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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, July 4-7.

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 light."

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 school.
  • 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 the classroom.
  • 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 public schools.
  • 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

Education News