Monday, July 6, 2009

Hope -and action- start here!

Delegates headed home from the Representative Assembly to a nation that is led, for the first time in nearly a decade, by an education-friendly White House and Congress. Hopes for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) run high.

The last day of the RA saw a heartfelt, spirited celebration of a leader whom President Dennis Van Roekel called “a legal superhero” -- retiring NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin. Van Roekel also conferred the NEA’s 2009 Friend of Education award on Linda Darling-Hammond, acted on new business items and resolutions, and greeted newly-elected NEA officers.

RA Today/Calvin Knight

The emotional highlight of the day, and one of the most anticipated events of the 2009 RA, was the tribute to General Counsel Bob Chanin.

Following a video retrospective and remarks from President Van Roekel and representatives from the California Teachers Association, the Alabama Education Association and the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Chanin spoke (for the first time) from the center podium.

In addition to reflecting on his 40 years and thanking his many colleagues past and present, Chanin left delegates with an important message in these challenging times as they prepare to depart from the 2009 RA.

Marsha Fabian recieves a kiss from her husband Brian Griffith on the Ra floor the two were engaged at last years RA in Washington DC. and Married this year at the NEA 147th Annual Meeting, 88th Representative Assembly, San Diego Ca. Sunday, July 5th, 2009. RA Today/Calvin Knight

NEA Friend of Education Linda Darling- Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University told the assembly that public schools are under attack, but it’s the system’s fault, not the people’s. It is up to educators to stand up and help lead a reform movement that invests in high quality teaching, equitable schools and real accountability, she said.

“Teachers can transform schools,” Darling-Hammond challenged the delegates. “Do we have the will? Do we have the courage?”

Not all the day’s action was inside the hall. Members of the California Teachers Association marched from the San Diego Convention Center to the governor’s San Diego office to deliver the 10,000 postcards collected from educators on the floor of the Representative Assembly on Saturday.

Classic Chanin Moments

There are RA moments we can never forget, and Bob Chanin is unforgettable:

What is your favorite Chanin moment? Share it with us.

(Scott Iskowitz/RA TODAY)

And because we can't get enough Chanin, here is one more...

Bob Chanin: A classic that never goes out of style

Not a dry eye in the house as Bob Chanin said goodbye to the NEA delegates who have grown to admire, love and respect him over the years...because no one can fill his shoes (or his briefs).

Tribute to Robert Chanin NEA General Council NEA 147th Annual Meeting, 88th Representative Assembly, San Diego Ca. Monday, July 6th, 2009. RA Today/Calvin Knight

Proclaiming that "it is time for a new generation to drive the bus," retiring NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin bid farewell to RA delegates Monday in a moving tribute that drew repeated standing ovations.

Watch his full speech here:

Chanin, who is retiring after 41 years as NEA's top attorney, was saluted by delegates from across the country for his work on critical issues such as collective bargaining, desegregation, vouchers and education funding.

Watch our tribute here:

During his time as NEA general counsel, Chanin argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court - winning four of them - and filed 25 briefs.

Join our Bob Chanin tribute, and share your memories with us.

Linda Darling-Hammond: 2009 NEA Friend of Education

One of the most influential and revered public education policy voices in the United States – that’s how NEA President Dennis Van Roekel described Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, the recipient of the 2009 NEA Friend of Education award. Darling-Hammond is a professor of education at Stanford University and a tireless champion of a teacher-led education reform.

In her speech to the delegates, Darling-Hammond issued a call-to action for educators across the nation to take the reins and fight for nothing less than a transformation of public education – one in which all students have the right to learn and teachers have the support, resources and respect needed to teach well.

“The cost of doing this,” she warned, “will ultimately be less than the costs of not doing it.”

Darling-Hammond called for a renewed commitment – a “Marshall Plan for Teachers” - to hire and support highly-qualified teachers and leaders.

Schools should be transformed into laboratories for “personalized learning environments” in which educators can make decisions about the curriculum, instruction and assessments - and leave the factory assembly line model behind.

Make no mistake, Darling-Hammond said, this agenda will require leadership from educators across the country.

"I know all of you are working hard, day in and day out to educate students. We can do this if we work together – across states and localities, across educational roles, and across party lines.”

Photo by Calvin Knight/RA Today

President Obama greets NEA delegates

President Barack Obama sent a message to the thousands of educators gathered in San Diego to participate in the NEA annual meeting.

CTA marches to protect public education

Members of the California Teachers Association marched today to deliver to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's San Diego office more than 10,000 postcards asking him to stop making cuts to public education.

CTA gathers postcards July 4 on the RA floor. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz)

Schwarzenegger had previously signaled that he was considering suspending Proposition 98, a state spending rule that requires education funding be based, at least in part, on the prior year's funding. Suspending Proposition 98 would allow Schwarzenegger to make additional cuts to education funding, even though thousands of teachers have already been laid off statewide.

CTA, with the help of RA attendees, was able to gather signatures on 10,000 postcards reminding Schwarzenegger that California students deserve a quality public education -- even during economic downturns.

CTA's march has garnered strong coverage in the regional press. To read a report from San Diego's NBC affiliate, click here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Past must not define us, says Teacher of the Year

Past is not prologue -- that was the message Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen of Connecticut delivered to RA delegates in a moving speech today.

Mullen, a former New York City police detective, talked about his work with students who have struggled academically and may be dealing with serious emotional problems. His goal, Mullen said, is to convince his students that "origin is not destiny."

Mullen also spoke of the importance of organizations such as the NEA and its state and local affiliates in helping to preserve the middle class.

He decried calls for teachers and education support professionals to offer contractual give-backs during an economic downturn, saying they have suffered from inadequate pay and benefits for too long.

"Since we have been given very little, we have nothing to give back," Mullen said.

Mullen also spoke about the need to prepare students for the challenges of the future, arguing that America must address its dropout crisis to ensure that students are able to compete in the global economy. "The ability to graduate from high school is a fundamental right," Mullen said.

To view some photos from Mullen's address, visit the official RA FlickR feed here.

To watch NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's interview with Mullen, click the image below.

In memoriam: Sharon Miller

Sharon Miller, wife of NEA Director Gary Miller from Illinois, suffered a fatal head injury yesterday after falling from a pedi-cab. Gary's family has joined him in San Diego.

Gary, his family and IEA thank you for all of your expressions of sympathy and support.

Sharon was a retired first grade teacher, was active in her IEA-retired chapter, and, was a substitute teacher. Gary and Sharon have two daughters, Missy and Alison.

Alison is a teacher in Illinois and mother of their first granddaughter, 5 week old Katelyn.

The IEA State Caucus will collect donations to assist with the family expenses. Any excess funds will be donated to: IEA-R, Abe Lincoln Chapter, College Scholarship Fund in honor of Sharon Miller.

More from the Illinois Education Association

Meet Joe the blogger

If you can't go to the RA but want to know the details, see what's happening behind the scenes, and get some personal observations about what is going, where do you turn?

One of your options is to read the blogs of delegates like Joe Thomas from Arizona, who are covering the play-by-play with their own twist.

"Blogging gives good information for people back in Arizona or other parts of the world who may wonder what the RA is," explained Thomas, whose blog, "30 days in June," is updated from the floor of the San Diego Convention Center.

"I thought this would be a great opportunity to show our members and others who don't have an idea what the NEA is, or who have a negative idea, what we do here. We honor people, we have awards, we do business, we do wonderful ceremonies like the one for the 4th of July", added Thomas who has been blogging for five years.

For Thomas, who teaches government at Skyline High School in Mesa, Arizona, finding the time to blog has been a challenge because he also wants to participate in all the activities and discussions that make up the daily flow of the RA.

He did take the time for a quick update from the floor, just seconds after the 4th of July presentation which included dramatic readings of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Barbara Jordan, Harvey Milk, Chief Joseph, as well as special music by the All-NEA Choir.

"This annual celebration of our nation declaring their independence and beginning the journey toward freedom for all, is always well done and makes me proud to be a member," Thomas wrote, with photo updates from Facebook from another delegate.

Are you blogging? Let us know!

A birthday surprise...the start of a lucky year?

It was the day after his birthday, but $10,000 can still be considered a great birthday present for Josh Brown, especially on the 4th of July.

The 3rd grade teacher from Iowa, whose wife is also a delegate at the NEA's Representative Assembly in San Diego, won the daily NEA Fund for Children and Public Education giveaway.

Anne Wass, (president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association) left and Kenneth Swanson, (president of the Illinois Education Association) right stand with with winner Joshua Brown of Iowa(MIDDLE) at the RA Saturday. ( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

Could you be the next winner?

NEA celebrates the 4th of July

Educators from across the nation celebrate the 4th of July in style!

Dianna Dotts, Jennifer Hansen, Dorothy Rucker Kanas sports a RA Today hat for the Independence day Celebration at the NEA 147th Annual Meeting, 88th Representative Assembly, San Diego Ca. Saturday July 4th, 2009. RA Today/Calvin Knight.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Under-30 Delegates - Our Future Leaders

Honoring our under-30 delegates was a real crowd-pleaser today at our July 4th celebration. Smiling, waving, and cheering from the stage, the young delegates gave us a glimpse of our future. And it was energizing.

They are a smart, thoughtful group of young people.

Take Betsy Cragg, for example. The elementary school teacher from Greenwich, Connecticut, is here enjoying her first national RA. Already a veteran of two state RAs, she feels she now understands the NEA political process.

This week she has felt totally supported by her Connecticut colleagues--and now today, her RA colleagues. Being asked to come on stage was a real surprise. "It was nice to know that everyone is happy to have us here," said Betsy. "It was very welcoming."

This is an especially exciting year to be attending an RA, when a Connecticut teacher, Tony Mullen, is the national teacher of the year. "Maybe that will be me some day," she said.

CTA to Schwarzenegger: We won’t let you terminate education

California's 1,100-strong delegation, with the support of fellow NEA members, sent a powerful message to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today that they won’t let him “terminate” public education for California’s students.

At a press conference on the RA floor, California Teachers Association President David A. Sanchez told delegates and members of the media that CTA was preparing to march on Schwarzenegger’s office on Monday and deliver postcards from more than 10,000 RA attendees asking the governor not to suspend a state spending rule.

Schwarzenegger had previously signaled that he was considering suspending Proposition 98, a state law that requires education funding to be based in part on what was spent the previous year. Suspending Proposition 98 would allow Schwarzenegger to make deep cuts to education, even though thousands of teachers have already been laid off statewide.

CTA delegates carried signs reminding the governor that successful education policy is not about doing what Schwarzenegger wants, but about making sure students have the resources they deserve. CTA members also have been calling their local legislators, and their activism may be paying off.

According to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle, Schwarzenegger may be softening his stance on suspending Proposition 98. CTA is keeping up the heat, working to ensure that all California students have access to quality public education.

(Photos, from top to bottom: CTA members rally for education on RA floor; RA attendees drop off postcards protesting funding cuts in Calif. Photos by Calvin Knight)

Meet the ESP of the Year!

Live life loud!

That’s Education Support Professional of the Year Kathie Axtell’s advice to her colleagues and it means standing up and putting a public face of the role of education support professionals. It means standing up and saying, “Every person who works in our schools deserves the dignity to live their lives above – above – the poverty level.”

Axtell, a paraprofessional from Washington State, was honored by the Representative Assembly today as “a visionary, a woman of action, one who is unafraid to take the road less traveled,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

Since 1980, Axtell has worked with students who struggle with day-to-day assignments and trained others to help these students as well. She’s been an active, energetic advocate for her ESP colleagues – and her kids too. Through a grant from Washington Education Association, with support from local police agencies, Axtell created an after-school program that provides anti-drug and violence prevention programs to her most needy students.

Now, as NEA’s national ESP of the Year, Axtell has accepted a new assignment: Convincing her colleagues that they need to become politically involved and raising awareness of the poor wages paid to far too many ESPs.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel,left with ESP of the year Kathleen Axtell, Paraeducator Olympia, Washington speaks during the 147th Annual Meeting at the RA Saturday. ( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

“It is so easy to bury our heads in our schools and work. It is so easy to let someone else worry about legislation and politics and elections,” Axtell said. But those legislative decisions impact the work of educators – and the lives of students.

“We all need to commit ourselves to engaging in political action – Republicans and Democrats, young and old, custodian and chemistry teacher.” Contact your legislators and ask for fair funding, she urged. At the same time, do your part to demand fair compensation for educators.

“I am not talking about buying a yacht – I am talking about the ability to live life with dignity and to have enough that we go to bed not worrying about whether we have enough money to keep food on the table or heat in our homes.”

More here (with video)

Takin' care of business!

Who counts? The ones who get counted.

In an action-packed day of new business, delegates first pledged NEA’s commitment to making sure the 2010 Census is done accurately so that schools and communities can be fairly funded, and then moved swiftly on to the other top issues of the day: fair retirement benefits, charter schools, and equal treatment for same-sex couples.

RA Today/ Rick Runion

On the Census, it’s critical that every person be counted, said Executive Committee member Len Paolillo. “How would you like to get a 10 to 1 pay-off guaranteed?” he asked delegates. “This is what this NBI is all about. If we work as an organization to make sure everybody is counted, it’ll pay off for the next 10 years,” through equitable funding for Title 1 grants, special education, college tuition grants, job training, senior centers and more.

That’s a bet delegates were eager to take.

Also delegates moved to offer the Association’s assistance to states seeking help in repealing discriminatory laws or enacting ones that guarantee equal treatment, like shared health care benefits or adoption rights, to same-sex couples. “The focus is on equal treatment, not the definition of marriage,” explained Executive Committee member Carolyn Crowder.

The RA also directed the Association’s energy toward its continued fight to repeal the Social Security Offsets that deny rightfully earned retirement benefits to some public employees, and it engaged in spirited debate around the issues of charter schools and the role of military recruiters in schools.

RA Today/ Rick Runion

Tomorrow, look forward to more action from the floor!

MEA's David Hockaday Says Thanks

David Hockaday, a paraprofessional and president of the Lansing Educational Assistants Union, is the proud new owner of a new Dodge Caravan, equipped with a wheelchair lift - a $36,000 gift from Hockaday’s friends and colleagues in the Michigan Education Association.

See Hockaday's Thank You message:

The limitations of his 1993 Cadillac Coupe De Ville was making it harder for Hockaday, who was critically injured in a 1987 car accident, to travel around Lansing and do his job. Jerry Swartz, president of the Lansing Schools Education Association, helpd spearhead a fundraising drive that began at the 2008 RA in Washington D.C. and ended in February when Hockaday was presented with his brand new set of wheels.

“The generosity of the education community has been overwhelming and I’ll always be grateful,” says Hockaday. “I can now continue the work I love. And I can’t wait to drive to New Orleans next year!”

New pitcher for the Padres?

Creating some magic in San Diego, like only educators can...

NEA delegates had a great time at the sold-out game, and they are still talking about President Dennis Van Roekel's first pitch.

On the floor of RA, more than one educator suggested that maybe, just maybe, the Padres should consider recruiting DVR for their lineup.

Your photo here

Have some great shots to share? Don't be shy!

Join us on Flickr and show of your talent.

NEA Hits Home Run in Friendship Night Event

If NEA President Dennis Van Roekel thought his first pitch at last night's Padres-Dodgers game would be a fairly anonymous soft toss, he was in for the pleasant surprise of his life.

Nearly 7,000 RA delegates took over PETCO Park yesterday for NEA Night at the Ballpark: Friendship Night 2009. The Padres-Dodgers matchup was the game of the year at PETCO, drawing a sellout crowd of more than 42,000 fans from throughout California, who came to watch the return of Dodgers slugger Manny Ramírez.

San Diego,CA NEA President Dennis Van Roekel throws out the first pitch at the San Diego Padres game Friday evening. ( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

Even cable news icon Larry King, a lifelong Dodgers fan, was at the event, sitting in front-row seats behind home plate.

But the star last night was Van Roekel, who drew thunderous applause from the NEA delegation when he stepped onto the mound and delivered a perfect pitch -- thanks, in part, to time he spent preparing for the event with his son.

What did the delegates think of our president's first pitch?

"I think they should sign him up," said Kate McAuliffe, a middle school reading teacher from Billings, MT.

As news outlets from throughout the country covered the game, signs of NEA's presence were everywhere. During the sixth inning, the sellout crowd was treated to a public service announcement from Van Roekel, Vice President Lily Eskelsen and Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle, promoting the importance of reading to children.

Fans throughout the stadium wore the stiped stovepipe Cat in the Hat hats that were provided by NEA and have become the symbol of NEA's Read Across America initiative.

To view photos of the event, visit the NEA FlickR account here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

International Guest Haldis Holst: We All Face the Same Challenges

Like anyone else visiting the NEA Representative Assembly for the first time, Haldis Holst was immediately struck by the enormity of the gathering. Holst is the vice-president of the Union of Education Norway and Education International’s vice-president for Europe.

She is also one of the fourteen international guests who will be introduced to RA delegates on Saturday.

(Calvin Knight/RA Today)

But as she settled into her seat in the South Carolina delegation (her state host) Holst got a firsthand look at how the largest teachers union in the world conducts its business (and even got to ask Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a question on Thursday ) - an experience that has confirmed what she already knew about the shared experiences of educators worldwide.

“We face so many of the same challenges – questions over testing, accountability, performance pay, dropouts. You could change the name on the outside of the convention center from NEA to Norwegian teachers union and I wouldn’t know the difference!”

Such commonalities, says Holst, make it easier for unions around the world to join forces to discuss and share strategies.

Listening to President Dennis Van Roekel’s keynote address on Friday, Haldis nodded in agreement when he spoke of how education must be transformed to adapt to the rapidly changing system of globalization and interdependence. She was also struck by his insistence that NEA be recognized, not just as a union voice, but also a professional association that cares deeply about improving the quality of education.

And even as schools face crippling cuts and the global economy struggles to recover, Holst says optimism can be found in the fact that governments around the world are acknowledging and talking about the critical role education plays.

“Even if there was money to spend, it wouldn’t matter if education wasn’t valued,” explains Holst. “But I think many countries now understand the importance of education. That is the crucial first step and teacher unions around the world pay a huge role in moving this forward.”

Meet America's Greatest Education Governor!

After increasing teacher pay and education funding in his state and making good on his pledge to provide children in New Mexico with quality public schools, Gov. Bill Richardson won America’s Greatest Education Governor award from the NEA Representative Assembly today, an honor he called, “one of the greatest I’ve ever received.”

( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

In presenting the award to Richardson, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel remarked that, “In every election there’s at least one candidate who promises to be the education governor but once the election is over the promises are too often forgotten.”

Not Bill Richardson. He’s delivered.

Richardson, a former U.S. Congressman, United Nations ambassador, Energy Secretary and presidential candidate who was making his second appearance before an NEA Representative Assembly, called on delegates to close achievement gaps, increase parental involvement, and work toward reform of the No Child Left Behind law.

“Let’s not forget, No Child Left Behind must either be fixed or terminated,” Richardson said. “That was my promise when I became Governor and it is still important to me today,” he proclaimed – to rising applause from delegates.

As New Mexico’s governor since 2002, Richardson created the position of state secretary of education, delivered a $600 million increase in education funding, and reinstated collective bargaining rights to public employees. At the same time, New Mexico implemented full-day kindergarten, increased access to quality pre-K programs, and brought back elementary physical education.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel,right hands Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico the Governor Award at the 147th Annual Meeting 2009 in San Diego.( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

“What’s even better is we’re not finished. Stay tuned, hold on to your hats, because once again I am going to be bold and I’m going to need your support," Richardson said. “Just like in the early days, I expect push back. There are those who will say we can’t afford more reforms right now. But just as I answered critics then, I say we can’t afford not to.”

Dennis to delegates: The time is now!

In a stirring call to action on the first day of the annual NEA Representative Assembly, President Dennis Van Roekel exhorted his colleagues to lead the efforts to transform public education in America, restore stability and respect to this country’s middle class, and make sure the world knows that NEA is a swift-moving powerhouse with vision and strength.

( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

“We have the history. We have the skills and knowledge. We have the power and we have the courage. Now we must seize the opportunity,” Van Roekel exclaimed.

When half of all poor and minority children face a future without a high school diploma, a future with “no hope, no opportunity, no possibility of realizing the American dream,” and millions of American jobs lost and homes foreclosed on, it’s critical that educators take action now.

“Our members – the people on the front lines – know what it takes to increase student learning to transform the system,” Van Roekel said. “But we have to do more than define a vision for transforming public education -- we must lead the nation in making this transformation happen.”

For the first time in this century, NEA has a partner in the White House who “understand(s) that transformation is something you do with educators, not to them.” And NEA welcomes this opportunity to transform education. Better ways to measure student learning – not by a single test scores but through multiple measures – and also to improve teaching are welcome, he said. The Association also is open to new ways of paying teachers – but “we understand compensation systems are bargained and negotiated not imposed!”

( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

We won’t agree with President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on everything, Van Roekel promised. “But what is most important to me is that even though we may disagree on strategies or tactics…they share our mission to fulfill the promise of public education for every student.” He called on federal policy-makers to reform NCLB so that the new law helps students, not labels and punished them.

Of particular concern to Van Roekel are America’s lowest-performing school -- and he asked every delegate to get personally involved in turning them around. Teach there if you can, he asked. Mentor another teacher if possible. “It is important you do something – because these kids deserve better – and we are the ones who can make a difference.”

But NEA can’t close achievement gaps when the families of our students don’t have jobs or health care, or living wages and benefits. So he called on members to be political activists as well – to fight for decent salaries and health benefits for all. Every congressional district needs at least 50 NEA activists by January 1, 2010, he said. He also noted that all delegates should sign up for an NEA web site specifically for them – a site where Van Roekel will continue speaking to them post-RA. (Go to

And finally, Van Roekel also asked delegates for something more personal: “I ask you to believe in the power of this organization,” he challenged them. “To believe, that in spite of all the challenges we face, that we have make a difference!”

San Diego here we are!

Lights, camera, action!

Thousands of educators from across the nation are here in San Diego for the NEA Representative Assembly, pumped up and ready to debate and vote on a range of critical issues facing the nation's educators and their students and set Association policy for the coming year.

But first, the music, the invocation, the dancing and the national anthem:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Arne Duncan town hall with the NEA (video)

On the second day of the NEA Annual Meeting, delegates eagerly embraced the big challenges facing schools today - achievement gaps, teacher pay, NCLB reform and engaged in frank and spirited discussions with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other noted guests of the RA.

Check out the video:

Greg Green from Illinois says it takes great teachers to really help students succeed.

More video here

Failure Is Not an Option

Dancing down the aisle to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Alan Blankstein, president of the HOPE Foundation, invited us to join in. We did. We were engaged.

Back on stage, he got down to business—showing us how to keep all students engaged. Especially the kids who are the most difficult to reach. Interconnect ideas, he said (and demonstrated). Use student interests, music, common knowledge, history, dance.

The solutions are “in the room,” Blankstein said. We just need to work collaboratively to find them.

Sixth grade teacher to sixth grade teacher (Your kids are getting decimals. Mine aren’t. Can I watch you teach them?) All educators in the school. In the district. And the latest new thing -networks of paired schools - one lower and one higher performing school. In his work with paired schools, Blankstein is finding that schools are successful because their mission is to work together and depend on each other to solve problems.

Want to learn more Harnessing Optimism and Potential through Education (HOPE)? Visit the HOPE Foundation Web site.

Arne Duncan speaks to delegates

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for reforms to teacher compensation and evaluation systems during a town hall meeting at the NEA Annual Meeting today, saying good teachers are essential to the success of every American child.

With tens of thousands of students still dropping out of school each year and far too many children failing to meet basic standards, Duncan said he and President Obama hope to collaborate with the NEA and its members on innovative solutions – including new ways to compensate teachers that depart from traditional seniority-based salary scales.

“Excellence matters. Excellence matters and we must honor it – fairly, transparently, and on terms teachers can embrace,” Duncan said. “The President and I have both said repeatedly that we are not going to impose reform but rather work with teachers, principals, and unions to find what works.”

( Photo/ Scott Iskowitz/ RA TODAY)

Student test scores are likely to be part of the pay-for-performance system that Duncan would prefer – although pay shouldn’t be based solely on scores, he said.

“I understand that tests are far from perfect and that it is unfair to reduce the complex, nuanced work of teaching to a simple multiple-choice exam. Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions. That would never make sense,” Duncan said, to rousing applause. “But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible.”

Duncan also called for reforms to the teacher tenure system, saying in some places it protects “jobs – not children – and that’s not a good thing.”

Delegates to Arne Duncan: Listen to teachers!

Teacher pay tied to test scores? Not a good idea.

NCLB? Needs a lot of help!

But listening to each other? All right!

About 7,000 delegates heard U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak about the need for reform to teacher compensation and evaluation systems at the NEA Annual Meeting today. And then it was their turn.

At the top of their list? Making sure teachers have a seat at the table when federal lawmakers take on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, especially when it comes to sensible measurements for students with disabilities or English Language Learners, and that new compensation systems take the complexity of their work into account.

(RA Today/ Rick Runion)

Consider, for example, Scott Miller's middle-school classroom in Hawthorne, California, where his immigrant students speak Urdu, Bangli, Arabic and Spanish -- and that's just second period, he told Duncan.

"I love my students and I think they’re all fabulous. But as you can imagine, they don’t perform well on standardized tests in their second or third language," Miller said. "Secretary Duncan, how can anybody possibly suggests that my family’s paychecks or my perform evaluation be based on their test scores?"

More photos here.

Great question, Duncan said -- and, judging from the applause, Miller's fellow delegates agreed. Special eduation kids and English Language Leaners do need to be fairly evaluated, Duncan said. "I want to be clear, I think we absolutely should be held accountable for their progress -- but to give a kid a test that they can’t read doesn’t measure their ability. It doesn't work. It doesn't make sense," Duncan said.

The law has some good points, but it also got a lot of things wrong, he said. "If some piece made sense, let’s keep it. If it didn’t make sense, let’s fix it." But Duncan said he doesn't have all the solutions himself. "Let's come back together and come up with something that does (work)," he suggested.

"Adult dysfunction" -- the inability of so many adults involved in education at federal, state and local levels to work together collaboratively for solutions -- is the biggest impediment to student achievement and sensible reform, Duncan said. "We haven’t talked to each other, we haven’t listened to each other. Adult dysfunction has stood in the way of children learning and we can’t afford that anymore," he said.

Listening to delegates today is part of the solution and he promised it would continue. "All I can say is, this is the way I work. And I want you to hold me accountable."

In addition to shared concern over English Language Learners, Duncan and the delegates also found common ground over the effects of NCLB on curriculum. "Our formerly rich curriculum, with its literacy circles and cooperative projects, (has been replaced with) benchmark testing, test-taking skills," complained Fremont, California, teacher Anita Vanegas. One of her students recently asked her, she said, "Why do we still have to go to school in May and June? The testing is over!"

"We’ve had a real narrowing of the curriculum and that’s a real problem," Duncan agreed. "I think it's so important for all children, but especially children from backgrounds where they're not getting their own piano lessons, to have exposure to art and p.e. and a rich array of activities."

And again he told Vanegas and her colleagues: "I don’t have all the answers, I hope we can come up with them collectively."

Delegates criticized Duncan's support for charter schools, saying more resources should be put into regular public schools instead, but Duncan pointed to the $100 billion for education in the economic stimulus bill and added, "I’m a fan of high-performing schools. Some high-performing schools happen to be charters."

The key to system-wide improvement, he suggested, is finding examples of excellence -- whether they're in charter schools or not -- and duplicating them. "I’m convinced we have more great schools, more great teachers than ever before in our country. We have more great ideas than ever before. We just need to listen, figure out what works, and scale it up."

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Something for everybody and more

From educational books, to free ring cleaning, to positive pins and great tools for educators; there is something for everybody at the 2009 Exhibit Hall at the NEA Annual Meeting...

Preparing the next generation

Elementary school teacher Francisco Sevilla shares his thoughts about preparing the next generation of leaders and the importance of a global, without disregarding the local, perspective on education.

Sevilla attended the Global Education Summit, which is part of the many pre-annual conference activities and expressed that a global perspective is not only acquired in the classroom but also in the community.

Los Padres hit a reading home run

Hundreds of local students visited PETCO Park, but not for a Padres baseball game or batting practice-it was for something a little more page-turning: reading. Read Across America hit a home run with summer reading.

Watch some of the great local coverage of this event:

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