Now that the the National Education Association has wrapped up its 90th Representative Assembly, there are some interesting head scratchers that come out of the NEA Convention. In a meeting that is part union hall, part political convention, and part educator rally, the NEA moved forward a few ideas and notions that better help us see why it can be so difficult to figure out where public education is and should be headed in this country:
* NEA moved to condemn, but not call for the ouster of, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (most notably for his support of teacher firings in Rhode Island and presumably for his defense of the tying student performance data to teachers in Los Angeles), yet then turned around and endorsed President Barack Obama for 2012. If there was ever a cabinet secretary in tune with his president, it is Duncan. So are we truly upset with Duncan or truly content with Obama’s leadership? And if it is the latter, are we endorsing his work in issues like the economy and healthcare, and setting aside concerns with his Administration’s education policies? And was endorsing Obama in 2011 an apology for waiting so long to endorse him in 2008?
* NEA officially placed Teach for America on its public enemies list. For years, union leaders have tried to discount the role that TFA does or should play in public education. In recent years, union cities like Boston have complained about TFA teachers taking away previously union jobs. So now the NEA has a policy stance that matches its rhetoric regarding the TFA movement. But what about those TFA teachers who are members of their local unions? How do they show up at the next union ice cream social?
* NEA approved the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, with one important caveat. Yes, the NEA said, student test scores should be one of the elements used to determine the effectiveness of a teacher. The catch? NEA says that there are no current student tests that meet the standard for the tests allowed under the new NEA policy. Essentially, we will gladly be measured by student test scores assuming the test meets our criteria. But since no current tests do (and we assume the new ones being developed through RttT Assessment grants won’t either), I guess you just can’t use test scores to evaluate teachers. Take that LA and NYC!
* Interestingly, President Obama did not attend. Instead, NEA had Vice President Joe Biden. Always a good draw for a union event, Biden seemed to deliver as folks expected him to, positioning education as political issue (Democrats get it right, and Republicans get it wrong), throwing some red meat (GOP healthcare vouchers are no different than school vouchers), Even more curious, Biden said that the education debate was one about “economic opportunity and concentration of wealth.” Silly me, here I thought it was about providing all children, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or geography, with a top-notch public education.
Special thanks to Stephen Sawchuk for providing the play-by-play on the NEA for Education Week. Sawchuk’s coverage over at Teacher Beat provided terrific insight into what was happening in Chicago. It was almost as if I could hear the “Brother” this and “Sister” that right on the Assembly floor. I can’t wait for AFT!