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Van Roekel: We Are the Ones Who Can Make Public Schools Great

Dennis Von Roekel speaks to delegates during his Keynote Address on Opening Day at 2010 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly.

Photo by Scott Iskowitz for RA Today
All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of the National Education Association

In keynote speech, NEA President calls on delegates to lead the charge for education.

By Tim Walker

An energized and angry NEA President Dennis Van Roekel issued a stirring call to action to the 8,200 delegates seated before him Saturday, criticizing the failed policies and competitive grant programs being pumped by so-called education reformers and the Obama administration’s education officials.

“Let’s create our moment! We’ve done it before and we can do it again” Van Roekel told the cheering crowd. While rallying the delegates with his call-to-action, Van Roekel laid out specific steps educators can take to create change.

Early in his speech, Van Roekel conceded that the road to change in 2009 year was strewn with potholes: an ongoing economic recession, budget cuts and layoffs, grandstanding politicians, and an extreme anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment.

“Plain and simple – this is not the change I hoped for. Our members feel betrayed and so do I! Our members are angry . So am I!”

With reauthorization of ESEA right around the corner, Van Roekel trained much of his rhetorical fire for the No Child Left Behind Act, mocking the law in stinging terms.

“We must not allow another bad ESEA. Because if they take the old NCLB, fancy it up and call it the new ESEA, I think we ought to just call it TNT and blow the whole damn thing up!” Van Roekel said as the delegates roared their approval. To follow up, he asked delegates to send a clear and concise message by sending postcards to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan listing the three things they would like to see changed in ESEA. Nine thousand postcards, Van Roekel said, will send a loud and powerful message.

To build on that effort, Van Roekel is also calling on every state president to plan and implement a day of action between now and September to send a message to Congress.

Van Roekel also used his speech to announce the creation of the NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. The commission will offer recommendations on how teachers can exert greater authority over their profession and on the quality of public schools.

Van Roekel also invited the naysayers and critics to drop the scorns and threats and take a look at the great things NEA members are doing for the nations’ schools.

Still, Van Roekel reassured the delegates that the NEA, despite recent setbacks, was strong and ready to to fight and “make it right.” The challenges facing public education, he said, are too great to turn away from and activism must not begin and end in election years.

“If we are not the activists in politics, we will be the victims of politics,” Van Roekel warned the delegates. “ We simply cannot sit it out. There is too much at stake!”


NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's keynote speech at the NEA Annual Meeting & Representative Assembly on July 3, 2010.

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