NEA Directors and IEA Officers and members attending: Jim Grimes, Eric Brown, Joyce Bailey, Alex Wallace, Tom Tully, Rainy Kaplan, David Watts, Maggie Huttlinger, Gladys Marquez and IEA Pres. Cinda Klickna.
President Eskelsen Garcia’s First Board Meeting
Lily Eskelsen García opened her first board meeting as NEA president on Sept. 19 with the simple words of the association’s preamble and mission.
“We, the members of the National Education Association of the United States, are the voice of education professionals. Our work is fundamental to the nation, and we accept the profound trust placed in us,” she said.
Then García turned to Student Program Chair Chelsey Herrig to read the NEA mission. “Our mission is to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world,” Herrig said.
Then board member Jacqui Greadington, chair of the Black caucus, lead the board in the song, “This little light of mine.”
The biggest change made by García, however, was to dedicate a quarter of the two-day meeting to board committee work. Every board member has been assigned to one of more than a dozen committees.
Vice President Becky Pringle organized the board’s committee work. “Your work is an essential part of our journey to fulfill our mission, and advance the Strategic Goals adopted by the 2014 Representative Assembly,” she said.
García started her presidency on Sept. 1, and she immediately embarked on a “Back to School” tour across the country.
The tour actually started in Milwaukee, Wisc., when García and other labor leaders appeared with President Obama at a Labor Day rally. After the rally, she said the President asked if she and the other labor leaders wanted a ride home—as in, fly home on Air Force One.
Her chance to speak with the president came in the limo ride to the airport. She joked that she probably won’t be invited back because she monopolized the time. “It really was an incredible opportunity to spend just a few minutes speaking from the heart and not a script about our kids and what they need,” she said. “I had a good feeling about this very short conversation that we had.”
On her multi-state tour, García had a conversation with Andrea Rediske, the Florida mother of a brain-damaged and legally blind child who had cerebral palsy. Ethan was 11 when he died last February, but in his last few weeks of his life, he received harassing phone calls from his school district saying he needed to take his Florida standardized tests. “There’s no word for how awful this is,” Andrea said of the harassment. “No mother should have to go through this.”
García had breakfast with Andrea on the “back to school tour” and told her that NEA is on a mission to stop this toxic testing. “I told her this makes no sense, and it’s actually hurting kids,” she said, to which Ethan’s mother said, “Put me to work.”
Enlisting parents to help fight against toxic testing is just one of the many hats that García is wearing. She is writing almost daily blog posts on Lily’s Blackboard, giving dozens of media interviews, and running the largest labor union in the country.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, she was asked why she keeps talking about toxic testing. “I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” she said.
As she prepared to adjourn the meeting on Sept. 20, she told the board, “I really, really love this job, and I want to do it well. With your help we’re going to do it.”
NEA gets Political with New Ads
NEA has produced more than a half dozen national political ads this season supporting candidates friendly to education and attacking politicians who are not.
According to Executive Director John Stocks, the ads are part of a very intentional move by the organization to engage more directly in politics. “We made a conscience effort to lift our members’ voices up,” he said. “Lily has said that we can’t have the circumstance in the next presidency that we are now facing with failed policies from the Department of Education.”
The condemnation of President Obama’s Race to the Top policies follows on the motion by the Representative Assembly this summer calling for the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to resign.
Stocks said the organization is looking ahead past November. “The campaign for president in 2016 will start the day after this election finishes,” he said. The NEA PAC passed a motion on Sept. 18 to begin conversations around the 2016 presidential election.
The board of directors viewed six of NEA’s most prominent ads at the meeting. The ads are well produced and hard-hitting. Here are some of the toughest statements:
- From North Carolina, a teacher says, “the fact is Tom Tillis hurts North Carolina students.”
- From Alaska, a teacher says, “Sullivan sold Alaska’s teachers out.” (Dan Sullivan is running against NEA-endorsed incumbent Mark Begich)
- From Arkansas, a teacher says, “Tom Cotton should be ashamed of himself.”
- From Florida, a narrator says, “Rick Scott, just too shady for the Sunshine state.”
- From Michigan, a teacher says, “I don’t understand how Gov. Snyder can think those things are more important than our schools.”
- From Kentucky, challenger Alison has incorporated NEA’s campaign against unfair student loans—known as “Degrees not Debt”—into their own campaign ads.
Stocks said the ads are intentional. “We are trying to use our political work to bring voice to our members,” he said.
American Indian/Alaska Native Observance — Offensive Sports Mascot Names
Juneau is a long ways from Washington D.C., but that doesn’t mean that what happens in the nation’s capital isn’t important—even when it comes to sports.
Jacqueline Pata is offended by the name of the Washington “Redskins” football team and the misuse of the Native American culture in many other sports mascots.
“It’s about respect,” said Pata, as she addressed the NEA board of director on Sept. 20. Pata, who grew up in Juneau, moved to D.C. almost 20 years ago to work in the Clinton Administration. She is proud of her Tlingit heritage, and she is still a board member for the Seaalaska Corp.
Pata worked directly with Mario Cuomo, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. At the beginning of their work together, Cuomo asked Pata to plan a trip for him to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation. She refused, saying, “I’m tired of letting politicians go to the worst places and doing nothing.”
Pata convinced him that if he was to visit Pine Ridge, he needed to make sure it wasn’t just for show. “Eventually we got to Pine Ridge, but it involved bringing the president, and it had a number of deliverables,” she said. Pata was inspired by the visit and the way the different tribes in the area came together. There was a pow wow and many traditional celebrations.
However, after returning from Pine Ridge, Pata said she attended a Fourth Of July parade in Fairfax, Virginia, and in that parade, the Washington football team and their marching band went by wearing Native American headdresses.
“I had just seen what true honor was, and my heart broke,” she said. “I cried, turned my back and went home. This was not Independence Day for me.”
The fight to change the name of the Washington football team has been going for more than 40 years, but Pata and others have no intentions of stopping.
There are over 5 million Native Americans in the country, and the use of offensive mascot names serves to increase racial tension, she said. Oddly enough the state with the most Native American mascot names is Ohio, which only has a Native population of 0.3 percent. The lack of respect in schools holds Native American children back, Pata said. “When we don’t get (respect) in schools, then we don’t get it when we move forward in other areas.”
She noted that a high school in Pennsylvania with the same name as the Washington football team has made news just this week when the editors of the school newspaper and the paper’s advisor were suspended for refusing to use the name of the schools mascot.
Pata contrasted some of the worst problems caused by mascots with the positive things going on in her former home town. “In Juneau, you can take Tlingit in high school,” she said. School curriculums should educate everyone about the history of Native Americans.
Changing society starts in schools. Pata told a story about her own son who had struggled in school. Years ago, her son was chosen by Tlingit leaders to lead a cultural conference. Some teachers happened to attend, and noticed that the boy had leadership abilities that they hadn’t seen in school.
According to Pata, “The teachers said, ‘We didn’t know. We didn’t know what was within that little boy. Now we see him as the leader that he is.”
“Know our children, and by knowing them you will know us. And by respecting them you will respect us,” Pata said.
Eskelsen Garcia unveils Book ‘Rabble Rousers’
NEA’s new president, Lily Eskelsen García, is more talented than many members know. Not only was she a teacher of the year in Utah and an accomplished folk singer, she also recently authored the book, “Rabble Rousers.”
García’s husband, Alberto, illustrated the book, and the two of them autographed copies on Sept. 19 at the NEA office building in Washington D.C. Proceeds from the book will go toward United We Dream, an immigrant advocacy organization.
“Rabble Rousers” is the story of ordinary people who used their voices, commitment, and passion to organize communities to fight injustice. Featuring social justice advocates like Mother Jones, Emmeline Pankhurst, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harvey Milk.
In the book’s introduction, García writes, “These leaders have much in common … They all understood that the only way for them to win against such overwhelming power was to organize the little power, the only power that they had. … They understood that if they could rouse the common people, the ‘rabble,’ to demand justice with a common voice, they could change the world from what it was into what it should be.”
Dolores Huerta, who with Cesar Chavez founded the labor union that would become the United Farm Workers, says in the forward to the book that García “depicts how one does not have to have a lot of money or power to create change. It shows the power of the person, no matter what barriers may stand in the way.”
Hispanic Observance — Franco Asks NEA to fight for Dream Act
Chair of the NEA Hispanic Caucus and NEA Board Observer Gladys Marquez introduced the guest speaker for the Hispanic Observance, Marisa Franco.
The haunting melody of Aloe Blacc’s song, “Wake Me Up” filled the Robert Chanin auditorium. For almost five minutes, the challenges faced by immigrants crossing America’s southern border came to life in images of a family broken apart by deportation—a father, a wife, and their children.
“Not one more,” said Marisa Franco, a leader with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “We want to fight to win. It’s the idea of demanding the impossible—fighting deportations one by one.”
Franco, who grew up in a working class neighborhood in Arizona, praised NEA’s efforts to fight for immigration reform. “We cannot afford to continue to look the other way … because we are finding in the most painful of ways, it doesn’t always work.”
NEA invited the fiery, young activist to address immigrant issues, and even though Franco said that she is more comfortable with a bullhorn than at the lectern, she still managed to touch the hearts of NEA’s board members.
“My mother lives in Tempe, and she is a bus aide for special needs children. She’s finishing her shift right now,” she said. Her father immigrated from Mexico when he was 15. And for most of her childhood, Franco said, she didn’t even recognize class as an issue.
But a series of changes to Arizona laws opened her eyes to the discrimination of Hispanic Americans. Bad legislation hit a peak in 2010 when Arizona passed strict immigration regulations. “The day that Gov. Jan Brewer signed that bill she spat in the face of my grandmother and grandfather and everyone who built this state.”
“We’ve seen dehumanizing language where human being are called aliens,” she said. Bad laws are dividing people into those who are “deserving and undeserving.” Cuts in health care and voter ID laws hurt immigrants hard.
Franco said, “We must ask ourselves, how does this advance our society?”
The recent increase in children crossing the border has lead to stories in newspapers about how these students are overwhelming schools. “No, what’s overwhelming is when schools don’t have enough to serve the needs of our children,” she said.
“Fundamentally, we’re facing a question,” Franco said. “There is a litmus test about the health and well being of a society. What kinds of lives do children live? What happens when someone makes a mistake or does something wrong? What opportunities exist? These are questions we must answer.”
NEA supports immigration reform that includes three things, Garcia said. “First, it must not hurt a child; second, it must not separate families; and third, it must provide a reasonable path to citizenship. The rest, you fill in the blanks, but these are the three things we demand.”
On Sept. 6 President Obama announced that he would delay executive action on immigration until after the November elections. NEA issued the following quote from Garcia in a press release: “We are deeply disheartened by President Obama’s announcement to delay executive action on immigration. After years of waiting in the shadows of society, millions of aspiring new Americans were a step closer to reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, as a result of inaction on immigration, their American dreams are on hold. Again,” Garcia said.
Board Takes Toxic Testing Arguments to Congress
Following up on New Business Item A from the Representative Assembly this summer in Denver, NEA board members took to Capitol Hill this week to fight against toxic testing.
Armed with poll results, examples of the worst testing abuse, and the bipartisan Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (HR 4172), board members lobbied Congress. Illinois NEA Directors met with Members of Congress and their staffs. (See NEA Lobbying Report—Sept. 2014)
Under No Child Left Behind, the number of federally-mandated high stakes tests more than doubled. The goal of this campaign is to restore mandates to what is known as “grade-span” testing—once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.
More than a month of instructional time is lost to testing in some of the most tested subject areas, according to numerous studies. A Brookings Institute report states that testing regimes cost over $1.7 billion annually.
According to a Central Washington University study this year, teachers report spending about 73 percent of their time with instructions and 15-18 percent preparing students for state tests. And a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 68 percent of parents do not believe that standardized tests help teachers know what to teach.
According to NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, “Students and teachers continue to lose more and more class time to testing and test preparation, and that time should be spent teaching and learning a rich, engaging curriculum.”
“The serious consequences of these toxic tests will only snowball unless parents, educators and community members push back against lawmakers determined to tie high stakes decisions to fill-in-the-bubble tests.”
Wiman Speaks at Social Security rally at Capitol
Social Security and Medicare issues attracted a crowd of some 300 activists and leaders to Capitol Hill on Sept. 18, including NEA’s own Earl Wiman, a member of the NEA Executive Committee.
Wiman joined a lineup of speakers that included Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), the anti-Koch brothers “Koch Sisters,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), and several other members of Congress.
Some 50 NEA board members wore blue T-shirts and cheered and waved signs as Wiman fired up the crowd with a witty question about when you die, do you want a title or testimony. “They will put us in a hole, throw dirt in our face, go back inside and eat potato salad,” Wiman said. And after they eat, he wondered, what will they talk about? Wiman said that he hopes they give testimony to the good things you’ve done in life and not just your title.
“We stand here today with those who have a testimony in support of social security, Medicare and retirement security for working families,” he said.
The members of Congress who spoke promised to stand strong against tea-party attacks on the social safety net.
Senator Warren said, “They are trying to create a crisis so they can cut Social Security and Medicare, but there is no crisis. There may be a health care crisis in this country, but it’s Medicare—with the improvements brought by the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare—that is fixing our problem. Medicare is lowering health care costs not only for seniors, but for every American.”
The Koch Sisters said they received lots of support for calling out the billionaire Koch brothers, who support tea-party candidates nationally and at the state and local levels. “We’ve got a message for politicians who want to mess with Social Security,” said Joyce Koch. “Don’t even try it!”
The rally was sponsored by about a dozen different unions. Senator Warren was introduced by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We need more leaders like Elizabeth Warren who will stand with us to defend Social Security and Medicare,” she said. “Those are the leaders we will stand with on Election Day.”
Warren said she was happy to recite the numbers on Social Security “because the numbers are on our side. We have built a system that will last another 20 years before we have to make any changes. But this is about values, how we live and what we do together,” she said. “Our Social Security system says something about the dignity of human beings, that when you work a lifetime you deserve the dignity of a decent retirement.”
Organizer Saket Soni Talks to NEA about Guestworkers Alliance
It all started with one clap—or at least that’s how Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance demonstrated it on Sept. 20 for the NEA board of directors.
Soni, an immigrant from India, co-founded the National Guestworker Alliance in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia introduced Saket to the board, and said, “He’s organizing people that nobody thought could be organized.”
His lessons on how to organize workers resonated with NEA board members.
Soni said, “Schools offer a window into the soul of a nation.” When students experience trauma, they bring that to school. Soni told the story of an immigrant family that was surrounded by six unmarked cars while they were walking their kids to school. “The dad was deported and the mom was left to raise the children,” he said. “These are the experiences that you have to deal with in the classroom.”
Soni’s workers may seem different because they’ve recently arrived in the country, but they have many of the same concerns as NEA members, he said.
“You may think our members are different than yours, but more and more they are the same,” Soni said. “We live in one country and one economy and we are connected in our stories and our lives.”
Soni helped start the alliance when foreign construction workers were brought in to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The construction companies said they couldn’t find workers in the city, but the unemployment rate of African Americans at that time was 80 percent.
What they didn’t count on was that the foreign workers would organize. These workers had paid a $20,000 fee for their green card and had to live in special company camps. “But they organized, and they held clandestine meetings,” he said. “The first leaders were taken away in vans and the companies tried to get them deported.”
The New Orleans workers succeeded in their fight for fair working conditions. But Soni soon heard of many other guestworkers suffering horrific abuses. He told the story of foreign workers who were locked in the basement of a Pennsylvania Hershey’s chocolate company working for $1 to $5 per hour. He told other stories about seafood processors working shifts that were 22-24 hours long. “They were sleep-walking,” he said. “Their working conditions were horrific.”
He also told the story of adjunct faculty at universities across the country. The average salary for these workers is barely $22,000 per year. “We live in a United States of Anxiety,” he said. “People are worried about their jobs and wages.”
Although private sector employees are unionized at about the rate of 6.7 percent nationwide, for low-wage workers it’s much smaller. And for guestworkers, it’s even smaller.
For Soni and the alliance, they have about 3,000 members in New Orleans. They have grown to 15 affiliates in nine different states. But it starts slowly, he said.
ACCOUNTABILITY TASK FORCE
NEA issued a call for members interested in serving on an Accountability Task Force this week.
The Representative Assembly passed NBI B this summer in Denver calling for the development of an alternative accountability system not linked solely to test scores.
Vice President Becky Pringle will head the task force. She said, “We don’t want to start with the flawed ideas within NCLB,” and she encouraged NEA to “step back from that sandbox.”
Nominations for the task force are due by Oct. 6. Pringle said NEA is looking for members who have experience dealing with education accountability systems and who are familiar with NEA’s work in this area. The task force is to have a report to the NEA board of directors by February.
Registration will open in November for the NEA Leadership Summit. Under the theme: “Organize, Educate, and Lead: Our Union, Our Schools, Our Communities,” the summit will take place in Anaheim, Calif., Feb. 27 to March 1, 2015. The summit will focus on all six leadership competencies: Advocacy, Business, Communication, Governance and Leadership, Leading our Professions, and Organizing. There will be only one leadership summit this fiscal year.
General Counsel Alice O’Brien said the NEA continues to pursue numerous tenure cases across the country, including Vergara v. California, which continues to move through the appeal process. Over the past four years, 30 states have changed their tenure laws. Although not every change was bad, the majority restricted employee rights, and four states repealed tenure completely: Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, and Indiana. “The scope of the attack on tenure means we have to do more than respond on a case by case basis,” O’Brien said.
The Supreme Court has taken 40 cases to consider in its next term, and will continue to take cases until the beginning of October. At this point, the court has not taken a case on the topic of agency fee. Last summer the court issued a ruling that severely limited agency fee within the private sector. The ruling also made clear that the court would do so in the public sector if a case made it to the court. At this point, the court also does not have a marriage equality case. The court will consider an interesting pregnancy rights case. In Young v. UPS, a UPS worker sued the company because she was denied “light duty” when she was pregnant, but other workers with similar physical limitations were granted that right. UPS argued that because the worker collective bargaining agreement didn’t explicitly require the light duty and because the worker did not get pregnant while on the job, they did not have to provide “light duty.” NEA and other labor unions have all filed amicus briefs in the case.
In Florida’s VAM-based evaluation system case, a Florida court ruled that the system was “unfair, but not unconstitutional.” NEA filed an appeal on Sept. 5 to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a rare twist, both the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators filed amicus briefs supporting NEA’s position.
Princess Moss reported that NEA is in the middle of its annual audit. She also said that certified membership dropped by 29,116, ESP membership dropped by 7,823, students dropped by 4,730, but retired membership increased by 6,614 and higher education rose by 274. The total drops the association by 1.2 percent from 2.99 to 2.96 million members.
GOVERNANCE REVIEW REPORT
NEA’s Governance Review committee concluded its work this summer and submitted only one recommendation that could lead to a vote by the Representative Assembly next summer in Orlando, Florida. The committee submitted a series of other recommendations that President Lily Eskelsen Garcia will consider implementing. No changes were proposed to the structure or scheduling of the RA or Board of Directors.
The one recommendation that would require a vote is to move the deadline to file NBIs from noon on the second day of RA to 5 p.m. on the first day. The committee said that it is important for delegates to have as much time as possible to consider NBIs. They also recommended increasing the incentive for early submission. Currently NBIs submitted before May 1 are sent to state affiliates and considered by the board, and those submitted before June 15 are included in delegate packets and posted on the RA website. They suggest providing additional staff assistance in both crafting an NBI and finding the cost. They also suggest better publicizing the deadlines.
NEA BOARD ELECTIONS
The board filled three positions on its Program and Budget committee on Sept. 19. From a field of six candidates, the board elected Britt Hall, Wisconsin, and Rae Nwosu, Texas, to two-year positions. They also elected Josh Brown, Iowa, to a one-year position.
The board also selected eight members to represent NEA as delegates at the Education International meeting next July in Ottawa, Canada. From a field of 19 candidates, the board elected Tim Parker, Alaska; Fran Bellinger, Hawaii; Brit Hall, Wisconsin; Mavis Ellis, Maryland; Gerri Franco, New Mexico; Robert Rodriguez, California; Diccie Smith, Tennessee; Brian Chance, Federal; and alternates Kandie McDaniel, Kentucky, and Jenifer Almassy, Michigan. Members may apply to the President’s office for an additional 31 delegate and additional alternate delegate positions, however NEA does not fund those positions.
The Board will be discussing the pros and cons of a possible early U.S. Presidential recommendation process in future meetings.
Thanks to Tom Parker, NEA Director Alaska, for the articles.