher’s aide tried to help, but Carter still couldn’t use the girls’ bathroom.
“Why does someone who wants to live as they are as their authentic self face so many adversities?” she asked. When transgendered youth are not supported, it leads to a high percentage of students becoming homeless and abusing drugs. “Help them overcome the shame and pain of living this life,” she said.
Carter appealed to educators to reach out and assist transgendered youth. “I understand that change was going to come, but it was only going to come with people like you.”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia praised Carter for her courage and asked all NEA members to assist these struggling youth. “They need to see us as the one caring adult that they can count on. Make that you,” Garcia said.
Committee on Constitution, Bylaws and Resolutions:
The NEA Board of Directors took positions on all 14 proposed changes to the NEA Constitution, Bylaws, and Standing Rules. The items will come before NEA’s Representative Assembly in July in Orlando.
Constitutional Amendment 1: Repeal proportionate RA delegate allocation within states that have merged NEA/AFT affiliates. Those states currently include: New York, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Florida. If passed, the number of additional delegates at RA could increase by over 3,500—based on last year’s membership numbers. —OPPOSE
CA 2: Change the frequency of Representative Assembly from every year to every other year starting in 2020. NEA has hotel contracts for RAs through 2019. —OPPOSE
CA 3: Replace the requirement that NEA committees be comprised of at least 75 percent classroom teachers with a requirement that every committee include at least 1 classroom teacher and 1 Education Support Professional. —SUPPORT
Bylaw Amendment A: Creates an emergency safe harbor for Executive Committee members who are involuntarily terminated by their district. —SUPPORT
BA B: Removes the sunset clause for $10 in the Ballot Measure Legislative Crisis Fund and creates a permanent assessment of $20 per member per year for this fund. —SUPPORT
BA 1: Change the scope of the Great Public Schools Fund to include defending public education from privatization, and to require that 50 percent of the funds go toward organizing charter schools. —OPPOSE
BA 2: Repeal the proportionate delegate allocation to merged states for specific membership categories. —OPPOSE
BA 3: Prohibit the grouping of multiple New Business Items together for action. —OPPOSE
Standing Rule Amendment 1: Amend the speaking order process to take requests for information in rotation with speakers for and against a motion. —OPPOSE
SR 2: Make amendable and debatable all motions to suspend the rules for referral of multiple items to committee. —OPPOSE
SA 3: Make debatable all motions to suspend the rules, other than those to limit debate. —SUPPORT
SA 4: Prohibit the grouping of multiple new business items together for action. —OPPOSE
SA 5: Require individuals proposing New Business Items to provide contact information that allows delegates seeking clarifying information to contact the maker. —OPPOSE
SA 6: Limit the text of New Business Items to 100 words. —OPPOSE
SA 7: Require printing in the RA Today of a categorical breakdown of cost estimates for each New Business Item. —OPPOSE
New Business Item A: NEA will develop materials to educate members about the potential dangers of so-called “religious freedom restoration acts.” The laws attempt to allow individuals and corporations to discriminate on the theory that their religious beliefs require such action. (Cost: $16,300) —SUPPORT
RA service project
While most RA delegates heading to Orlando this summer will be eying Disneyland and Sea World, those who are interested in helping out in the local community will have that chance for four hours on June 30.
The NEA student and retired programs are teaming up to organize a variety of service activities in Osceola County. They plan to design 15 or more projects possibly including voter registration, pre-K screening, Read Across America, and Pencils of Hope.
The project is called Leaders Empowering Grassroots Advocacy for Communities and Youth, more easily described as LEGACY. The NEA Student Program chair, Chelsea Herrig, announced the project to the NEA board at the May meeting. She can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The times are still being worked out, but the location to start will be Osceola High School.
Alabama state affiliate enters trusteeship
Following an executive session on May 2, the NEA Board of Directors voted to place the Alabama Education Association into a trusteeship. The trusteeship was voluntarily requested by AEA, and the vote by the NEA board was unanimous. Alabama is the third NEA state affiliate to be put into trusteeship, joining Indiana and South Carolina.
GPS fund guidelines
The NEA Board of Directors revised the fund guidelines for the Great Public Schools grant fund. The changes are designed to improve the grant process and make it clear what is the purpose of the fund.
The goal of the fund is to “generate and develop innovative ideas designed to promote sound practice, to capture key learnings that promote success,” according to the new document.
In the grant’s first year, 2013-14, NEA received 90 applications for GPS fund grants, requesting a total of $24.9 million. NEA awarded grants to 22 state affiliates and 16 local affiliates, totaling $13.3 million.
The fund was established by the Representative Assembly in 2013, and every member of the association contributes $3 per year. The grants can range between $25,000 and $250,000 per year, and applications will now only be accepted twice a year: March and September.
The Health Information Network announced to the board that starting on May 11, the name will change to Healthy Futures. Executive Committee member Earl Wiman said the new name better reflects the group’s purpose—which is to improve health outcomes for students and educators in schools across the country.
Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss reported that NEA’s membership has increased again this year. The new total is 2.974 million. She said that 31 state affiliates saw membership increase, while 20 states decreased. Last year, only 19 states had membership growth, while 32 decreased.
Changes to future RA locations
The NEA Board of Directors approved changes to the NEA Representative Assembly selection process.
On the recommendation of the Annual Meeting Review Committee, the board adopted a slate of cities to host the RAs for the years 2020 to 2024. The RA locations for 2016 to 2019 have already been approved and will not change. The committee recommended the following slate of cities: 2020, Denver; 2021, LA; 2022, Dallas or Philadelphia; 2023, Atlanta; and 2024, Orlando. NEA has not signed contracts with these cities, but staff will now engage in contract negotiations.
By voting the slate, the board moved away from a long-standing practice to visit Washington, DC, every four years during a presidential election. Executive Committee member Maury Koffman explained that holding the RA in Washington, DC, was about 20 percent more expensive than other cities. The RA will still be held in Washington, DC, in 2016 because that contract has already been finalized.
RA fundraising goal
President Lily Eskelsen Garcia announced that the fundraising goals for the Representative Assembly will increase this year. The new goal will be $185 per delegate, an increase of $5 from last year. Money raised at the RA goes to the Fund for Children and Public Education.
Teacher Hall of Fame 2015
The five inductees to the National Teacher Hall of Fame were introduced and recognized at the NEA Board of Director’s May meeting.
The teachers learned of their selection at surprise school assemblies in their schools about two months ago. The Hall of Fame is located on the Emporia State University campus and was founded in 1989. Some 75 teachers have been indicted into the Hall of Fame.
The 2015 inductees include:
• Patricia Jordan is a retired high school math teacher from Roslyn High School in Roslyn, New York. She taught for 29 years.
• Susan M. Rippe is a biology teacher at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas. Over her 32 years of teaching, she has also taught 10th grade students in aerospace and engineering chemistry. She also taught in the Wichita School District, and she was the Kansas Teacher of the Year in 2000.
• Brigitte Tennis teaches a range of subjects at Stella Schola Middle School in Redmond, Washington, where she is the founder and head teacher. She is nationally board certified in English and has taught for 32 years.
• Richard T. Ognibene teaches high school chemistry and physics at Fairport High School in Fairport, New York. He is an active member of the Fairport Education Association and has been teaching for 28 years.
• Ben Talley teaches fourth- and fifth-grade science at Van Pelt Elementary School. He has 24 years of teaching experience and has written several books, including “The Game My Father Taught Me,” in 2007.
Lily’s first meeting!
Lily Eskelsen García opened her first board meeting as NEA president on Sept. 19 with the simple words of the association’s preamble.
“We, the members of the National Education Association of the United States, are the voice of education professionals. Our work is fundamental to the nation, and we accept the profound trust placed in us,” she said.
Then García turned to Student Program Chair Chelsey Herrig to read the NEA mission.
“Our mission is to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world,” Herrig said.
The focused tone set by García was quickly followed by her trademark fun and energy. She lightened the mood with jokes, video presentations, and even had board member Jacqui Greadington, chair of the Black caucus, lead the board in the song, “This little light of mine.”
The biggest change made by García, however, was to dedicate a quarter of the two-day meeting to board committee work. Every board member was assigned to one of more than a dozen committees.
Vice President Becky Pringle organized the committee work, and she stressed the importance of the board members’ efforts. “Your work is an essential part of our journey to fulfill our mission, and advance the Strategic Goals adopted by the 2014 Representative Assembly,” she said.
Executive Director John Stocks opened his report by turning to García and saying, “Let’s give our president a shout-out … She’s doing a great job.”
García started her presidency on Sept. 1, and she immediately embarked on a “back-to-school” tour across the country.
“It’s been all about the back-to-school tour,” Stocks said. “By every measure, in each of the venues, it’s all been about the issues of politics, partners, policy and press. They’re all integrated.”
The tour actually started in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when García and other labor leaders appeared with President Obama at a Labor Day rally. After the rally, she said the President asked if she and the other labor leaders wanted a ride home—as in, fly home on Air Force One.
Her chance to speak with the President came in the limo ride to the airport. She joked that she probably won’t be invited back because she monopolized the time. “It really was an incredible opportunity to spend just a few minutes speaking from the heart and not a script about our kids and what they need,” she said. “I had a good feeling about this very short conversation that we had.”
But that conversation wasn’t as amazing as the one García had with Andrea Rediske, the Florida mother of a brain-damaged and legally blind child who had cerebral palsy. Ethan was 11 when he died last February, but in his last few weeks of his life, he received harassing phone calls from his school district, saying he needed to take his Florida standardized tests.
“There’s no word for how awful this is,” Andrea said of the harassment. “No mother should have to go through this.”
García had breakfast with Andrea on the “back-to-school tour” and told her that NEA is on a mission to stop this toxic testing. “I told her this makes no sense, and it’s actually hurting kids,” she said, to which Ethan’s mother said, “Put me to work.”
Enlisting parents to help fight against toxic testing is just one of the many hats that García is wearing. She is writing almost daily blog posts on Lily’s Blackboard, giving dozens of media interviews, and running the largest labor union in the country.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, she was asked why she keeps talking about toxic testing. “I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” she said.
The fire and the love were all on display during Garcia’s first-ever board meeting as president. As she prepared to adjourn the meeting on Sept. 20, she told the board, “I really, really love this job, and I want to do it well. With your help we’re going to do it.”
NEA Board takes toxic testing arguments to Congress
Following up on New Business Item A from the RA this summer in Denver, NEA board members took to Capitol Hill to fight against toxic testing.
Armed with poll results, examples of the worst testing abuse, and the bipartisan Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (HR 4172), board members lobbied Congress.
Under No Child Left Behind, the number of federally-mandated high stakes tests more than doubled. The goal of this campaign is to restore mandates to what is known as “grade-span” testing—once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.
More than a month of instructional time is lost to testing in some of the most tested subject areas, according to numerous studies. A Brookings Institute report states that testing regimes cost over $1.7 billion annually.
According to a Central Washington University study this year, teachers report spending about 73 percent of their time with instruction and 15-18 percent preparing students for state tests. And a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 68 percent of parents do not believe that standardized tests help teachers know what to teach.
According to NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, “Students and teachers continue to lose more and more class time to testing and test preparation, and that time should be spent teaching and learning a rich, engaging curriculum.”
“The serious consequences of these toxic tests will only snowball unless parents, educators and community members push back against lawmakers determined to tie high stakes decisions to fill-in-the-bubble tests.”
Franco inspires NEA to fight for Dream Act
The haunting melody of Aloe Blacc’s song, “Wake Me Up,” hung for a second in the Robert Chanin auditorium on Sept. 19.
For almost five minutes, the challenges faced by immigrants crossing America’s southern border came to life in images of a family broken apart by deportation—a father, a mother, and their children.
Wiping away tears, NEA board members renewed their commitment to passing the Dream Act and reforming America’s failed immigration policy.
“Not one more,” said Marisa Franco, a leader with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “We want to fight to win. It’s the idea of demanding the impossible—fighting deportations one by one.”
Franco, who grew up in a working class neighborhood in Arizona, praised NEA’s efforts to fight for immigration reform. “We cannot afford to continue to look the other way … because we are finding in the most painful of ways, it doesn’t always work.”
NEA invited the fiery, young activist to address immigrant issues, and even though Franco said that she is more comfortable with a bullhorn than at the lectern, she still managed to touch the hearts of NEA’s board members.
“My mother lives in Tempe, and she is a bus aide for special needs children. She’s finishing her shift right now,” she said. Her father emigrated from Mexico when he was 15. And for most of her childhood, Franco said, she didn’t even recognize class as an issue.
But a series of changes to Arizona laws opened her eyes to the discrimination of Hispanic Americans. Bad legislation hit a peak in 2010 when Arizona passed strict immigration regulations. “The day that Gov. Jan Brewer signed that bill, she spat in the face of my grandmother and grandfather and everyone who built this state.”
“We’ve seen dehumanizing language where human beings are called aliens,” she said. Bad laws are dividing people into those who are “deserving and undeserving.” Cuts in health care and voter ID laws hurt immigrants hard.
Franco said, “We must ask ourselves, how does this advance our society?”
The recent increase in children crossing the border has lead to stories in newspapers about how these students are overwhelming schools. “No, what’s overwhelming is when schools don’t have enough to serve the needs of our children,” she said.
“Fundamentally, we’re facing a question,” Franco said. “There is a litmus test about the health and well-being of a society. What kinds of lives do children live? What happens when someone makes a mistake or does something wrong? What opportunities exist? These are questions we must answer.”
Franco’s words, coupled with the melody and images of Aloe Blacc’s song, struck everyone in the Chanin auditorium, including NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Punctuating the end of the observance, Garcia spoke with strong emotion about the changes needed to America’s immigration policy.
NEA’s demands for immigration reform include three things, Garcia said. “First, it must not hurt a child; second, it must not separate families; and third, it must provide a reasonable path to citizenship. The rest, you fill in the blanks, but these are the three things we demand.”
On Sept. 6 President Obama announced that he would delay executive action on immigration until after the November elections. NEA issued the following statement from Garcia in a press release: “We are deeply disheartened by President Obama’s announcement to delay executive action on immigration. After years of waiting in the shadows of society, millions of aspiring new Americans were a step closer to reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, as a result of inaction on immigration, their American dreams are on hold. Again,” Garcia said.