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Slideshow of the NEA RA 2005
Video: MTA President Catherine Boudreau Addresses the NEA RA
Brockton Education Association Delegates:
Josephine Bernard, Eileen Cleary, Kathy Ettinger,
Marvin Levine, Joseph O'Sullivan and Timothy Sullivan.
NEA President Calls on Nation to Join
the Fight for Great Public Schools for Every Child
Entering his second term, Reg Weaver details Association's successes and challenges, lays out covenant for boosting public education
On the day that he was chosen to lead the 2.7 million-member National Education Association (NEA) for another term, President Reg Weaver issued a call to the nation to give children, educators and public schools what they need to improve student achievement and close the achievement gaps.
"Public education is the cornerstone, the foundation, the core of democracy. It is what has made this country great," Weaver said in his keynote address to more than 9,000 delegates. "I am asking you, the NEA…to make a covenant with this nation, a covenant that states what it takes to make the promise of a great public school system a reality."
Even though the public trusts teachers more than anyone to say what education reforms are needed, "we are at a critical crossroads" with schools and educators battered by funding cuts, privatization schemes, and the rigid demands of the so-called No Child Left Behind Act, he said.
In order to ensure every child has access to a great public school, NEA must step up its fight in six critical areas, Weaver stated. First, NEA increased its membership by more than 92,000 during his first three years as president -- allowing it to become a more powerful advocate for children and public schools -- and the Association's organizing efforts will continue full speed ahead.
NEA also has achieved some success in its efforts to fix and fund the so-called No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education has made regulatory changes to the law, 179 Members of Congress have signed on to legislative proposals to improve the law, and many other groups are echoing NEA’s concerns.
With the costs and demands of the law increasing, NEA and its affiliates filed a lawsuit against the Department. Weaver expressed disbelief that the Department is claiming that NEA and its members have no legal standing to sue:
"We could not sit back while the children, students and educators of this country became professional test-takers and test-givers -- because we do have standing, and we will stand up for the hopes and the dreams and for the future of this great nation!"
Pointing out that voucher advocates and other privatization proponents are actively courting minority parents, Weaver also urged NEA members to work hard to build partnerships with minority communities and to communicate to them what the Association is doing to close the achievement gaps for minority students.
Another component of Weaver's vision is a nationwide push to attract and retain quality teachers and education support staff in the profession. NEA today announced a nationwide push for a $40,000 minimum starting salary for teachers as well as enhanced pay for veteran teachers and an appropriate living wage for other school personnel.
Greater support for teachers goes hand-in-hand with greater responsibility for all, Weaver noted. "We must insist upon the professionalism of all of our colleagues, and we must also be willing to assist and support them," but it's also up to parents to get more involved in their children's education and policymakers to provide the investments public schools require, he said.
That's why as NEA builds its grassroots capacity, it will continue supporting those who stand with its members in support of public education, Weaver said.
"We continue to mobilize in order that we might cultivate a political base that ignores whether you are on the left or right side of the aisle, but recognizes and supports whether you are on the side of the children, students, teachers, faculty and education support professionals," he said.
The 2005 RA ended on the same note it began—with spirit, inspiration, and a lot of business.
Delegates got their daily dose of energy from the recipient of NEA's 2005 Friend of Education Award, Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of the Rev. Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. Brown emphasized that the historic court battle was never just about children. "Schools were the battlefront, but society was the target," she said.
Henderson, a former Kansas teacher, administrator, and legislator, is now president of the Brown Foundation, which works to help Americans better understand the 1954 school desegregation decision through, among other things, teacher-friendly resources and scholarships.
The denial of equal opportunity to children of color, which followed the Supreme Court's earlier Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" ruling, was not an accident. It was intentional, stressed Henderson. "Separate was never intended to be equal," she noted, "and teachers today are still struggling with the effects of that denial of rights."
"Don't take it as a matter of guilt," she urged. "Take it as a challenge for what must be done."
Delegates dug in July 6th to wind up annual RA business—no small feat. Among other tasks, they approved committee reports, the NEA Strategic Plan and Budget, and ratified amendments to NEA resolutions. Those included new language stressing that library media programs are "negatively impacted" when an absent media specialist is not replaced by a substitute. Another successful amendment now puts NEA on record against the assignment of teachers to substitute duty during their prep time or "in place of their regular teaching assignment."
That last phrase was added after first-time delegate Bettina Heller, an ESL teacher from Plainfield, New Jersey, pointed out that this is a common problem for ESL inclusion teachers, who are supposed to help students with limited English skills in classes where instruction is in English. "In the month of March, I was pulled out of my program eight times," she said, noting that her own students lose out when that happens.
The RA body also approved an amendment to NEA's policy statement on charter schools, which states simply: "School districts under state receivership shall be ineligible for a charter."
Among other new business items passed during the last RA session:
- A measure requiring NEA, through its Health Information Network, to promote research and resources on women and heart disease, the number one killer of women.
- An affirmation of NEA's support for the "education of current and former prisoners."
- Encouragement of NEA member participation in Operation Iraqi Children, which brings school supplies to students in Iraq.
- A measure committing NEA to develop a strategy to counter new attacks on curricula and practices that support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students and staff in public schools.