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Maverick Voices in the Crowd

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 a plan for improving the NCLB that the NEA rolled out this week. Agreeing to work on the plan, he said, gives a perception that the union goes along with it. Instead, he said, he would like the union to push for scrapping NCLB.

Another delegate, Natalie Fisher from Education Minnesota, was put off by the union's opposition to the war in Iraq. A veteran of the Gulf War, Fisher said she will volunteer at the Republican Convention, which will take place in her state next month, although, she added, "I can go either way" when it comes to voting for a presidential candidate.

And at a charged debate, where members blasted the Teacher Incentive Fund in support of an amendment that would add the words "incentive pay" to the list of initiatives opposed by the NEA, Teresa Dudley, a delegate from Prince George's County, Md., chose to go against the tide by blasting the national leadership for leaving teachers to find their own way instead of helping them devise plans that are in the best interests of educators. Prince George''s County recently adopted a such a plan with funds from TIF, but the national NEA remains opposed to any form of performance pay.

Less than a minute later, the amendment passed.

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