July 2008 Archives

Teachers are fun, aren't they? At least that's what I have discovered writing about them for the past few years. And now that the teacher unions' conventions are all in the past, we here at Education Week don't want the party to end. Starting soon, we will bring you a new blog focused entirely on teacher issues: teachers' unions, teacher policy, teacher education ... you name it, you will find us nattering about it right here, in these very pages. So sit up straight and keep your eyes peeled. There's more to come....


The NEA and AFT often get clubbed together as the "national teachers' unions," but the differences between them are stark and many. Take the conventions, for instance. Compared with the NEA, the AFT's convention looks decidedly less education-focused and more about issues ranging from labor and organizing to international relations and human rights. It is also much smaller—less than one-third the size of the NEA convention—and its delegates are a much milder, less noisy lot. This year, one of the high-profile events of the AFT convention was a labor rally held in support of the workers of Resurrection...


Soon after she was announced as the new president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers this morning, Randi Weingarten went after the No Child Left Behind law, all cannons blazing. She called the federal law a four-letter word, and vowed to work to overhaul it. NCLB, she said, is not about teaching, but about testing. "By misdefining achievement, relying too heavily on paper-and-pencil tests narrowing and dumbing down the curriculum, and stressing sanctions over supports, NCLB has become a blunt instrument for attacking, not assisting, our public schools," she said. Ouch. Ms. Weingarten, who was long expected ...


Will the two national teachers' unions never get on the same page, even with NCLB, which both dislike? Just this month, the NEA finally appeared to have come around to the idea that it should work to improve the No Child Left Behind law, rather than oppose it completely. But even as it released a list of suggestions to improve the law, the AFT—which a number of years ago released its recommendations for improving NCLB—has gone and declared that it wants the current version of the law thrown out the window. Delegates voted this morning, with no arguments...


Delegates also voted this morning to support a resolution urging all locals to consider peer-review and -assistance programs. The union's Toledo affiliate pioneered this program 27 years ago, and Fran Lawrence, the local's president, said there exists strong consensus among teachers in favor of it. "Nine out of 10 of our members for 27 years have supported peer review and assistance: That's solidarity," she said, responding to one delegate's concern that asking senior teachers to evaluate other teachers would create divisions among educators. The resolution brought out an impressive turnout of speakers. Besides Lawrence, Randi Weingarten, the president of the ...


There were no boos this time. In fact, there even was fairly strong applause. When Barack Obama spoke this morning via live satellite feed from California to 3,000 AFT delegates who have congregated in his hometown of Chicago, he appeared to have a good sense that this was a crowd more open than that at the NEA to his ideas on performance pay and charter schools. "I applaud AFT for your leadership in representing charter school teachers and support staff all across this country, and for even operating your own charters in New York," he said. "Because we know ...


AFT delegates this morning approved a dues increase, partly to pay for the union's Solidarity Fund that fights local efforts to cut public education funding and teacher benefits. Locals will now pay $15.35 instead of $14.70 per member, and the amount will increase to $16 per member the following year....


This might not have been the best time for the AFT to go to Chicago. Even as the biennial convention is being held here, in what was the birthplace of the national union, there is a kettle of fish smelling up the local AFT affiliate led by president Marilyn Stewart. This morning, delegates walking into the convention hall were greeted by the union's vice-president, Ted Dallas, handing out fliers emblazoned with "Union Democracy Dumped in Chicago." Dallas, who ran on Stewart's slate for the past two elections, has been charged with lavish spending on his union credit card and the ...


Hillary Clinton gave a "get-out-the-vote-for-Obama" speech to more than 3,000 AFT delegates this morning, focusing more on what might happen if a Democrat didn't win the White House this November rather than on any education issues. "There is so much at stake in this election...Making this victory happen will require AFT, 1.4 million strong," said Clinton who was the union's first choice for president before she pulled out of the race. Clinton, dressed in sunny yellow, took the dais to enthusiastic applause (there were no NEA-like noisemakers, though). She pointed out she has served with Barack Obama ...


Ed McElroy sought to lay to rest perceptions that he has not been a reform-friendly leader of the nation's more progressive teachers' union in his keynote address this afternoon, saying he has continued in the "forthright tradition" of former leaders of the union, Al Shanker and Sandy Feldman. "You will not find a more ardent supporter of our union or the larger labor movement than I am. But I have been pretty direct about the need for some of us to change our attitudes when it comes to the challenges we confront," the outgoing president said in a substantive speech ...


The countdown has begun for the AFT convention that opens in Chicago Friday with a keynote speech from outgoing President Ed McElroy. Delegates are also expected to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who is scheduled to speak to the 3,000 delegates via live satellite feed Sunday. Hillary Clinton, the union's first choice for president before she pulled out of the race, plans to be there in person Saturday. This is a historic year for the AFT. It is expected to elect an all-woman executive leadership with Randi Weingarten as president, Antonia Cortese as secretary-treasurer, and Lorretta Johnson as ...


At the NEA's four-day Representative Assembly this year, delegates went through 83 new business items and a generous number of amendments and resolutions. Subjects ranged from research on dropout prevention and doubling the number of NEA cyber-lobbyists to Domino’s Pizza chain CEO David Brandon's support for merit pay and outsourcing. Some resolutions—such as one calling for the NEA to support impeaching any president who starts a war with another country—never saw the light of day, with members voting not to consider it. Others, such as an attempt by conservative delegates to get the NEA to spell out...


Everyone knows Randi Weingarten, who will be the AFT's next president, has forged numerous partnerships with the tough-as-nails New York City school district and has even started union-run charter schools in the city. Many expect her to follow in the footsteps of Al Shanker, the legendary AFT leader who, like Weingarten, led the UFT and then both the UFT and the AFT, as she will, and who was an outspoken advocate for unions participating in transforming public schools. But after four years under the labor-savvy but not exactly change-oriented Edward McElroy, the AFT—unlike its bigger counterpart the NEA—wants...


This just in. Barack Obama will address the AFT convention July 13 via live satellite feed, just like he did for the NEA. But the AFT has also lined up Hillary Clinton, who was the union's first choice for president and who they endorsed in October last year. What's more, she will be at the convention in person when she speaks to the delegates July 12....


NEA's mystery man Dennis Van Roekel addressed delegates for the first time after being named president-elect, with a forceful speech that called for change in the public education system as it exists today. "The operative word in 2008 is change," said Van Roekel, adding he was not satisfied with a public education system that leaves behind large numbers of minority students. "I am not satisfied with the unequal access to schools, not satisfied that some children go to ... modern schools and others go to schools that say society doesn't care for you," he said. Van Roekel, a former Arizona math ...


NEA delegates voted to allow private preschool workers to seek union membership, but defeated an amendment that would permit elementary and secondary school workers to do the same. There was a strong feeling among delegates that allowing K-12 workers into NEA ranks could create conflict when it comes to the union's position on issues such as vouchers, which it now unequivocally opposes. There were also concerns about religion creeping into schools because some private schools are religious. Read my previous post on the debate here. The RA this morning also adopted a resolution recommending teaching the appropriate use of student ...


There's a perception, not totally unjustified, that NEA members, although lively and opinionated, tend to act like a herd on the bigger questions that the national leadership takes up each year for discussion. Questions like NCLB, the war, or even the choice of a presidential candidate. But this is, after all, a democratic body. Scratch the surface and it's not difficult to find a few points of view that vary drastically from the majority. For instance, one delegate I spoke with here, Tai D. Doram, from the Kentucky affiliate of the NEA, said he is not at all happy with ...


He did it. Again. Barack Obama spoke to 10,000 adoring fans at the NEA RA, who were all dressed up in blue Obama T-shirts and carrying white "NEA for Obama" noisemakers. He conquered their hearts by promising to "fix the broken promises of NCLB and by opposing the use of public school funds for vouchers. And then he waded smack-dab, for the second straight year, into that most-deplored topic here among these union stalwarts: performance pay. "Under my plan, districts will be able to design programs that give educators who serve as mentors to new teachers the salary increase ...


It's official: Becky Pringle will serve as the NEA's secretary-treasurer for the next year, filling out the remainder of Lily Eskelsen's term when Eskelsen becomes vice president. Pringle, a former member of the NEA executive committee from Pennsylvania, beat out contender Marsha Smith, a member of the NEA executive committee from Maryland, with more than 80 percent of the vote. Among other things, Pringle now gets to do the fun job of preparing the union's financial report each year. The RA adjourned early for the Fourth of July, and officials postponed announcement on the outcome of a vote on admitting ...


Bob Chanin, the man with all the answers at the NEA, now has his own fan club. This afternoon, Chanin—who gets rock-star applause when he takes the mike at the RA —received an homage from members of Huntingdon County Education Association in New Jersey who presented him with a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Bob Chanin Caucus." Replicas of the T-shirt will be sold at the RA to raise funds for the NEA PAC. On the midnight-blue T-shirt is an almost Gandhian caricature of the union's general counsel, except for two corkscrew curls sticking out of either side of ...


There is an aura of mystery surrounding incoming NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. At the convention, one of the most anticipated moments is when he will make his acceptance speech, likely on the last day of the RA, July 6. It is the moment, many feel, when they will finally find out more about him and the direction in which he might lead the nation's largest union. Unlike Randi Weingarten, who will take over the AFT and who has constantly been in the headlines as the president of the United Federation of Teachers for years now, little is known about ...


It's the Fourth of July at the NEA convention. Delegates in red, white, and blue or wearing Uncle Sam hats were entertained with a special performance by the all-NEA choir. There is a holiday-like atmosphere, although that is not much different from any day at the RA. On the business front, the morning's been even-paced with lots of humdrum items coming up and passing through, or not. What everyone's really waiting for is the Obama endorsement that President Reg Weaver is expected to make just before the lunch break, as well as results of this morning's vote on admitting private ...


An interesting point came up in the afternoon when the RA took up a bylaw amendment that would open up membership of the national NEA to employees of private preschool programs and elementary and secondary schools. The issue was hotly debated. "If we approve this amendment, our vision will be blurred and our passion will fade," warned one delegate. Yet another warned of a division among members—those belonging to the public schools and those from the private. There were questions about the possibility that such a move could open the door to religion entering public schools—private schools include...


The first day at the RA, like most days at the RA, is a nonstop parade of formalities and business items. The highlight of the day is usually the keynote address delivered by the president. Reg Weaver's speech this year—his last as president—focused a good bit on himself and on major challenges facing educators today. He recalled his beginnings in Danville, Ill., his motivations, and the legacy he leaves behind for the nation's largest teachers' union at a time when the No Child Left Behind law is awaiting reauthorization and a new president will enter the White House....


As he leaves office, Reg Weaver says he hopes his legacy will be one of bringing the union together as a team. Weaver, who uses the word "union" much more easily than most leaders of the teachers' organizations who prefer terms like "professional association," said in an interview before the beginning of the Representative Assembly, that before he took over as president, "it seemed we were disjointed. ... It felt at times like we were working at cross-purposes." The locals, he said, would do something, and the national would do something else. Weaver, who unrolled an initiative yesterday for improving the ...


Outgoing NEA President Reg Weaver is making an all-out effort to go down in the history books. This morning, he rolled out six priorities for the federal government that will create "Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020." (Read my colleague Michele McNeil's description here). The initiative is typically rich in soundbytes, like the "unprecedented and unbalanced federal role in education," and "quality conditions for teaching and lifelong learning." Among the priorities are (surprise!) support for the teaching profession, sustained federal funding for mandates, and support for innovation and best practices. "We will not be subjected to a game ...


Sen. Barack Obama is expected to address the NEA Representative Assembly via satellite the morning of July 5, the third day of the gathering. There is no word yet on whether he will speak to members of the AFT who, incidentally, are meeting in his hometown, Chicago. The AFT general session doesn't start until July 11, so there’s still some time for an announcement, but is it possible the presumptive Democratic candidate remembers the smaller union first endorsed Hillary Clinton way back in October last year? Time will tell....


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  • Jenny-Lynne Cyrille: why are we going BACK to the issue of PRP? read more
  • john thompson: Mary, I'm opposed to merit pay also. I don't think read more
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