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NEA panel focuses on education equity issues

NEA members and minority community panelists discuss education and race

San Diego - July 03, 2009 -

Noted leaders from ethnic minority communities joined more than 700 educators today for a spirited discussion on race, education and culture in America. Moderated by Washington Post Associate Editor Eugene Robinson, the panel included Georgetown University professor and acclaimed author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, award winning film producer Moctesuma Esparza, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) and Olympic gold medalist Bill Mills.  NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen provided the Association perspective.  The panel discussion was sponsored by NEA’s Office of Minority Community Outreach as part of the Association’s Annual Meeting. 
Robinson started the discussion by asking panelists what difference they think President Obama will make in terms of public education.  Noted scholar and popular author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson told the audience that it’s okay to question the president. Dyson said, “Recess is over. Teachers must be given adequate resources.”

Rep. Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, called for a public dialogue on equity in public education. Honda said he is not sure that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized this year, but he said he hopes health care and immigration legislation that can positively affect education equity issues will be passed during this Congress.  Honda said congressional leaders from both parties are hearing from educators and the public about the negative effects of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Responding for the Association, NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen said caring and competent teachers will help to change and improve public education for all students. Eskelsen said when asked what’s needed to make public schools better, she responds, “teachers like me.”  She told the audience of educators, “It’s our job to fall in love with someone else’s children and care for them on a daily basis as if they were our own.”

Critically acclaimed filmmaker Moctesuma Esparza challenged educators to be more vocal if they want to change a system in which a high percentage of minority students drop out of school.

Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, who was the inspiration for the film Running Brave, praised President Obama saying that this is the first time in the history of this nation that Native Americans have a voice.  Mills said the president made a campaign promise to meet with elected tribal officials, and the meeting has been scheduled for later this year.

There was considerable discussion of charter schools and the role they can play in helping to improve public education. “What we learn from charter schools should benefit all students,” Eskelsen told the audience.  “Charter schools must connect to the larger system so that best practices can help more than a few students.”

High resolution photos of this event can be downloaded from

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: René Carter  (619) 525-6366,