Thursday, April 14, 2011

Leave the Driving to Us

As usual at this time, we don't have complete lists of NEA delegates, so we're sending this message to local presidents and to last year's NEA delegates. Please pass along to those who may be interested.

NEA RA Bus: "Leave the Driving to Us"

Looking for an alternative way to get to Chicago for this year's RA? If so, you may want to consider riding with NEOEA.

NEOEA has arranged for a chartered bus to Chicago for the NEA Representative Assembly. The bus will travel to Chicago on Wednesday, June 29, and return on Wednesday, July 6. The central pickup point will be the NEOEA office in Garfield Heights; additional pickup points east and west will be assigned based on demand. The bus will drop us off in Chicago directly at the Ohio headquarters hotel. The fare is $140.

Projected departure from NEOEA is at 9:00 AM EDT; projected arrival time at our hotel in Chicago is 3:00 PM CDT. (Other departure times will be figured once we know the other pickup points.) For the return trip, the projected departure from the hotel is at 9:00 AM CDT with a projected arrival time at NEOEA of 5:00 PM EDT.

We announced this opportunity at the NEOEA RA at Westlake and distributed fliers there; additional versions are available online:

For more news about the northeastern Ohio delegation to the NEA Annual Meeting, follow the NEOEA blog online at


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 6

Delegates Finish Packed Agenda

Ohio's 332 tired delegates met at 7:00 for their last caucus of this Representative Assembly. They actually managed to finish considering positions on all New Business Items presented to the RA. The caucus ended with congratulations and thanks to the many delegates who had worked in significant volunteer positions, and a special thank-you by Lakewood delegate Kim Vivolo to retiring Ohio NEA Director Nanci DiBianca, who was warmly acknowledged by the delegates.

Yesterday's posting mentioned some of the NBIs that dealt with issues only marginally connected--if at all--to education topics. Today brought discussion of another, NBI 55, from a Florida delegate, which would have had NEA "support state affiliates' efforts to pass state legislation banning the use of hand-held call phones while operating a motor vehicle." And, with a modification, this one passed.

After the first 90 minutes of new business consideration, delegates honored NEA's 2010 Friend of Education, Diane Ravitch. The education historian, who served as Secretary of Education under President George Bush (41) and continued to influence federal education policy under President Bill Clinton, was a strong proponent in the nineties of school choice, high-stakes testing, and institutional reforms. In 2010, Ravitch published The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which she explains how she came to realize that these three items were actually damaging American public education.

In her acceptance speech, she emphasized the importance of teachers defending their profession: "You know, a lot of teachers don’t pay attention to the national scene. They are busy teaching kids. They don’t pay attention to what’s happening in Washington. But when the Central Falls staff, the entire staff, was fired without a single teacher having an evaluation, the message went out that there is a new game of punishing teachers. And the message also went out when this was endorsed by Secretary Duncan and then reaffirmed by President Obama. This is not a good message."

Ravitch blasted high-stakes testing, saying it might lead to higher test scores but not to real learning. She attacked merit pay because it undermines team work and has no support in education research. She warned that public school choice and more charter schools could split the public school system into one system for haves and one for have-nots, because many charter schools skim the best students.

To these comments, she added remarks about the value of teacher unions: "Teachers have a right to a collective voice in the political process. It’s the American way. I don’t see the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post or the pundits complaining about the charter school lobby. I don’t see them complaining about the investment bankers lobby, or any other group that speaks on behalf of its members. Only teachers’ unions are demonized these days."

After Ravitch's speech, it was time for more New Business, then a brief break, and then still more New Business. By comparison with the amount of time spent on NBIs, the Legislative Policies, Resolutions, and amendments to the organization's Constitution and Bylaws, delegates took only a few minutes to approve the organization's strategic plan and budget, and by that time the RA was almost concluded.

After a few more traditional events, including a "welcome" video about Chicago, the site of next year's RA, and acceptance speeches from officers elected at the RA, it was time for the RA to conclude. This year's RA was officially adjourned at 7:24 PM.

A few numbers:

  • Of NEOEA's 192 locals, 42 sent delegates to the RA (22%).
  • Those locals include 12,970 of NEOEA's 33,275 members (39%).


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Monday, July 5, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 5

A Quiet Start to a Noisy Day

The caucus started to an unwelcome surprise: no microphones! With some judicious use of playground and cafeteria voices, we were still able to begin the caucus on time. It wasn't long before the sound system was working: it came on line just before NEA President Dennis Van Roekel visited the delegation to an enthusiastic welcome from Ohio delegates.

Shortly after Dennis's greeting, the caucus was visited by John Stocks, the NEA's Deputy Executive Director. He spoke clearly and forcefully about the importance of the 2010 election to Ohio educators and about the importance of the Ohio elections to the rest of the country. "You are the pivotal point in the country," he told us.

New Business Items, Resolutions, and Legislative Amendments dominated the business today, both in the caucus and at the Representative Assembly itself. Although delegates have waded through a thicket of NBIs dealing with federal education policy, especially ESEA and RttT, attention turned to other policy decisions.

The caucus was able to consider about 20 proposed amendments to NEA's legislative program and take positions on NBIs through #36, although the RA was to get further than that later in the day.

Both at the caucus and at the RA, I was able to think about the truth of Stock's statement and the reasons why Ohio is such a pivotal swing state. Many of the items considered today come from what might be called NEA's "liberal wing." (To our opponents, the whole organization is one big liberal wing, but they've never seen it in action to witness its incredible diversity of thought and opinion.) Today the RA considered NBIs and Legislative Amendments submitted by delegates addressing a wide variety of causes, many having at most only an incidental relationship to education:
  • the environmental cleanup from the oil disaster in the Gulf;
  • the economic impact of the bank meltdown;
  • the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • expanded nurse-midwifery services in poor communities.
Ohio delegates in general tend to oppose considering these issues because they generally want the NEA to deal with educational issues only. But (and here's the Ohio insight) even within our delegation, there is tremendous diversity of opinion on these issues, with some delegates arguing passionately for some issues that ultimately would fail to win the support of Ohio delegates in caucus and the other delegates on the floor of the RA.

But it wasn't all business. Delegates honored the 2010 Teacher of the Year, Iowa's Sarah Brown Wessling, who provided what may have been the quote of the day. She recounted how as a child, she would "play teacher," setting up a pretend schoolhouse in her garage. She insisted on discipline and order, she said. But later, she learned that teaching was about much more than just discipline and order, and she came to realize that as a child she had only been playing at school. Referring to our education system is its present challenged state, she said, "I think our system is playing at school."

The whole thing draws to an end tomorrow. Somehow, we'll get through all 99 New Business Items before we adjourn. Delegations will be holding adjournment pools to see who can most accurately predict the time of adjournment--which has been anywhere from before 6:00 to after midnight.

No one person sees the whole thing! Other observations are always welcome. Just use the "comment" link that appears below.


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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 4

Delegates "Turn Hope into Action"

"Turning Hope into Action" was set months ago as the theme for this year's Representative Assembly. The phrase has a double meaning: "hope," of course, was a theme of the Obama Presidential campaign in 2008, but as the Obama administration approaches its halfway point, running through deliberations this week is a feeling that so far some of the adminstration's actions haven't been the right kind.

Today's Ohio caucus began with the usual Fourth of July sights: delegates in patriotic-themed hats, glasses, vests, pants, and jewelry in honor of the Independence Day Holiday.

The pace of caucus activity picked up a great deal today, as Ohio delegates continued recommending positions on New Business Items. Ohio delegates today got through NBIs up to NBI 36: forty New Business Items including the four lettered NBIs submitted by the Board of Directors.

Once at the RA, delegates began going through the New Business Items, of which 52 had been submitted before the day began.

Delegates had already passed NBI A (mentioned in yesterday's post), which was a pretty strong criticism of some characteristics of the Race to the Top, and NBI B, which set forth some expectations for repairing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

However, delegates fiercely debated NBI 2, which goes somewhat further. The entire text: "While the National Education Association Representative Assembly supports and appreciates the significant increase in federal funding for education, the NEA takes a position of no confidence in the US Department of Education's Race to the Top competitive grant policies and guidelines, the use of competitive grant policies and guidelines as a basis for the reauthorization of ESEA, and similar initiatives and policies that undermine public education." Some delegates argued that this is an intemperate position that doesn't reflect political realities, while others argued that members' loss of confidence in the Department of Education is hard to deny. Even in the depths of the Bush administration, NEA never took a no-confidence vote on the Department of Education; opponents of NBI 2 argued that our enemies would seize on this statement to attack the Obama administration on education issues.

In the end, NBI 2 passed. While the margin wasn't close enough to require a counted vote, it was still pretty narrow: I'd estimate the margin to be no greater than 55%-45%.

Still, delegates turned down some more action-oriented proposals. Delegates defeated NBI 12, which called for a "national day of action to protect and improve public education," and the NBI 17, which called for NEA to "organize an educators march on Washington, D.C. to highlight the frustration surrounding NCLB, ESEA Reauthorization, Race to the Top, and the constant anti-teacher rhetoric in the name of public education reform."

Evening saw NEOEA delegates headed to Mulate's for a Cajun dinner and, in many cases, from there to the Riverwalk for fireworks over the Mississippi.

Two days of the RA down, and two more to go!


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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 3

RA Developing Strong Positions on RttT, ESEA

This was the first morning at which the Ohio caucus met at what will be its regular time of 7:00. The RA itself has its latest start of the week on this day, giving the delegates until 11:00 to make the transition from hotels to Convention Center. Starting tomorrow, the RA will start at 10:00, so we'll have to move quickly to get there on time.

The theme emerging for this year's RA is anger, and that was addressed at both the caucus and the RA.

Delegates who wondered what the tone would be had their questions answered when President Dennis Van Roekel said in his keynote address, "Plain and simple – this is not the change I hoped for. Our members feel betrayed and so do I! Our members are angry. So am I!" Many delegates share the anger at Race to the Top, the government's competitive grant program that has been a nonstarter with most educators.

But the anger isn't directed just at RttT, which was part of the administration's stimulus plan. Delegates are also aware that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, laughably nicknamed No Child Left Behind by the Bush administration, is due for reauthorization and still has issues that need to be addressed. Delegates roared their approval when Van Roekel told them, "We must not allow another bad ESEA. Because if they take the old NCLB, fancy it up and call it the new ESEA, I think we ought to just call it TNT and blow the whole damn thing up!"

Delegates proceeded to pass a series of New Business Items attacking four key issues affecting education today.
  • NBI A makes it clear that "NEA opposes any effort by the United States Department of Education or its Secretary . . . , states or school districts, to undermine educators' rights or the basic right of all students to have access to a great public school." The NBI goes on to enumerate and attack increasingly-prevalent characteristics of federal and state education policy.
  • NBI B commits NEA to improving ESEA, and identifies characteristics to be required in an improved ESEA.
  • NBI C expresses NEA’s "commitment to . . . the immigration process, protecting the integrity of the family unit, and assuring that every child/student, regardless of his or her immigration status or the immigration status of his or her parents, has the right to a free public education in a safe and supportive environment."
  • NBI D aims at recent curricular attacks, most notably in Texas, and warns that "scholarly academic research should not be dismissed or diminished simply because it contradicts a school board member's political or religious views."
Debates over these issues dominated the Representative Assembly session. At the conclusion of the RA, many delegates headed off to religious services, scheduled for this Saturday evening since Sunday this weekend is the Fourth of July.

Tomorrow, some delegates will try to get the RA to make an even stronger condemnation of Race to the Top with NBI 2, which, if passed, will take a position of "no confidence in the US Department of Education's Race to the Top competitive grant policies and guidelines."


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Friday, July 2, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 2

Ohio Holds First Caucus in Host City

Ohio is one of the relatively few states that hold a delegate caucus before the Annual Meeting week: ours took place on Saturday, June 5. So some states had already held a caucus in New Orleans before today, when our delegates caucused in the host city for the first time.

This made for a relatively easy day: the starting time was 7:30 instead of 7:00, as it will be starting tomorrow. And the caucus didn't need to decide too much business today: delegates had already decided some endorsements and taken positions on amendments to the Standing Rules, Constitution and Bylaws.

Tomorrow morning delegates will find quickly that they have some deciding to do. Each year the RA considers dozens--sometimes over a hundred--New Business Items (NBIs). The first few NBIs each year come from the NEA Board of Directors, and those are lettered rather than numbered. This year the Board has submitted four NBIs, lettered "A" through "D." NBI "A" is a strong warning against some of the federal education policies that the current administration has endorsed under the leadership of Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan. Ohio's Steering Committee will meet tomorrow morning and recommend a position to the caucus, but the caucus will as usual make up its own mind.

The text of NBI "A," as well as the texts of all NBIs, is available at

The Board has submitted four NBIs. As I write this, delegates have submitted another six. Those will almost certainly proliferate in the days ahead.


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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 1

Years ago, when I attended the NEA Annual Meeting as a local delegate, I began sending "Notes from Camp." These were reports back to friends and colleagues who had expressed an interest in keeping up-to-date with events occurring there. I attend now as a staff member and not a local delegate, but the reaction from various associates continues to be positive. So here's a report on this year's NEA Annual Meeting in Nea Orleans. Delegates should feel free to add their own comments: there's a link to allow you to do that.--Bill Lavezzi, executive director

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It isn't like annual meeting events actually began today: NEA has been holding various conferences since last week, and some leaders have been in town for a week. But the way NEA counts the days, today was the first day of the Annual Meeting. By the evening tonight, probably 95% of Ohio's delegates had arrived, and most of those had registered in the Ohio delegation headquarters in the Melrose Room on the third floor.

Registration and exhibits opened at the Convention Center this morning, so many delegates headed there to register and to pick up literature and assorted freebies from the various exhibitors. Leaders of state delegations were interviewing candidates for NEA positions that will be elected on Saturday.

For many delegates, this is a good day to see the host city. They don't have a lot of responsibilities yet: the RA itself won't start until Friday, and states like Ohio won't hold their first caucuses in the host city until tomorrow. The weather here has been seasonably hot and humid, but with more wind and rain than usual due to Hurrican Alex a few hundred miles away. Today there was less rain than the past couple of days, so a lot of delegates took advantage of the break to explore the French Quarter, take one of the numerous tours of the city, visit the World War II Museum, walk the Riverwalk, or see other local attractions. Some delegates discovered that Mother's Restaurant on Poydras has a great $5 early-bird breakfast. Just in time, too: starting tomorrow, delegates will have a continental breakfast at the caucus.

The big event of this evening is always Ohio Night, which is OEA's welcome of delegates to the host city. This year's Ohio Night offered dinner along with desserts, cash bars, a DJ, and dancing. It went on until midnight, but it had to do so without me: tomorrow's first caucus starts at 7:30.


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to

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