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Emerging Themes at NEA: 'Toxic Testing' and Union Threats

Denver

By guest blogger Liana Heitin

The National Education Association's budget hearing—where we learned about continued declines in membership numbers—already happened, but the Representative Assembly doesn't officially start until tomorrow morning. 

Even so, some themes are already emerging at the convention. 

• For one, we now know the union's board of directors will propose a New Business Item calling for a campaign against "toxic testing." (Remember, New Business Items direct the union to act in a certain way.) According to the draft language, the item will ask President Barack Obama and Congress to end yearly testing mandates and "repeal federal requirements that state standardized test scores be used to evaluate educators." 

It's probably not a coincidence that testing is a huge sticking point for Lily Eskelsen Garcia—the presumed soon-to-be president-elect. In a phone interview last week, Garcia said, "Until we stop abusing commercial standardized tests to make decisions they were never designed to make, we will get everything wrong."

We'll hear more about that in the coming days. (In the meantime, I think the billboard pictured below, hung less than a block from the convention center, is fairly telling.)

• The teachers' union is taking what it sees as challenges to its most basic functions very seriously. The Vergara and Harris v. Quinn decisions, which NEA saw as blows to tenure protections and collective bargaining, have both come up already. During the budget hearing, Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle said, "The political landscape has not changed and we expect the threats to our union to continue. The corporate reformers are spinning these complicated webs that we anticipate will continue and pick up." 

This is likely not the last reference we hear to "corporate reformers," a Diane Ravitch-inspired formulation, by whom Ms. Pringle was likely referring to Bill Gates and other wealthy donors who have had a strong hand in influencing education policy. It will be interesting to see who or what else are mentioned as potential threats to the union's viability. 

And one last interesting tidbit (though not really a theme, per se): Twice during the budget hearing, delegates asked questions about the NEA executive director's salary, for which there was a proposed increase of 3 percent. According to 2012-13 federal labor filings, executive director John C. Stocks earns about $302,000, which Ms. Pringle said is comparable to salaries for directors of similar-sized nonprofits "but has not actually kept pace." The salary has been frozen for 5 years, she said, and is due for an increase. 

NEA testing photo.JPG

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