Hope Starts Here
Our annual Representative Assembly in San Diego was the 30th RA I have attended, but it was just as exciting as my first.
Before official business even began, some 7,000 delegates and guests attended a July 2 town hall meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He shared his ideas for transforming public education—and he listened to the ideas of NEA members.
What a difference a year makes!
Secretary Duncan’s message was music to my ears. He is committed to turning around the most troubled schools, and he realizes that innovation can’t happen without collaboration. He wants NEA and our affiliates to be involved in important decisions at every level.
In my first keynote address to the RA, I challenged NEA leadership to focus on three priorities: leading the efforts to transform education; helping to rebuild the middle class by strengthening the labor movement; and building our own capacity as an organization.
There are many good ideas about transforming education, but there are also some bad ideas put forward by people who don’t have nearly as much experience or knowledge as our members. We should be open to discussing any idea, but decisions on issues such as compensation and due process should always be bargained or negotiated—never imposed.
Secretary Duncan told us that the Department of Education will focus on turning around our most troubled schools, which have high concentrations of poverty and dropouts. We must lead this effort, so I asked the RA delegates—and I’m asking each one of you—to get involved.
Economic policies that harm the middle class affect NEA’s 3.2 million members, so we need a strong voice for working families. NEA is strong, but our voice is even more powerful when we join our colleagues in organized labor. Working together, we can achieve economic fairness and health care for all Americans.
That means we must expand our capacity as an organization. We must be able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, just as our opponents can do.
I asked the RA delegates—and I’m asking each one of you—to help us build a group of at least 50 activists in every congressional district by next year. When an issue like health care or ESEA reauthorization comes up, we must be able to move at Internet speed.
The theme of this year’s RA was “Hope Starts Here.” That doesn’t mean that hope began in San Diego. It means that hope for a better future begins with education, just as it always has—and NEA is the voice of public education.
These are hard times for our nation and for many of our members. At the same time, we have a rare opportunity to transform education. It might seem like too much to tackle right now, while people are suffering. But I believe NEA is strong enough to do both. We can save jobs today, and we can save lives tomorrow, by transforming public education.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel