Delegates Strengthen NEA Position on Charter Schools, Testing
From school safety and low-performing schools, to charter
schools and high-stakes testing, more than 9,000 delegates at the 2001
NEA Representative Assembly took responsibility for ensuring all students
receive a quality education in public schools. The RA met in Los Angeles,
In his keynote address, NEA President Bob Chase challenged delegates
to help students and schools of greatest need. "It is not a question
of whether we can lift up low-performing schools, but whether we have
the will to do so," he said.
Chase said he would visit low-performing schools across the country
during his final year in office. "In every city and town that I visit
during my last year as NEA president, I will make it my business to visit
those schools that are not showcases," Chase said. "Not to shine
a spotlight of shame on these schools, but to offer a small beacon of
On the policy front, delegates adopted new charter school guidelines
for educators, policymakers and parents who evaluate charter school laws.
The policy, drafted by a special committee provides principles for ensuring
taxpayer-funded charter schools are held to the same instructional standards
as other mainstream public schools.
In addition, NEA delegates approved a partnership agreement with the
American Federation of Teachers that provides a framework for cooperation
between the two unions. The AFT must vote on this agreement before it
can be finalized, and will do so July 11. A successful partnership vote
on both sides will formally enact a no-raid agreement between the unions.
At the classroom level, delegates expressed concern about the effects
of high-stakes tests. Delegates directed the NEA to support legislation
giving parents the ability to let their children opt-out of high-stakes
tests. "Setting high standards and implementing a regime of testing
and consequences is easy," Chase said. "The hard part - the
part that we have seriously neglected - is giving every child the good
schools and quality teachers and individual assistance he or she needs
to have a fighting chance to succeed."
Further, delegates embraced several new resolutions addressing teacher
quality through compensation innovations. They overwhelmingly approved
a resolution that endorses additional compensation to retain experienced
educators, and approved criteria for additional compensation to education
employees beyond the traditional single-salary schedule.
NEA delegates also called for the establishment of a task force to look
at issues relating to policies on sexual orientation. "NEA has a
responsibility to our members and to our students to ensure that they
teach and learn in a safe, supportive environment," Chase said. The
task force will make its recommendations in February 2002.
Additionally, NEA delegates focused on school safety during a presentation
titled, "The Strongest Links," which featured individuals taking
action to create safer schools. Hosted by NBC News anchor Maurice DuBois,
the speakers included six ordinary people - an ESP member, a high school
student, a mental health professional, a deputy sheriff, a parent, and
a former teacher - who made an effort to keep students and schools safe.
Providing quality teaching and learning opportunities for all students
filled discussions and debate and was the focus of events including:
- A beautification project at Jordan High School in South Central Los
Angeles where more than 200 NEA member-volunteers partnered with community
and civil rights groups to paint, landscape, build shelves and make
other improvements, as well as create a long-term partnership for that
- A "Read-In" that celebrated NEA's commitment to early childhood
literacy by donating thousands of books to Los Angeles youngsters. NEA
delegates also delighted hundreds of local elementary students by reading
aloud and staging photo shoots with the Cat in the Hat.
- 2001 Teacher of the Year Michele Forman challenged delegates to speak
out against emergency licenses, waivers and other practices that lower
teaching standards. "Every child deserves a fully certified, licensed
teacher. No child's education should be in the hands of someone ill-equipped
to meet that child's needs," she urged.
- Morris Dees, co-founder and chief counsel of the Southern Poverty
Law Center, was named the 2001 NEA Friend of Education for his contributions
towards the progress of civil rights and tolerance and for developing
resources that promote interracial and intercultural understanding in
- Education Support Professional of the Year Irma Valdespino urged delegates
to respect the language and culture of bilingual students and fully
recognize their talents and strengths. Valdespino, an educational assistant
from Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the first Hispanic female to receive
the ESP award.
- An Independence Day address by Vietnamese refugee Lieu Tran, a teenager
who related the three miracles in her life: her escape from a prison
camp, her reunion with her mother in the Philippines, and America's
- Six innovative union partnerships received NEA-Saturn/UAW Awards for
developing successful mentoring programs for new teachers.
Delegates elected new leaders to the NEA Executive Committee including
Michael Marks, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Rebecca "Becky"
Pringle, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Mike Billirakis, of Mogadore
(Portage County), Ohio. Marks and Pringle were elected to three-year terms,
and Billirakis will serve for one year, completing the unexpired term
of Executive Committee member Eddie Davis.
The 2002 NEA Rrepresentative Assembly will meet July 2-5 in Dallas.
Posted July 11, 2001