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Diverse Group of Educators Strategize on Ways to Ensure a Quality Education for All

Joint conference focuses on a new era arising for public education


WASHINGTON - June 30, 2008 -

Educational leaders and strategists from around the country met at the NEA Human and Civil Rights Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women this weekend in order to address the grassroots efforts needed to encourage transformational change in the way our children of all ethnicities, of all cultural backgrounds and all socioeconomic groups are educated. 

Conferees participated in more than 26 workshops and plenary sessions based on the following areas: Building an Equal and Just Society; Leadership and Advocacy; Meeting the Needs of Students; and Creating Safe and Healthy Environments.

Dr. Sheila Simmons, director of NEA's Human and Civil Rights Department, said the nearly 1,000 attendees demonstrated a clear need for change in the public education system.  Every child deserves a quality public school, and this conference formulated ideas to achieve this goal, she said.

"The participants expressed the need for us to do something.  We need to use social justice as a foundation for our work," she said.  "As educators, we need to always raise the issue of bias reduction.  As professionals, we need to make sure that we are culturally competent to meet the needs of the diverse students in the classroom. And foremost, always remember that diversity is value added."

Noted education researchers, experts and leaders delivered keynote addresses as part of the two-day conference.  The opening plenary session featured Dr. Michael Pavel, widely hailed as being at the forefront of research on the positive influence of traditional knowledge in the education of indigenous youth.  His traditional chants and inspirational speech served as a great beginning to the conference.

"We as human beings were given the charge to care for, to nourish and protect this way of life.  The more we live productively and in harmony, we all reap the rewards," Dr. Pavel said.  "Janitors, teacher aides, speech hearing therapists, administrators, teachers, we are all educators."

The lunchtime speaker on Saturday, Dr. Sonia Nieto, is an internationally renowned teacher whose parents are from Puerto Rico. Nieto shared her perspective on the education of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Nieto recently received the 2008 AERA Social Justice Award. 

"Multicultural education is as basic for living in today's world as reading and computer literacy.  It's not a frill. It's not a fad. It's not an add-on," Dr. Nieto said.  "If we don't teach our children with a multicultural perspective, we're not preparing them to live in the world."

At Sunday's lunch closing session, Dr. Alvin Thornton, associate provost for academic affairs at Howard University and one of the nation's foremost authorities on the politics of education reform, delivered the keynote address.  Dr. Thornton chaired Maryland's historic Commission on Education Equity, Adequacy and Excellence (The Thornton Commission) that resulted in the Bridge to Excellence legislation, which advanced education finance equity, adequacy and accountability in the state.

"We cannot have democracy without educated citizens," Dr. Thornton said.  "Education is a fundamental right that should be available at a high level of quality to every child.  It should be a guaranteed right … We must share wealth with our children and make sure that our communities, homes and schools are organized in a manner that supports their right to a constitutionally protected equal education.  Anything less is unacceptable to me!"

This year's gathering was the final presiding of NEA President Reg Weaver who will wrap up his second term as head of the 3.2 million-member NEA on August 31.  Emotions were high as the joint conference and the leaders of the Human and Civil Rights Department thanked President Weaver for his leadership and perseverance on behalf of the human and civil rights of every child.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee 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: Samantha Kappalman  (202) 822-7823