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Up Front

Tweet tweet!

Tweet teacher of mine! Turns out Shaquille O’Neal (the_real_shaq) and Demi Moore (mrskutcher) aren’t the only technophiles using Twitter these days.

  • NEAToday From Maine to California, educators have seized on the micro-blogging site as a tool to hook kids and collaborate with colleagues.
  • MrsWsClass @NEAToday For second-graders in Debbie White and Tim Thompson’s Maine classrooms, it’s a 21st Century pen pal relationship.
  • MrsWsClass @NEAToday We post pictures of projects. Share poems. Talk about books. (Willy Wonka! Thumbs up!) You have a real audience. So be interesting!
  • MrsWsClass @NEAToday It’s a writing exercise but also a lesson in digital citizenship and safety. Bathroom humor is funny; we don’t Twitter about it.
  • NEAToday @MrsWsClass Thanks Debbie!
  • NEAToday Here’s Reason #157 to Twitter: Can post homework assignments with links to online resources, like California math teacher Elizabeth Ahlgren.
  • NEAToday Or keep kids on their toes with a provocative follow-up question to class discussion. Need more reasons? Consider Maryland’s George Mayo…
  • NEAToday ...Who used Twitter to write an ongoing story with serial contributions from 100 students in six countries. Now that’s tweet!


Lessons from the Slammer

It’s been 30 years since nearly 300 Bridgeport, Connecticut, teachers were handcuffed and hauled off to jail in school buses. Their crime? Striking for better wages, better working conditions, and better schools.

For two weeks, they lingered in a dilapidated former prisoner-of-war camp. But they prevailed—and not just with a fair contract. The Connecticut Education Association also won a binding arbitration law, a rarity that requires school districts to abide by the decisions of impartial mediators.

“If we hadn’t gone on strike, who knows where we would be today,” says Peter George, a former Bridgeport teacher who still has the court papers that called for his jailing. “We would probably still be fighting for those rights.”

Serving Learning

This month, when the national Learn & Serve Challenge Initiative kicks off, Jennifer Pasillas and her students at Putnam City West High School in Oklahoma City will be ready. They’ve been practicing service for years, tutoring younger kids, feeding hungry families, and even shoveling manure at the zoo, where they also learned about animal care.

“This is not service-learning for service-learning’s sake,” said Nelda Brown of the National Service-Learning Partnership. “We want to show [them] the power of taking what they learn in the classroom and using it to tackle problems in their communities.”

To get started, visit for online resources. Then, in January, file your service-learning action plan. Your community will benefit, as will your students. “I’ve had a few kids who I think would have dropped out if they hadn’t been in the class,” Pasillas said.

Stop saying that word!

Respect is the new R word. The old cringe-worthy one— you know it, you’ve heard it on the playground—has been recognized as both demeaning and hurtful. Language is attitude! The Special Olympics campaign to end its use, called, “Spread the Word to End the Word,” invites people to take a pledge of support.

To do so, and to get free posters and resources, go to

Give us the look!

“Your pet ferret ate your homework?”

[Raise eyebrows high for best effect.]

“Genius child! You’ve solved Fermat’s last theorem!”

[Eyes wide, mouth agape.]

And so it goes, the toolbox of teacher looks: Stern for the disruptors, sympathetic for the disconsolate. We want your best looks for a future NEA Today. To learn more, go to


Have a great idea?

Send it by mail:
NEA Today
1201 16th St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20036

Send it by e-mail:


Voters say no way!

Voters in Maine and Washington struck back in November at bogus funding proposals that would have slashed dollars for schools, health care, senior programs, and other state and local services.

The so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR)” initiative has been rejected three times now by Maine voters, who want to protect reasonable class sizes and school programs.

TABOR falsely promises to rein in uncontrolled government spending by tying spending increases to inflation or population increases, but they have a track record of disaster.

First passed in Colorado in 1992, but then withdrawn by voters in 2005, it left that state’s schools in shambles. And still, its relentless proponents have vainly attempted to impose its measures in states including Montana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

“Voters have seen harm caused by the recession in their classrooms, communities, and businesses—they understand that gimmicks like these initiatives would have made things worse,” says Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association.


Knowing When to Hold ‘em

W.C. Fields may have said it first: “Trust everybody, but cut the cards yourself.” That’s advice Alaska’s Denali Education Support Professional Association (DESPA) can share for times when fair bargaining sessions turn nasty.

After reaching a tentative agreement in Denali, district officials first refused to return to the table and then wanted to invalidate the agreement. The devious re-shuffling of the cards, so to speak, resulted in five Unfair Labor Practice suits. “These elected officials say one thing to our face—in the presence of the mediator —then turn around and vote the opposite way,” said DESPA President Shaleen Nelson to NEA-AKTIVIST.

Last year, with all cards on the table, both sides finally agreed to a three-year contract that includes a 3 percent annual salary hike plus step increases, improved benefits, and a new grievance procedure. “They did something pretty amazing,” said NEA Alaska UniServ

Director Denise Poole. ”They hung in there . . . and didn’t walk away.”


Badminton, a sport better known as a leisure-time activity best enjoyed at summer barbecues, is making a comeback. Its popularity peaked in the 1950s, along with the growth of suburban lawns and cookouts, but today the sport is being reinvigorated in high schools. Badminton is one of the fastest growing high school sports in the country, played by more than 15,000 students. Jeff Limke, who coaches the varsity girls’ badminton team at Burnsville Senior High (Burnsville, Minnesota), says it’s a perfect fit. “It’s competitive but low-key and requires more finesse than brute strength; and the girls like that it’s a meritocracy: You’ve got to win to advance. ”Just don’t ask his athletes to show their stuff at a summer picnic. “Once they join the team,” he says, “they get too competitive for backyard games!” So what’s next for the sport? Collegiate badminton? Professional badminton? Don’t be surprised.

High School Musical…with an Edge

Shout it Out: The Voices Movie Project, is a raw and revealing look at how a community of teenagers struggles to overcome everything from drug abuse to racial and sexual identity to pregnancy. The stories are real—the movie is based on interviews with more than 1,000 teenagers. “We hope adults will learn from these very personal, powerful stories,” says producer Bess O’Brien. To find out more about the film and accompanying study guide, visit



Have you peeked into the classroom next door? Seen something you like? It could be that the very presence of an ace teacher on your staff will help you do a better job too, according to new research.

A study published in a recent American Economic Journal assessed teacher quality based on experience, certification, and test results and found that scores rise across an entire grade when a high-quality teacher is on that grade’s staff. It’s like an athlete pulling out their best game to match the skills of other top players on the field, says North Carolina elementary teacher Heather Kaiser.

With that in mind, the question must be asked: What does this research mean for staffing and education policy decisions? How about not continuing to group inexperienced teachers in difficult schools and then forcing the idea of unfair merit pay systems on them!

Vital Stats

The cost of dropping out

The failure to earn a diploma costs nearly 1.3 million students each year a lifetime of dreams and achievement—but it also costs the nation’s economy a great deal, according to a study from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

In July, the unemployment rate for dropouts was 15.4 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for graduates. Consider this: If every member of the Class of 2009 had graduated, nearly $335 billion in additional income would be pumped into the economy over their lifetimes.

Across the country, that looks like:

Have a great idea?

Send it by mail:
NEA Today
1201 16th St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20036

Send it by e-mail:

Global Takes


To some they are symbols of pride, to others, the nation’s militaristic past. Saluting the national flag, Hinomaru, and singing the national anthem, Kimigayo, at official school

ceremonies are mandatory in Japan’s public schools, but a growing number of teachers call it indoctrination.

While some school boards permit teachers to opt out of the practice, the local government in Tokyo has strict penalties for teachers who do not comply. Hundreds of educators have been punished—some with suspensions and salary reductions—for refusing to stand and sing the anthem, resulting in numerous lawsuits filed by the educators.

In March 2009, a Tokyo court ruled that ordering the teachers to sing the anthem while facing the flag does not violate freedom of thought and conscience as guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution, and that the punishments were legitimate. To some observers, the institutionalization of the practice reflects a growing nationalist trend across

Japan’s educational system.



Question and Answer

Bill Richardson

Governor of New Mexico

Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, has been everything from Secretary of Energy to U.N. Ambassador to aspiring major league baseball player. Born in California, raised in Mexico, and currently the only Hispanic governor in the nation, Richardson’s efforts won him America's Greatest Education Governor Award.

How has your experience learning a second language informed your thoughts about English Language Learners in America?
It is very important for every immigrant child to retain their native language. But if there is going to be advancement, if there is going to be movement in American education, the federal government should provide a lot of English learning opportunities, as well as teachers and curricula that respect that English is not the first language of many children.

As a governor, what programs do you think work best?
What has worked best in the state of New Mexico, which is 43 percent Hispanic, are strong programs to attack the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. Second, [you need] programs to prevent dropouts: Why is it that one out of two Hispanic kids drop out? And third, make sure that there are plenty of English learning programs and teachers.

What advice would you give to parents of children who don’t speak English?
Go to the school, become part of your child’s education. Have conversations with the teachers. Encourage your children to stay in school. Encourage them to learn English, but not to forget their first language or where they came from.

Conversely, what would you say to a student who is discouraged, who thinks school is not the place for them to be?
I would tell that young person to stay in school, that their future depends on graduation. Also, to respect their teachers, and learn from their parents that education is the most important thing for them and for their future.

For more information about ELL students, go to


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