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Stocks Tells RA Delegates: We Can Beat the Koch Brothers With Student-Centered Union Leadership

John Stocks, NEA Executive Director, addresses delegates at the 93rd NEA Representative Assembly and 152nd Annual Meeting at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO., July 4, 2014.

Photo by Scott Iskowitz for NEA

In his speech to the 2014 NEA Representative Assembly on Friday, NEA Executive Director John Stocks urged the 9000 delegates to take a page from the playbook of public education’s main adversaries and lay the groundwork for a focused, effective and relentless campaign to make our schools stronger.

The Koch brothers and the groups they fund, such as Americans for Prosperity, have pursued their ideological agenda to dismantle the public education system “with discipline and determination,” said Stocks. “They think they can win the long game if they grind us down, year after year…until we finally give up.”

“But I have news for the Koch brothers and all the others who want to destroy our democracy and public schools: NEA knows how to play the long game too,” Stocks told the crowd to resounding applause.

Stocks explained that student-centered leadership is essential to safeguard education for future generations. And where can we find models for this leadership? Look no further than the dedicated and successful educator activists in the hall today, Stocks said.

He spotlighted the inspiring work of educators in Flint, Michigan, a community that has been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs and where the majority of students live below the poverty line. United Teachers of Flint, led by President Ethel Johnson, asked for help from the Michigan Education Association and the NEA and forged partnerships with local universities and foundations to design a new education plan that focused on redefining effective teaching, real accountability, and community and parental engagement. The plan was approved by the local school board last week.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what student-centered union leadership looks like!” Stocks said to resounding applause in the hall.

Stocks also praised the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). CTA, led President Dean Vogel, has been instrumental in electing progressive state leaders and successfully pushing for new revenues to fund public education. In New Jersey, Joyce Powell, former NJEA President and member of the NEA Executive Committee, founded the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit that has provided opportunities for more students to learn and excel at science and math and for teachers to receive new training. The program has been adopted in other states, including Colorado, Utah, and Vermont.

“So we have a formula for student success,” Stocks said. In order for this formula to work, it requires union leaders to put students at the center of everything our schools do.

“Lying deep within each and every one of us is an untapped source of enormous power capable of changing our destiny,” Stocks said in closing. “This power within us often lies dormant until something or someone questions our integrity… tramples on our core values… or threatens something that we hold dear…. When this happens, the leader within each one of us is revealed… and our power unleashed.”


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