The Good Fight
For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit my office in Washington, you may have noticed a photo of a bill signing hanging on the wall by the door. It is a very special photo for me because it represents a major accomplishment in my career as an advocate for public school educators.
I pioneered a campaign as president of the Illinois Education Association that led to the passage of the state's first mandatory and comprehensive collective bargaining law. That photo captures the hard work and tireless efforts to improve the professional lives of Illinois' public school employees.
As president of the National Education Association, I have brought the same tenacity and passion. I was elected NEA president in the same year that No Child Left Behind was enacted, and there was a groundswell of acclaim for this legislation. We supported the law's worthy goals but expressed concerns from the start that its one-size-fits-all approach was misguided and ill-advised. Six years later, NEA's early concerns about the legislation have been validated as NCLB's many policy flaws and unintended consequences have become all too apparent. The Administration now recognizes that the law must be fixed—and many of the changes have come as a result of our members speaking out on the changes that are needed.
|We are the right people, in the right places, at the right time. And we have the right ideas for public education.
When I came into office in 2002, I aspired for NEA to be everywhere—in the supermarkets, the barbershops, the beauty shops—in every corner of every community. We made outreach to minority communities a priority during my tenure because for NEA and public education to remain strong we must acknowledge our changing demographics and embrace diversity. Nearly half of the nation's children under five are racial or ethnic minorities, so the sweeping tide of change is inevitable. NEA must work collaboratively with ethnic minority communities to close the gaps in student achievement, improve the quality of their schools, and ensure all children the education they need and deserve.
When you elected me president, NEA had about 2.7 million members, and the conventional wisdom was that our membership would decline. Yet a renewed emphasis on membership became our charge—I asked you to "bring me some members" and you answered the call. Today, we are 3.2 million strong, making us the largest labor organization in the nation.
But NEA is special not just because of our size. We are special because of our organizational purpose, which is exemplified by a landmark vision, mission, and values adopted in 2006. We are millions of voices but we have one message: the belief that every child, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education. We are 14,000 local affiliates but we share one mission.
We are passionate about education because we have all seen how the joy of learning can inspire a child and make a lasting difference in his or her life. I have traveled the globe as vice president of Education International and have listened to many stories of pain and triumph in the fight for public education. Educators around the world share many common challenges, and I have used the opportunity to raise awareness globally of the need for better professional development, more public/private partnerships, and improved working conditions for teachers and education support professionals. The basic right to great public schools doesn't end at our borders. As an organization, NEA can't afford to simply ignore the global struggle to preserve public education.
For over 30 years, I have bared my soul in the fight for quality public schools and that fight must continue. We must fight for the resources to close achievement gaps, reduce dropout rates, and modernize crumbling schools. We must fight for educators who are underpaid and undervalued. And we must fight to always have educators at the table so education reforms are done with us, not to us.
We have never substituted words for action. We have stood together in the midst of the mightiest storms. I still believe, as I said six years ago, that we are the right people, in the right places, at the right time. And we have the right ideas for public education.
Team NEA, I bid you strong resolve and a renewal of your strength and zeal for advancing the interests of educators and the children of America. Thanks for all you do! It has been an honor to serve with you.