NEA Board of Directors — February 2014


Washington, D.C.

NEA Directors and Officers attending:  Eric Brown, Joyce Bailey, Alex Wallace, Vickie Mahrt, Rainy Kaplan, IEA Vice Pres. Kathi Griffin, and IEA Secretary-Treasurer Al Llorens.  Unable to attend: Jim Grimes, Tom Tully and IEA Pres. Cinda Klickna.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on Common Core Standards—

NEA president Dennis Van Roekel challenged the NEA board of directors on Feb. 7 in Washington D.C. to take a more active role in supporting the Common Core.   “NEA has to come out strongly and clearly with our exact position (on Common Core) and not only what we’re against, but what we’re for,” he said.

The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states, but as implementation efforts ramp up, so have concerns about the lack of time educators have to transition. In addition, many assessment and accountability issues remain unresolved, and many educators have expressed concern that tying evaluations to tests that aren’t even available yet is unfair.

Van Roekel wants NEA to “de-couple” the standards from the implementation process and evaluate the standards on their own. “Nobody assumes or pretends that they are perfect,” he said. “If you don’t think we should have these standards, then what do you want? Different ones, high low? Do you want to start the whole process over because that’s 6-8 years?”

The implementation and combining of Common Core with testing and evaluation is the more serious concern, Van Roekel said. “What’s your plan of transition? That’s a totally different discussion from what are the standards?”   The greatest concern right now is that multiple states will withdraw from the Common Core. “What are the consequences if 10 states pull out?” asked Van Roekel. “I think this would be the largest step backwards to sense and sensibility in America.”

The opportunity for NEA right now is to align itself with parents who are critical of how the standards are being implemented. “I am lifted up by the parents going to forums. There is a huge groundswell starting to come up. We need to use organizational skill to help join with them.  It’s a combination of what’s bubbling up and what we can do that will really make a difference,” he said. “We are going to change what is happening in America. I believe the time is right that we can topple this whole misguided test industry.”

In the past few months, NEA has been using surveys and small group discussions to gather member feedback about all aspects of the Common Core.  From those sessions and surveys, Van Roekel said, it’s become clear that NEA members want the union to help them succeed in this new environment.  “We are going to have to intensify efforts to impact practice,” Van Roekel said. This will come through help with lessons, professional development, and even legislation.

Last summer, the organization launched the NEA Master Teacher Project with BetterLesson, an edTech group that is brining together some of the most talented NEA members in the country to document and share what makes them so effective. On Jan. 17, BetterLesson launched a website that includes a full-year curriculum of creative, high-quality lesson plans aligned to the Common Core.  Over 3,000 lesson plans from 95 Master Teachers, complete with videos, are coming online. By the fall of 2015, BetterLesson plans to have over 16,000 Master Teacher lessons live.

Van Roekel said that he envisions a future where the public sees NEA differently. He said that he wants them to say, “Oh my god, they are moving. They see what’s right for kids and they’re going for it.”

NEA values its relationships with minority partner groups, Van Roekel said, and he has met with leaders from some of the biggest partner groups in the country recently to listen to their thoughts on Common Core.  He said these groups are very concerned about the disaggregated data that shows that minority students continue to struggle. “Don’t you think it’s time to change the focus?” he said. “How many more years of test results do we need to point out that kids aren’t getting what they need?”

“Tell me where this testing mania has helped students? There aren’t any,” he said.  The No Child Left Behind era hasn’t lead to an improvement in education, Van Roekel said. The data highlights the problems, he said, but “who has said, ‘Look at this. We need to fix that.’” He challenged the board to step up. “The adults have a responsibility to do something.”

Looking to the NEA board, Van Roekel said that educators should engage in the process of evaluating tests. “Can you name the three types of assessments that you as a professional support?”

Van Roekel met one-on-one with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Feb. 7 and reported back to the board the next day.  He called the meeting, he said, because he wanted Duncan to know how deeply that NEA cares about the Common Core and how it relates to students.  He shared NEA’s polling and survey results with Duncan and told him, “people absolutely believe we’re going down the wrong road and there has to be a course correction.”  Duncan said that the American public likes the word accountability, but Van Roekel said that NEA would be putting solutions on the table. “I’m not waiting, NEA is going to come out loud and clear about we think has to change.”

Van Roekel said that he believes Duncan is willing to help, but that NEA will need to take the lead.  “This is a turning point in the ballgame,” he said. “You have to recognize when it happens, and that is now.”  NEA must sharpen its focus on the Common Core and the promise it holds for all children. “We can’t have 17 number one priorities,” he said. “We need to focus and it starts now.”

Standing in front of the 180 members of the NEA board of directors, Van Roekel said, “We’ve got to choose if that’s what we’re going to focus on as a priority. … Each of you have to decide. Where should this organization be? I don’t want to just manage. I want to lead this profession.”

MSU Professor Speaks on Common Core State Standards—

When it comes to education statistics, there aren’t many experts that have more experience than Michigan State University professor William Schmidt.   So, when Schmidt told the NEA board of directors on Feb. 7 that the Common Core has the potential to raise student performance across the country, it wasn’t just a guess.

He has the numbers to back it up.

Schmidt made his case using standards from countries around the world, and plenty of data from U.S. students.              And his conclusion? “Schooling does matter.”

This may seem obvious, but there is a temptation by some to make social class the more important statistic. Schmidt says it’s not.  His detailed analysis of the Common Core standards shows that they are consistent with the standards from the highest performing countries—90 percent consistent, to be exact.

“We now have world class standards,” Schmidt said.  But now it’s time to make sure all students get a chance to focus on them. Unfortunately, he said, “The US is one of the most inequitable countries in the world. What you get exposed to depends on where you live.”

With 45 states adopting the Common Core, that should change. And Schmidt is excited about that. “I’ve seen the data, and I’m telling you this is a wonderful chance.  We’re at a precipice. If we go the right way, we’ll give our kids the best chance that we’ve had in a long time,” said Schmidt. “This is the chance that we have to obliterate that (inequity).”  The biggest hurdle for the U.S., however, is implementation, he said.  The Common Core has reshuffled and realigned how much time teachers need to spend at different areas. Using elementary math statistics, Schmidt noted that fractions are under-taught at third grade. In fact, most items are out of alignment.

While in the past, teachers have often turned to textbooks for help with alignment to standards; Schmidt said the current textbooks are not helping teachers get there. In fact, he accused publishers of misrepresenting their products.  “These books are not aligned,” he said. “Publishers are putting seals on them, but there is no change.”  Schmidt advised not to buy any new textbooks until good ones come out. “There isn’t a single book out there that is at all useful to implement these standards.”

Schmidt focused much of his presentation on the numbers to back up his conclusions about where teachers spend their time, and where the Common Core suggests more time should be spent.  Looking at mathematics in grades K through 8, he noted large difference in the amount of time teachers spend with certain concepts, and what the Common Core and other expert teachers suggest. For eighth grade, not enough time is spent by U.S. teachers, defining, evaluating, and comparing functions, Schmidt said. While at the same time, eighth grade teachers spend too much time understanding and applying the Pythagorean Theorem.

Teachers also find themselves not spending enough time on grade-level topics. Based on classroom observations, math teachers spend 10 percent or more of their time on topics that are above grade level or not in the Common Core.

Schmidt suggested that helping students gain a deeper knowledge of the standards from their particular grade level is more valuable than teaching items that are a grade or two above where the students should be. He blamed textbooks for much of this diversion, noting that the most mathematics textbooks are only about 50 percent aligned with the appropriate grade level, and some dip as low as 19 percent.

Making this happen won’t be easy, and he suggested that time was needed. “There should be no testing that counts for anything for three or four years as the whole system comes in line.”

Schmidt urged teachers to align their lessons to the standards.  “Try your hardest,” he said. “Get these things implemented for the sake of the kids in this country.”

PFLAG Director Urges Alliance with Educators—

Flanked by a large group of GLBT caucus members, Jody Huckabee, the executive director of PFLAG, encouraged the NEA to make schools safer for gay students.

“Each of you must leverage your voice as an educator to make schools better, to make schools safer,” Huckabee said.

PFLAG, which has 368 chapters across the country, is a support group for the families of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth and adults. The organization was founded by Jeanne Manford, an elementary teacher in New York City, who decided to stand up for her gay son in the 1970’s after police beat him up.

“It became personal to her,” Huckabee said. And he urged teachers and ESPs in the NEA to tell their stories.  “It’s especially important for straight people to hear other straight people stand up and articulate what they are doing to educate and support gay students,” he said.

Huckabee talked about the process of coming out, both for gay youth, as well as their families. “Often when the child comes out of the closet, the parents go into the closet,” he said.  The process of moving from tolerance to acceptance isn’t easy, he said. The next step is to move to affirmation and ultimately to celebration. The journey for the child and parent is very similar, and PFLAG tries to meet people where they are, Huckabee said.

“What would it mean to identify as an ally?” he asked. PFLAG supports NEA’s vision to create a great public school for every student, and he urged the two groups to continue the strong partnership.

Black Caucus Invites Gilmore to Speak on NEA’s History—

The board of directors also honored Al-Tony Gilmore, NEA’s historian and archivist emeritus. He noted that the 60th anniversary of the famous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision is almost here, and it’s a good time to reflect on the history of black educators within the NEA.

The author of “All the People,” Gilmore praised some of the most influential African American leaders within the NEA. He spoke about H. Councill Trenholm, J. Rupert Picott, Elizabeth Koontz, Sam Ethridge, Lauri Wynn, and Mary Hatwood Futrell.

Gilmore also spoke about “NEA: The First Hundred Years. The Building of the Teaching Profession,” a book that was published when NEA celebrated its centennial in 1957. The book, written by Edgar Wesley, was the first to point out that Robert Campbell, an African American, had been one of the founders of the NEA. “Within that book African Americans were never seen as the ones who drove the narrative for this association,” he said.

Board Business and Reports—


Dennis Van Roekel engaged the board in an in-depth discussion about the possibility of changing NEA’s guidelines for mergers between NEA and AFT affiliates. The Wisconsin Education Association is currently considering a merger with the AFT affiliate in the state. A vote will be taken April 26, and if both the NEA and AFT affiliates support the merger with 2/3 of the member’s approval, Wisconsin would become the sixth merged affiliate within NEA. This is significant, because NEA currently has a policy that limits the number of merged affiliates to six. The board met in small groups to discuss the pros and cons of leaving the cap in place or expanding or eliminating the cap. No action was taken at this time.

General Counsel

Alice O’Brien discussed the Harris v. Quinn case about agency fee in Illinois. The case is being watched very closely because Illinois is one of 20 states that allows agency fee, and if the Supreme Court was to decide against public sector agency fee, it could have very large implications for NEA and other unions. O’Brien also touched on teacher tenure cases and the UTLA v. Superior Court of CA and whether they can release the individual value added scores of teachers. O’Brien also gave an update on Cook v. Stewart, the Florida case about the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. NEA assisted with discovery in the case in the past few months. The defendants in the case admitted that 70 percent of teachers in Florida are being evaluated using test scores of students they do not have in their own classes. “The Florida system is entirely irrational. It has nothing to do with the kids that they teach, or the instruction they provide,” O’Brien said.

Vice President

Lily Eskelsen Garcia helped select the first-ever Educator Grammy  Award. The award went to NEA member Ken Knappenberger of Central School in Westfield, New York. Eskelsen noted that seven of the 10 finalists were NEA members.

Eskelsen Garcia also updated the board on the progress of the Governance Review Project. This three-year effort is charged with identifying the strengths and weaknesses of NEA’s governance structure and recommend changes. The 36-member committee will continue its work this spring and into the fall, she said.

Executive Director

John Stocks reported on a wide range of activity. He noted that the West Summit took place last month in Las Vegas and the East Summit will take place later this month. He said the focus on leadership will be helpful for NEA. “That work is going to be a game changer in this organization, because those competencies are going to tell people what they need to know to be great leaders,” he said. Stocks also noted that NEA is increasing its focus on connecting with state affiliates and communication. He said that representatives from Washington Education Association and Montgomery County in Maryland were brought in to Washington D.C. to help connect with the D.C. staff. He said more meetings like this are planned. In addition, he said, that 45 senior communication staff from nearly all the state affiliates gathered in Atlanta in a first-time event to better coordinate the national and state affiliate message about a student-centered agenda.

Read Across America

The Read Across America program will continue for NEA thanks to a $400,000 donation from Renaissance Dental. Some 16 states received grants for activities to support various events. The Cat-a-Van Reading Tour will return this year stopping in eight states between Feb. 24 and March 14. The official day to celebrate is March 3.

Great Public Schools Fund

The NEA’s Great Public Schools oversight committee has forwarded for approval grants of over $3.8 million in the second wave of applications during this school year. During the January meeting, the committee reviewed 26 applications and sent forward 14. The list goes forward to president Dennis Van Roekel and executive director John Stocks for final approval.

With this second round of grants, the GPS committee has increased the total spent on grants this year to roughly $5 million to fund unique and progressive ideas to improve student learning throughout the country. The committee will consider one more round of approvals in May, and approximately $1.2 million remains available.

In addition to the approvals for this year, the committee made tentative promises to fund some of the grants in subsequent years. Assuming the applicants make progress on their plans, the committee is prepared to continue funding for $2.5 million in year 2 for these applicants, and $2.6 million in year three. These multi-year tentative approvals are a new wrinkle to the process, and they were not done in the first round in October.

The application to submit a grant can be found at Applicants can receive application support from the Great Public Schools department and Bill Raabe.

Clark County Education Association, Nevada ($250,000, recruit and organize using Common Core)—CCEA will offer trainings and create a cadre that focuses on younger teachers with an emphasis on ELL and minority populations in Las Vegas. They also hope to pilot a parent engagement model to support this same work. (3 years @ $250,000)

Community College Association, Santa Clara, CA ($100,000, low-income college students)—This group will develop a union-led replicable model to orient and engage minority and especially Hispanic college students. They will develop new courses and curriculum to improve learning in new and unique ways. (3 years, $150,000 & $200,000)

Florida Education Association ($50,000, struggling schools)—NEA will help support FEA’s Urban Locals Round Table project to tackle strategies to improve student learning in struggling schools.

Massachusetts Teachers Association ($35,100, ESP and safe schools)—MTA will use Safe Schools summits and conferences to address issues such as cyberbullying, and LGBT concerns. The plan should lead to regulatory, professional, contractual, and legislative issues over three years. (3 years, $70,200 & $88,700)

Milwaukee Teachers Education Association ($250,000, putting student’s needs at center of organizing)—MTEA will expand the offerings of the Milwaukee Center for Teaching, Learning, and Public Education focused on empowering effective educators, including responses to the new state evaluation system and culturally response teaching practices.

Mississippi Association of Educators ($250,000, professional improvement and Common Core)—MAE will make association membership a key component of educator effectiveness by organizing, creating, and supporting leaders. (3 years, $250,000, $250,000)

NEA-Alaska ($245,000, professional improvement and standards implementation)—NEA-Alaska will use strategic planning to advance new ideas in education reform that truly lead to improved student learning, incorporating both teachers and ESPs. (2 years, $240,000)

New York State United Teachers ($250,000, Common Core implementation)—NYSUT will develop lessons and videos on an array of K-12 subjects using their own members and then properly support that implementation. (3 years, $250,000, $250,000)

Pennsylvania State Education Association ($249,000, educator improvement)—PSEA will build staff capacity to implement components of the York City Recovery Plan, and support professional development, site facilitators for site-based decision-making, professional learning outside the work day, and time for the local president to support the site-based decision-making.

Prince George County Educators Association, Maryland ($50,000, whole child learning)—PGCEA wants to create a K-5 academy centered on while child learning.

Seattle Education Association ($250,000, closing achievement gaps)—SEA will focus on two proven routes to closing achievement gaps—providing high quality early childhood education and ensuring teacher student ratios enable teachers to provide individualized instruction to each student. (3 years, $250,000, $250,000)

Utah School Employees Association ($250,000, organizational transformation)—USEA plans to create an organizational transformation project that can be a model for other affiliates that want to build strong, member-led associations focused on supporting student success and serving members’ on-the-job needs. (3 years, $250,000, $250,000)

Washington Education Association, application 1 ($39,975, Jump Start)—WEA has long supported the drive for national board certification, but as the national board switches to anew format, the Jump Start curriculum must be redesigned.

Washington Education Association, application 2 ($150,000, professional development)—WEA is working to implement the new four-tier evaluation system based on one of the three instructional frameworks (Danielson, Marzano and UW-Center for Educational Leadership 5 Dimensions for Teaching and Learning). (3 years, $250,000, $250,000)

Board Positions on RA Amendments, Rules Changes—

The Representative Assembly in Denver this July will consider the following proposed changes to the Constitution, Bylaws, and Standing Rules. The following are the board’s positions from the Feb. 7-8 meeting:

Constitutional Amendment 1: Change the frequency of RA from annual to once every three years. Board will consider this item in May.

Constitutional Amendment 2: Remove the classroom teacher percentage requirement for NEA committees. BOARD SUPPORTS

Bylaw Amendment 1: Appropriate percentage of membership constituencies at RA. BOARD OPPOSES

SR 1: Eliminate additional speaking time for people speaking on behalf of constituencies. BOARD OPPOSES

SR 2: Not allowing speaking time to be yielded for purposes other than what the speaker was recognized. BOARD SUPPORTS

SA 3: Recognizing at least one person speaking in opposition before closing debate. BOARD SUPPORTS

SA 4: Remove unnecessary language about motion’s to substitute. BOARD SUPPORTS

SA 5: Remove the requirement for a standing vote prior to a roll call motion. BOARD OPPOSES

SA 6: Require motions to amend or substitute to be submitted in writing. BOARD OPPOSES

SA 7: Allow bylaw amendments to be subject to motions to object to consideration. NO POSITION

SA 8: Continue practice of allowing rationale statements of up to 40 words, as is current practice. BOARD SUPPORTS

SA 9: Force all NEA policy statements to expire after five years unless renewed by RA. BOARD OPPOSES

NEA Call for Day of Service for Chavez—

The NEA board of directors unanimously passed a motion calling for President Barack Obama to designate March 31 as a Day of Service in honor of labor leader Cesar Chavez. The NEA joins many other groups and the Cesar Chavez Foundation in calls for this honor. A website has been set up to collect signatures. Go to Chavez organized farm workers in California in the 1960s. On March 28 the film, titled, “Cesar Chavez: An American Hero,” opens.  It was directed by Diego Luna and stars Michael Pena.

Dues Approved for 2014-2015—

The NEA board of directors approved the dues for the 2014-2015 year. Certified members will pay $183 and ESP members $110.50. Certified dues increase $1 and ESP dues remain the same.

Thanks to Tim Parker, NEA Director for Alaska, for these articles.


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