NEA Board Meeting–Washington, DC–May 2014



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

Members say Common Core Implementation is Often Flawed

NEA completed polling started last summer, and the results indicate that members are becoming more and more dissatisfied with the implementation of new standards.

Executive director John Stocks discussed the poll with the board of directors at the May meeting. NEA members continue to associate the new standards with testing and evaluation, and even though they remain positive about the quality of the standards, their overall opinion of Common Core is dropping.

“It’s very clear that what we need to do is to de-couple those factors (testing and evaluation) from the standards,” Stocks said. “Members are clear about what they need to do to get it right, and they’re not getting it right—right now.”

The poll was conducted in three phases: A survey of 800 members last July, focus groups involving 434 members in the fall, and a web survey that included 16,720 members in 33 states completed in January.

The surveys concluded that members believe 1) There has been a very poor process of Common Core implementation in most districts, 2) Assessments are toxic, and 3) There is a lack of opportunity for members to help inform implementation in their own districts.

In the July survey, roughly 75 percent of members expressed support or “support with reservations” for the new standards, while only 11 percent said they did not support and 14 percent were undecided. But in the January web survey, the support columns dropped to 71 percent and the “do not support” category rose to 29 percent, and almost nobody was undecided.

Those who do not support the standards point to an overemphasis on standardized tests as the problem. They also think that implementation is too rushed. Among all members, two-thirds said that there is too much testing in schools.

And finally, when it comes to a “grace period” on accountability to allow quality implementation, 81 percent in July agreed with the statement, and that rose to 93 percent earlier this year with the web survey.

In late February, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel called for a “course correction” on the standards. He said that states and districts should treat educators as professionals and listen to their suggestions on implementation. They also need to provide the resources and time to get it right.

Van Roekel called on policymakers to “work with educators—not around us—to determine how to properly use assessments in classrooms.”

At the May meeting, Stocks announced that NEA has spent $2 million through the Great Public Schools grants to support quality implementation. He also announced that NEA has received a $750,000 grant from the Kellogg Corp. to go to NEA’s Teacher Leadership Initiative. This grant will allow educators to expand the TLI curriculum and focus on diversity, equity and cultural competency.

“This is a huge move forward for us as a union,” Stocks said. “When we define the program as what we want to do and we get philanthropy to help us–then that is just golden.”


NEA Prepares to Say Goodbye to President Van Roekel

There are few people more mission-driven than Dennis Van Roekel. And for 46 years, that mission has centered on teaching and the National Education Association.

But on July 6, his mission will undergo a major shift. Van Roekel’s six-year stint as president of the NEA will conclude, and he plans to move back to Arizona and retire.

When Van Roekel was elected president in 2008 he said, “My goal is to continue the work of the Association in creating great public schools for every student.”

This mission is something Van Roekel strived for during his 23 years as a math teacher, and it’s something that he helped put into sharp focus during his presidency, despite very challenging obstacles.

During Van Roekel’s tenure, America went through a recession, and public education and unions came under attack, resulting in membership decrease from 3.3 to 3 million.

As membership dropped, Van Roekel helped lead NEA through a transformation from a “service model” to an “organizing model” where educators take control of their profession. He was quick to credit others for laying the groundwork for this change.

“I hope what people see is that I didn’t start something new,” Van Roekel said. “I continued a journey that really started under Mary Futrell her first year in 83-84.”

Van Roekel brought together the Committee on Effective Teachers and Teaching in 2011. They called for NEA to Lead the Profession. They said that NEA should put student learning at the center of everything the organization does.

And Van Roekel was happy to make that happen.

“I’m just lucky enough to be at a place where it wasn’t linear, but where it curved,” he said. “But there was so much done before me that positioned ourselves, us as an organization.”

Financially, NEA remains in very good shape, and Van Roekel credits executive directors John Stocks and John Wilson for making that happen. NEA was able to manage the membership loss, including an $11 million cut in 2011-12.

“For us to be, by financial measures, better positioned than we were when we started that process is amazing,” Van Roekel said. “In tough crisis times you have to make an honest assessment of that environment, to say, ‘In this environment what do we have to do to be successful?’ That’s what I think we did well.”

Van Roekel has another year to serve in his term as the vice president of Education International.


Bringing people together through collaboration is something Van Roekel consciously worked to do as president.

One way that collaboration emerged was the way Van Roekel worked with other major labor unions. During his tenure, NEA signed a partnership agreement in 2013 with SEIU and AFSCME.

The presidents of the two other unions were on hand last week to celebrate Van Roekel’s last regular board meeting prior to the RA.

Mary Kay Henry, the SEIU president, said, “There is an unbreakable bond between our organizations. This man (Van Roekel) leads from his own authentic self. I am deeply grateful to be able to mark this moment and honor this man, Dennis Van Roekel.”

Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, said, “NEA has truly been blessed to have a leader like Dennis Van Roekel … He understands that all of us must come together. Thank you for working together for families across America.”

Although NEA will continue without Van Roekel, his leadership style and inspiration is bound to have a lasting effect. Over and over he would repeat, “We need a great public school for every child.”

America can’t quite say “mission accomplished” for schools yet, but almost everyone within NEA would agree that the country is a few steps closer, thanks to Van Roekel’s positive influence.


Lighthouse Locals to Lead the Professions

NEA unveiled its “Lighthouse Locals” campaign at the May board meeting.

With the goal of improving student achievement, NEA will focus additional resources on five different locals. The locals were selected because they are trying new practices that NEA hopes can be shared with other locals.

“We think of a lighthouse as a thing that shows the way to great teaching and public schools,” said NEA staff member Secky Fascione as she introduced the idea.

The Lighthouse Locals are the Clark County Education Association in Las Vegas, Nevada; the Seattle Education Association; the Mississippi Association of Educators, with a focus in Jackson; the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association; and the Utah School Employees Association (the state ESP association for Utah).

MTEA president Bob Peterson attended the NEA board meeting to explain his local’s efforts to “re-imagine” his union. Peterson was elected in the midst of the worker uprisings during the Spring of 2011. He said his association was too dependent on the “service model,” and that members didn’t feel empowered.

He warned other locals to watch out for this same trap. “If we’re not careful, Wisconsin will be your future, and you don’t want that,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the new MTEA would emphasize equal parts traditional unionism such as bargaining and advocacy, professional issues, and social justice. But just because the local adopted these three areas of focus doesn’t make it happen.

Because Wisconsin lost the right to collectively bargain, the union has been forced to use collective action to make change. Where the ESPs used to get $5 an hour additional pay when they were told to substitute for a teacher, when the contracts were rolled back, that provision disappeared. So MTEA mobilized and went to the school board meetings. They got it back, and they even got a little better arrangement.

Peterson now has his eyes on all the schools in his district to make sure they are of high quality. “If there is a school down the street that you won’t send your own kid to, then we have a problem,” he said.

Now the local is working to form a parent coalition. They are modeling their work after the St. Paul, Minnesota, local with, “The Schools our Children Deserve.” In St. Paul, the local organized parents and asked them what contract provisions they should try to obtain at the bargaining table. The MTEA doesn’t get to negotiate in quite the same way, so they are leaning more heavily towards collective action. They have a May 17 event planned to rally support.

Gordon Lafer, a University of Oregon professor, followed Peterson at the NEA event.

Lafer has been researching the money that private companies are spending on online education and the schools they are trying to form where the focus is only on reading and math. He said Rocketship Education, funded by two venture capitalists, is following this model.

“They see education as a $3.8 trillion industry and they don’t have a big enough piece of it,” Lafer said. “They want to replace everything. Teaching is not an art. It’s all quantifiable and testable.”

Although technology has the ability to enhance student learning when used in an active lesson plan driven by a teacher, Lafer said many of these programs incorporate passive use of technology where kids just sit and do activities, kind of like video games. Much of this is developmentally inappropriate, he said.


Getting Ready for the RA in Denver

The 2014 Representative Assembly in Denver is just two months away, and most of the planning for the event has been done. But there are still things that both members who will attend and those who are not attending should know.

At the top of the list are proposed amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws. Constitutional Amendment 1 would change the frequency of the RA itself. The proposal is to have an RA only once every third year, but that could be amended down to every other year. Constitutional Amendment 2 would remove the requirement that all committees contain at least 75 percent classroom teachers. This issue has come before the RA for the past three years and has not been passed.

The board does not support CA 1, but does support CA 2.

Bylaw Amendment 1 seeks to require that states that do not send an appropriate percentage of members from each membership category develop a plan to make that happen in the future. The item is similar Bylaw 3-1g, which requires a plan for states that do not elect enough minority representatives to the RA. The board opposes this bylaw.

In addition, one New Business Item has already been filed. The item calls for NEA to hold a Constitutional Convention. The item was submitted by Montana and would cost $1.8 million. The board opposes this item.

Most delegates who are attending RA are busy making travel arrangements. The schedule for the RA is on the website. The event starts with registration on July 1 and ends July 6.

This will be President Dennis Van Roekel’s final RA, and elections will be held for the offices of president, vice president, secretary/treasurer, and two members of the executive committee. There will also likely be elections to at-large position on the board of directors.

Van Roekel will conduct two Teletown Hall meetings in June for delegates to get prepped for RA. They are scheduled for June 4 and 16. Delegates should receive an email with instructions about how to participate.

NEA has cautioned delegates about the altitude in Denver.


Asian-Pacific Islander Observance

The NEA heard from two Japanese Americans who lived through this difficult time during the Asian-Pacific Islander Observance on May 2 in Washington, D.C.

Terry Shima and Mary Tamaki Murakami both lived through the war and experienced racism because of their heritage.

Murakami told her story of being sent to an internment camp. When the war broke out her family lived in San Francisco on the edge of Japan Town. Although some internees will still not speak about this shameful part of American history, Murakami considers it an obligation. “I have to speak up, so it won’t be repeated,” she said.

Following Executive Order 9066, which was issued in February 1942, Murakami and her family were ordered to report to a horse race track in the San Francisco area. The assembly area was one of 16 centers where internees were sent while internment camps were built. Although her family got to stay in barracks, some families were forced to stay in horse stalls.

The internment camps became ready in the fall of 1942, and she boarded a train guarded by U.S. soldiers and shades drawn for the trip to Camp Topaz in Utah.

She continued her education at the camp, completing all the school courses that were available. When she finished the last 12th grade class, they told her to start again at 9th grade.

In the winter of 1944, with the war drawing to a close, the internment order was lifted and Japanese Americans were allowed to return to California. Murakami applied to the University of California, at Berkeley, where she received a degree in public health microbiology.

After the war, she took care of her parents and family, but the racism persisted. “After the war was the most difficult time,” she said. “That’s when you really felt discriminated against.”

Also a teenager at the start of the war, Terry Shima grew up in Hawaii.

Some Japanese Americans were sent to the mainland and some to the island of Molokai. Shima said things turned bad quickly in his small Hawaiian town where people perceived them as collaborators and saboteurs.

His family was not forced to the mainland internment camps, and he was allowed to join a voluntary defense force that patrolled the coastline. In 1944, Shima was drafted and arrived in Italy in time for VE Day in 1945.

Shima was awarded the presidential citizens medal by Barack Obama for his service. Along with the Tuskegee Airmen, Shima said that racially segregated military units served honorably during the way. “That settled the question of loyalty,” he said. “Thereby leveling the playing field for minorities to compete for any job. After the war.”

“The Japanese American story speaks of the greatness of America,” Shima said as he concluded his remarks to the NEA board. “We are proud of our citizenship in this great nation. God Bless the USA, and thank you very much.”


Hispanic Observance

With chants of Sí, se puede, the NEA Hispanic caucus put the NEA board of directors into a fiery mood on May 3.

The chant, which means roughly, “Yes, it is possible,” echoed through NEA’s Washington D.C. building as Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association took the stage.

Huerta, along with César Chávez, made headlines in 1962 when they founded the organization. In 1965, Huerta directed the UFW’s boycott during the Delano grape strike. The boycott resulted in the entire California table grape industry signing a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the union in 1970.

The 84-year-old labor leader enthusiastically encouraged the NEA to keep the spirit of organized burning strong. “Educators and teachers are going to go straight to heaven,” Huerta said. She called on the NEA to continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform that is currently stalled in the House of Representatives.

Huerta also noted the recent remarks by Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. “Others were shocked by those statements, “ she said. “To me, I was not surprised, because we still have a lot of that racism in our society. And to me it is straight ignorance.”

Educators have the power to break down that racism, she said. Teach students about the history of immigration, she said. “A lot of people don’t remember that immigrants built the country, and unless you’re Native American, your people came from somewhere else.”

She also noted that the free trade act has decimated the small farmers in Mexico and other small Latin American countries. “Mexico actually imports more corn from the U.S. than it grows in Mexico,” she said.

These same policies have actually encouraged more immigration to the U.S. But is it really immigration when most of the Southwest was at one time owned by Mexico? Following the purchase by the U.S., there was a genocide, she said. Native Americans and Hispanics were killed.

“This is a history built on violence and genocide,” Huerta said. “This perpetuates the racism in our society.”

Huerta also touched on the current topic of expulsions and suspensions for minority students. “We really have got to work a lot harder to create positive behaviors,” she said. “We need to keep the students in school.”

Towards the end of her speech she called up California director George Sheridan and recognized him for marching with the farm workers during the protests in the late 1960s.

Huerta ended with a South African chant. She led the board in chanting “Wozani,” an African word that means, “fight for justice.” She said that everyone can trace their roots back to Africa, even the racists.

“Get over it,” she said. “You’re all Africans.”

She quoted Cornell West, who once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Huerta said we need to turn that around. “Injustice is the public face of hate,” she said.



Malala is NEA’s Friend of Education

Malala Yousafzai will be the 2014 Friend of Education award winner for NEA. The board unanimously endorsed the selection. Yousafzai will be invited to speak at the Representative Assembly in Denver in July. Yousafzai, a 16-year-old from Pakistan, rose to international prominence last year when she stood up to the Taliban in her home country and demanded an education. She was shot in the head for her protest, but she survived and became an outspoken supporter of education.


Board Approves Funds for Campaigns

The NEA board agreed to move $10 million from the Ballot Measure Crisis Fund to NEA’s “behind the wall” campaign. The money will be used for political campaigns in the upcoming 2014 elections that are not coordinated with candidates. The campaign will be done with NEA staff. The NEA board also moved $750,000 from its contingency to the Washington Education Association to support a class size initiative effort.


State Merger Cap Removed

The NEA board removed the limit on the number of merged states allowed by policy within the organization. The cap of six merged states had been an NEA policy for decades. NEA currently has five state affiliates where educators are members of both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers. Merger is being considered by a sixth state, Wisconsin, but a planned April vote was postponed. The five merged states are New York, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. The NEA executive committee will continue to evaluate and choose whether to approve requests by affiliates to merge because this function is in Bylaw 6-5. Only the RA can change or amend Bylaws.


Strategic Plan and Budget Approved

The NEA board forwarded a balanced budget to the Representative Assembly following a lengthy discussion over numerous items. NEA’s budget is directly tied to membership, and although the large membership reductions of the past three years have nearly stopped, NEA is down about 14,000 members this year. Last year at this time, NEA had lost 40,000 members. Alaska has a membership of 11,299, down 53 from last year. Total membership for NEA remains nearly 3 million. The small loss in membership resulted in some budget shifts. A debate over the amount of funding for the student program dominated most of the meeting. However, the addition of the NEA 360 Data Project Strategic Research was a highlight. The budget remains targeted at organizing and leading the professions as the two goals.


General Counsel Report

Alice O’Brien, general counsel for NEA, reported on numerous cases from around the country. Five states are engaged in lawsuits around tenure. The most interesting case is the Vegara case from California. A ruling is expected in July. The Vegara lawsuit attacks the Education Code provisions that grant permanent status to teachers, provide due process in teacher dismissal proceedings, and protect seniority as a component of the layoff process. The suit seeks to declare each of these statutory protections unconstitutional. O’Brien said the case is being used as a test-case for the rest of the country. She expects that more of these types of cases will emerge around the country. She recommends that affiliates start educating their members and the public about what tenure really is. “Tenure is something we don’t talk a lot about, but we need to talk a lot about,” O’Brien said. As part of the trial, witnesses that help make the case for due process have been able to testify. Susan Moore Johnson, a Harvard University professor testified that, “Better working conditions (including fair treatment) equal greater student achievement.”


Six Named to Hall of Fame

The NEA board recognized the six most recent inductees to the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame. The inductees included: Jan Alderson, a biology teacher from Kansas; Cynthia Couchman, a math teacher from Kansas; Marguerite Izzo, an English and social studies teacher from New York; Gary Koppelman, a math and science teacher from Michigan; and Rebecca Palacios, an early childhood educator from Texas. NEA also announced that it would continue helping to raise funds for the Fallen Educator Memorial. Dedication of this memorial is scheduled for June 12 at the Hall of Fame in Kansas. Finally, the board approved a motion to go forward in pursuit of a national monument for educators despite an analysis by staff that it would take decades and cost millions.


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 OPPOSES

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

STANDING RULE 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


Dues Approved for 2014-2015

The NEA board of directors approved the dues for the 2014-2015 year. Teachers will pay $183 and ESP $110.50. Teachers’ dues increased $1 and ESP remained the same.


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



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