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9,000 educators fired up to take the lead in schools

NEA delegates wrap up week of organizing on education policy


NEW ORLEANS - July 06, 2010 -

In the face of unprecedented budget cuts in public education and unrelenting criticism of public education, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, called on the 9,000 delegates to the Representative Assembly to become activists and advocates—both professionally and politically.

In his keynote address, Van Roekel urged educators to take the lead in creating sound education policies and take charge of the teaching profession.  He announced that NEA will create a new commission on effective teaching that will bring together accomplished teachers, Association leaders, researchers, and policymakers from across the country to offer recommendations on how teachers can take greater authority over their profession, the quality of teaching, and the quality of public education.  According to Van Roekel, accountants, nurses, doctors and lawyers all have a say in the professional standards, processes and procedures that govern their practice, and he says that educators should have that same influence over their own profession.

On the political front, Van Roekel criticized the Department of Education’s focus on grant competitions that reward just a handful of states or districts. He specifically mentioned Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. “While we applaud the administration for its commitment to fund education, our members are frustrated by the disconnect between what they need each day to support their students and schools and the federal policies that hold up struggling students as products to be tested,” Van Roekel said.

Delegates stepped up and took action this week to influence their members of Congress. At the Representative Assembly’s Legislative Action Center, delegates sent 13,000 email messages to federal lawmakers on education-related topics. More than 840 educators videotaped messages to their senators and representatives in Washington, D.C. Thousands also wrote down on postcards the specific provisions they want to see when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind, comes up for reauthorization this fall. Those messages will be delivered to Education Secretary Arne Duncan before the debate heats up in Congress.

Throughout the week, delegates learned more about NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign where NEA affiliates and educators are already making a difference. At Putnam City West High School in Oklahoma City, Okla., for example, graduation rates for Hispanic students are up by nearly 70 percent because of a combination of targeted academic programs, parental involvement and professional development. In Evansville, Ind., administrators and union officials launched an equity schools project to transform schools through professional development for teachers and extended learning time for students. In Denver, Colo., teachers, the union and parents have teamed up to build the Math and Science Leadership Academy, where teachers emphasize collaboration that focuses on student learning.

Other highlights of the 2010 Representative Assembly:

  • Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley received the America’s Greatest Education Governor Award for the investment his state has made in its public schools and his efforts to make college more affordable, among many other achievements.
  • Historian and education scholar Diane Ravitch received the NEA Friend of Education Award. With her recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, she is raising concerns over testing mania, school choice, and charters—concepts she once embraced but clearly has left behind.
  • Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 Teacher of the Year, spoke to delegates about her belief that teachers must be the lead learners in their own classrooms—that means teachers are listening, interacting, and working side by side with their students.
  • ESP of the Year Helen Cottongim, a school bus driver from Kentucky, urged delegates to stand strong in the face of new assaults on children and schools. “Today, we are faced with the old enemies that keep coming back to hurt us: not enough money to fund our school systems, poor health care, vanishing retirement benefits.”
  • Two members of NEA’s Executive Committee—Paula Monroe and Christy Levings—were re-elected to a second three-year term that begins September 1.
  • Continuing a long-standing tradition, this year’s Representative Assembly hosted 14 international guests from 12 countries, all representing educators’ unions around the world.
  • NEA held its annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner to honor community activists for their work in advancing the cause of equal opportunity, improving relationships between diverse groups and expanding educational opportunities for minority students and educators.
  • NEA’s Read Across America held a fun-filled literacy event at the Louisiana Children’s Museum and partnered with New Orleans public libraries throughout the weeklong convention.
  • More than 500 college students and NEA members spent a day renovating Belle Chasse High School, a school ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, in NEA’s annual Outreach to Teach project.

For complete RA coverage: www.nea.org/ra
To visit the NEA Press Center: www.nea.org/presscenter
For more on NEA’s ESEA priorities: www.nea.org/home/13193.htm
For more on NEA’s Priority School’s Campaign: http://neapriorityschools.org/

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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: Staci Maiers  (202) 270-5333 or smaiers@nea.org