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NEA RA gonna be long and angry this year…

June 30, 2010

In just a few days the NEA RA will begin; delegates from all over the country are arriving in rain-soaked New Orleans to begin the process of unpacking and excercising their parlimentary procedural muscles.

I’ve been here a few days already at one of the many preconferences. I have to say, this is going to to one angry RA. Perhaps the angriest I’ve ever been too. I think this is my fifth RA, they tend to blur together into one big long parlimentary procedural motion.

Perceieved federal impotence and dysfunction

I think the delegates will target the federal funding we’ve recieved over the last year. Specifically RttT and SIG grants. And they’re not happy with Obama, but Duncan’s name keeps coming up and up again. Not in a pleasant way. We’re dealing with a membership loss, the first since the early 1980s, and are going to collectively have to deal with the loss of revenue. Not to mention all the bone-headed NBIs that will come to the floor this year that will ask NEA to do all kinds of things and cost all kinds of money we don’t have.

What frustrates me the most is that the delegates are so upset at Duncan and the competetive grant process. I personally am not against competetive grants, quite frankly, many school districts go for them all the time, both from governmental and NGO sources. I know that NEA supports formula-based aid. I think that should be the basis for overall funding, but if districts and their teacher unions want to apply for competetive grants, I don’t think there’s much harm in that, as long as it is done in a collaborative way, with both groups at the table.

I really don’t think that the delegates understand (or want to understand) the political sensitivities of the Obama administration right now. No, let’s just admit that they weren’t able to wave their magic wand and fix education (though they did do something with healthcare) or the economy. Teachers are getting laid off left and right. The jobs bill is in drydock, whittled down from $23 to $10 billion dollars.

What I have heard again and again from delegates is that “Obama (and/or) Duncan just aren’t listening to us (NEA).” That’s not true. They are listening to us, and President Van Roekel or other staffers or NEA officers are meeting on a weekly (sometimes more) basis with members of the Obama administration. I have full faith that those NEA folks are doing everything they can to make sure that the administration hears what our teachers have to say, and what we need to from them to make sure we can do our jobs.

Under Bush, I don’t think anyone from NEA really went to the White House at all. I don’t think there were weekly meetings with EdSec Spellings, or the idiot that came before her, the one that called us terrorists– Rod Paige. That didn’t happen. These meetings are happening now. We are at the table; we’re being heard, but rank and file teacher delegates aren’t realizing that.

The end result is that teachers are angry. They want NEA to walk out of the metaphorical meeting room, boycott the meetings, get rid of Duncan. That is the most assinine thing I’ve ever heard. It’s like what I say to teachers who complain about the principals in my district “We don’t hire, we don’t fire.” Same thing goes when it comes to Duncan. You can argue for hours about how he didn’t have his kids in public schools, that he isn’t a public school graduate (I think that’s what some have said) how he’s wrong for the job. I honestly don’t think he’s going anywhere. At least not soon.

I think the modus operandi of the Obama administration when it came to everything (including education) at the beginning of his term was quite like the Kennedy administration– you’re either with us, or you’re against us. And if you weren’t with Kennedy (or Obama) at the beginning, you weren’t invited. You either played or paid the price of not playing.

Now it’s a lot different in Washington. Democrats have splintered (as they always do when they gain power and control) and started backing their own agendas. They disagree privately and publicly with each other, including the administration.

Obama’s supermajority in the Senate is gone; the Democrats have a tough time cobbling together enough votes to get their own legislation passed in the Senate. All the while, the Republican bloc in both Houses grows stronger in the wings. The only positive thing right now is that the Tea Party may dillute the Republican ranks, a wrench thrown into the works, if you will.

The long story short is that in an interesting turn of events, Obama needs us more now than he ever has. For the RA to direct us to do things that don’t make political sense would be a nightmare. But, with thousands of angry teachers in one very large room directing their anger to the Washington wonk who they think is responsible for their misery, the floor proceedings at the RA could very well resemble a western-style vigilante mob out for justice.

State effects of RttT and SIG: Winners and losers alike

Recently, state legislators have been using RttT to pass a bunch of laws that, quite frankly, up-end contractual safeguards like tenure and due process┬áthat have been pillars of our contracts for years. I don’t agree with what those legislators are doing– smelling the potential cash awards for their state, they pass really stupid laws under the banner of “education reform” to make their state more attractive so they can win an RttT award. Quite frankly, states aren’t going to receive enough money even if they do win RttT; Race awards are in the hundreds of millions, and state budget deficits are in the billions. Every dollar helps, but it’s not right to change the rules of the game as quickly as possible.

So, teachers in states where the ed laws have been passed in hopes of catching RttT pennies are quite upset, and rightly so. At the same time, it’s incumbent on them to motivate, to organize, to activate their membership and wage a grassroots war to defeat said legislation and soon, said legislators. They can ask NEA for help, which is all well and good, but ultimately NEA can’t wage war for a state affilliate.

Teachers are also pissed about NEA’s stance on the new funding programs. They wonder why NEA can’t just stand up and oppose it. Well, quite frankly, they can. But they’ve managed to maintain their balance their delicate position. They have to support state affiliates that go for the funding, as well as those that flat-out refuse to. They’re being pulled hard in multiple directions. NEA can’t tell state affiliates what to do; they don’t have the ability to do that.

What concerns me are the upcoming mid-term congressional elections, and their are a ton of state gubenatorial races, not even counting the thousands of state legislator seats up for election across the country. NEA is going to have one hell of a race on its hands; I think they’re ready for it, but the national affiliate can’t do it all by themselves, they’ve got to have an active membership that takes the campaign to the streets, to each member.

I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but it’s gonna be one long, hot, angry, rainy NEA┬áRepresentative Assembly.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. preaprez permalink
    June 30, 2010 1:42 pm

    Stop by the Illinois delegation, or maybe we’ll meet up in the lobby again this year. I’d like to talk about your analysis here.
    I noticed you linked to me on Twitter. If you are suggesting I’m angry at the NEA leadership, you are wrong. I think they could be tougher, but they’ve done some things I think show their true colors. Such as inviting Diane Ravitich to speak and awarding her Friend of Education. She is a sharp critic of the present regime. Certainly sharper than you appear to be. And her invitation sends a message.
    Yes, I am totally pissed at the Illinois leadership of the IEA. They’ve sold our locally bargaining rights for the promise of maybe getting a few hundred million bucks in Race to the Top money. A few hundred million when the state owes nine billion to schools and public services.
    Listen Doc. I don’t claim Duncan and Obama aren’t listening. I claim that their agenda sucks. School closings. Turn-arounds. Privatization. Race to the Top and it’s competitive grants as a trial balloon for ESEA reauthorization. And testing anything that doesn’t move.
    That is an agenda that diverges from ours on most issues. It’s not because they have been busy with other things. They view public schools differently than we do.
    I think you condescend to suggest teachers and education employees who are angry at an administration we worked hard to elect because we thought it would be different from the past just don’t understand. Perhaps it is you who doesn’t understand.
    I guess for some, getting an invitation for dinner is enough. But be careful. You may be what is being served.

    • July 1, 2010 11:53 am

      Fred- I linked to you because I knew you would have your own views regarding my post and would have some pithy points to contribute to the discussion. It was not my intention to imply or suggest your stance on the issue.

  2. June 30, 2010 10:24 pm

    When I think about charters, and merit pay, high stakes testing, and tying teacher evaluation to test scores, closing schools, and restructuring schools, weakening tenure, and removing tenure… I’m thinking about an agenda that is bad for education, for schools, for kids, and for teachers.

    I worry about this post, where relations between teachers and the NEA on one hand, and Obama and Duncan on the other, are under discussion, but where none of these policy issues are mentioned.

    If teachers are angry, why? RTTT is just a grant. The answers are intimately connected to policy, and should be discussed in that context.



  1. NEA RA gonna be long and angry this year- Dr. Homeslice’s Blog #NEA #edu #education « Parents 4 democratic Schools

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