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Making Our Voices Heard


With ESEA and presidential nominations on the line, delegates to the 86th NEA Representative Assembly left with a charge to jump-start the political process.



Delegates to this summer’s Representative Assembly return to their schools determined to persuade Congress to shape an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that will actually leave no child behind—and to make education a central issue in the upcoming presidential election.

“We must insist that our voices are heard,” NEA President Reg Weaver told delegates. “And to ensure that we are not only heard, but heeded, we must engage in the political process that is such a vital part of our great democracy.”

Delegates jumped into action from the floor of the Pennsylvania Convention Center after Weaver exhorted them to pull out their cell phones and call Congress to urge support for NEA’s positive agenda for reforming ESEA, which includes using more than test scores to measure student performance, reducing class sizes to help students learn, and increasing the number of highly qualified teachers. As NEA works with lawmakers to incorporate these changes into the bill’s pending reauthorization, members can share information with each other, make contributions to the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education—which works to elect pro-public education candidates—and visit www.nea.org/ref?ESEA to share personal stories and learn how to become involved in the reauthorization effort.

The Association’s ongoing efforts to close achievement gaps got a boost when NEA announced its new campaign to engage ethnic and minority communities as public education advocates. Using advertising and Web sites that speak to parents’ unique education priorities for their children, the campaign will be piloted in six cities around the country. The spirited kick-off took place during a Minority Community Outreach forum that presented a list of distinguished speakers including Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles; Hiep Chu, president, National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans; Susan Castillo, Oregon superintendent of public instruction; Carol Juneau, Montana state senator; Gregory W. Porter, Indiana state representative; and Wellington E. Webb, former mayor of Denver.

Delegates also heard from eight presidential candidates, who spoke to NCLB and other education issues (see sidebar). Among those issues: a need to invest in public education to keep America competitive in a global economy, the theme of Weaver’s keynote address. By eliminating corporate tax breaks and other loopholes costing America $100 billion, a stronger economic structure and tax base would help guarantee adequate school funding, which, in turn, would ensure that school systems would be able to meet their challenges.

“The thing that gets my gall is that for the past 25 years, each [school reform] recommendation has only come up with part of the puzzle—the assessments and accountability,” Weaver said. “People want to hold you accountable, but they never want to get to the economic structure.” NCLB’s supporters also seem to have forgotten that the “purpose of education is not to score well on standardized tests,” he added.

“Even if we meet all the criteria of NCLB, it still won’t prepare our children for the 21st century,” Weaver said. “The purpose of education is to give young people the tools they will need to lead a fulfilling, satisfying, and meaningful life.”

The NEA educator-activists who packed the Pennsylvania Convention Center poured their energy into shaping NEA’s agenda for the upcoming year—and beyond. Together, delegates:

WITNESSED HISTORY. NEA celebrated its 150th anniversary throughout the RA, including at an exhibit sponsored by Hyundai and a party sponsored by Target. Delegates also paid tribute to the Little Rock Nine, the Black students who dealt a blow to school segregation in 1957 by attending Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Six of the Little Rock Nine led a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

CELEBRATED DEMOCRACY. Along with a Fourth of July celebration and actor Richard Dreyfuss touting civics education, NEA presented an exhibit featuring the Magna Carta and other historical documents at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center with support from Verizon Communications, Bank of America, and Prudential. For his role in arranging the exhibit, NEA President Reg Weaver was honored with a stone column bearing his name at England’s Lincoln Cathedral, the document’s permanent home.

 

HONORED THEIR OWN . Delegates congratulated 2007 Teacher of the Year Andrea Peterson, a Washington state music teacher who raised thousands of dollars to revitalize music education, and 2007 Education Support Professional of the Year Veronica Henderson, a 27-year veteran of Baltimore County public schools and an advocate for homeless children. The crowd welcomed the RA’s 13 international guests, and cheered as NEA recognized Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with the 2007 NEA Friend of Education Award.

BROKE A RECORD. Delegates far exceeded fundraising goals for the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, which helps elect pro-education candidates, bringing in over $1.6 million.

DECLARED A NEW BILL OF RIGHTS. NEA President Reg Weaver outlined a new “education bill of rights,” which includes universal preschool, small class sizes, well-trained and well-paid educators, challenging curriculums and quality textbooks, active parent participation, adequate and equitable funding, help for English-language learners and special needs students, a high school diploma or GED, equal educational opportunities, and the use of multiple measures to determine student learning.

ELECTED NEW LEADERS. Christy Levings of Kansas and Paula Monroe of California were elected to the NEA Executive Committee. Laura Montgomery of Arkansas begins her term as president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals, and Jim Rice of Massachusetts is the new president of the National Council for Higher Education.

ON RECORD

Eight presidential candidates spoke during the 2007 RA. A recurring theme was frustration with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind:

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE): “You cannot build a new economy by having our children constantly fill out bubbles. You have to free their minds.”


Biden

Huckabee

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR): “I’m astonished there are not more Republican candidates here. Do they not think education is important? Or are they just afraid of the NEA?”

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY): “We need a new approach. One that is balanced—that puts learning, not memorizing, front and center in American education again.”


Clinton

Kucinich

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH): “We do not want to defeat the learning experience and make it all about testing, because then all you have is a generation of test-takers, not a generation of visionaries.”

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): “Test scores alone are not the only measure of a student’s achievement. What about a student’s rate of improvement?”


Dodd

Obama

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL): NCLB is “one of the emptiest slogans in the history of American politics.... [Lawmakers] left the money behind when they passed NCLB. Left the common sense behind.”

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC): “A test does not tell us what we need to do to help our children to learn.... A test does not give us the information we need to make our public schools better.”


Edwards

Richardson

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM): NCLB “can be improved, it must be improved, and when I’m elected, it will be improved or it will be abolished.”

 

 Photos by Calvin Knight, Scott Iskowitz, and Rick Runion

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September, 2007