‘No More Excuses’
Delegates to the NEA Representative Assembly left with a charge to bring the push for great public schools back to their communities.
Delegates to this summer’s NEA Representative Assembly return to their schools with a message—no more excuses. Not for lawmakers, not for parents, and not for educators. “There are no more excuses,” NEA President Reg Weaver told delegates. “There are no more excuses for children and students who are not learning. Every American has a shared responsibility to create quality public schools, and no American should tolerate any excuses for why educators aren’t given the tools and resources they need to get the job done.”
In his keynote address, Weaver urged educators to remember why they entered the profession. “Public education only has room for those who have a passion for teaching and learning,” he said. “Public education only has room for those who are truly committed. Public education only has room for those who believe that every child can learn and that great public schools are the basic right of every child.” NEA members, he added, must take “personal responsibility” in building community support for efforts to ensure that every student has access to a quality public education.
That’s the approach delegates agreed to take in reforming the Bush Administration’s version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the so-called No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), which is up for reauthorization by Congress in 2007. The comprehensive, grassroots agenda approved by delegates advocates for great public schools for every child, and would provide for preK and kindergarten programs, nutrition and health care programs to mitigate the effects of poverty, and a rich curriculum that fosters critical thinking and includes important subjects not tested under NCLB. It also calls for a sound accountability system that relies on multiple measures of success and rewards improvement rather than punishing already struggling schools.
Nearly 70 percent of NEA members surveyed disapprove of NCLB, and 57 percent want to see major changes in the law. To help make that happen, delegates left the RA with palm-sized cards to share with colleagues, listing five things every member can do to help fix NCLB. They include e-mailing your member of Congress, making a contribution to the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, posting personal stories at www.nea.org/esea, writing letters to the editor, and getting the word out to other NEA members.
Weaver stressed that the Association continues focusing its efforts on five strategic goals: closing the gaps in student achievement; reaching out to ethnic minority communities; ensuring that teachers have a minimum salary of $40,000 and providing a living wage for education support professionals; expanding membership to offer support to more education employees; and working to achieve adequacy and equity in public school funding.
“We all have a responsibility to create quality public schools, and lawmakers are no exception,” Weaver said. “Great public schools depend on educators, parents, community leaders, and members of Congress, and none of us should be making any excuses for not living up to that task.”
RA ’06: Charting Tomorrow’s Course
The educator-activists who packed the Orange County Convention Center for the 85th Representative Assembly poured their energy into shaping NEA’s agenda for the upcoming year—and beyond. During the four-day meeting, delegates:
CONSIDERED THE BIG PICTURE. Delegates approved a vision, mission, and core values for the Association, which will drive its strategic initiatives and guide members in a common direction for years to come. The vision: a great public school for every student. The mission: to advocate for education professionals and to unite NEA members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world.
The core values: equal opportunity, a just society, democracy, professionalism, partnership, and collective action.
COMMITTED TO ACTION. Delegates approved an array of New Business Items, including measures addressing arts education, changes to Medicare Part D, and threats to academic freedom. They also passed a resolution calling for protection of families, English classes for immigrants, and opposition to policies that hinder workers’ ability to organize. (For more on NEA Resolutions, see page 50.)
ELECTED LEADERS. NEA Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen and Executive Committee members Mark Cebulski and Carolyn Crowder won new terms.
BROKE A RECORD. Delegates far exceeded their 2006 fundraising goal for the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, bringing in nearly $1.53 million for the PAC (see “Packing a Punch,” page 30). In response to fundraising challenges, Wisconsin Education Association Council President Stan Johnson made good on a promise to shave the mustache he’d sported since eighth grade, and Louisiana Education Association Executive Director Bruce Hunt etched a small tattoo of a fleur-de-lis on his shoulder.
HONORED THEIR OWN. Delegates recognized 2006 Teacher of the Year Kimberly Oliver, a kindergarten teacher at Broad Acres Elementary School in Maryland; honored Nancy Toombs, NEA’s ESP of the Year, a custodian supervisor at South Heights Elementary in Henderson, Kentucky, and an at-large ESP member of the NEA Board of Directors; and welcomed 10 international guests from South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. NEA also presented its Friend of Education Award to the Tom Joyner Foundation, which has raised more than $35 million for students at historically Black colleges and universities across the nation.
LENT A HAND. More than 300 NEA volunteers helped paint, landscape, and clean up Orlando’s Eccleston Elementary School as part of the annual Outreach to Teach event; others took time out to read to local children as part of NEA’s Read Across America program.
LOOKED BACK. Members celebrated the 40th anniversary of the merger between NEA and the American Teachers Association, which transformed both the Association and education for Black students throughout the South and Southeast.
SENT A MESSAGE. More than 11,000 of them, in fact. Throughout the four-day event, the Legislative Action Center sent about 11,000 messages from delegates to Congress and collected more than 1,000 personal stories about how NCLB has affected educators’ lives. In hers, Amanda Knowles, a high school science teacher from Washington, said that she is leaving the profession because of pressures related to testing. Stories like Knowles’ will be instrumental in NEA’s efforts to change the law.