NEA delegates leave annual meeting ready to strenghthen public education

LOS ANGELES – More than 8,000 delegates of the National Education Association (NEA) wrapped up their 143rd Annual Meeting on July 6 primed by President Reg Weaver's call for a new covenant with the nation in support of great public schools for every child.

"Remember that you are the keepers of the dream that represents the public in public education.  Let us call on the nation to give us its best so that we can give America's public school students our very best," said Weaver in a closing message today to delegates.

Chosen in an unopposed election to lead NEA for another three years, Weaver urged the teachers, education support professionals, school administrators, higher education faculty, retired and student members in attendance to carry his six-point covenant of shared responsibility back to their schools, school districts, communities and states.

Part of this responsibility, Weaver explained, lies with teachers and other educators who must insist upon the credibility of all of their colleagues.  "Assist and support them, but urge their continued growth and commitment to our profession. ...The credibility of each and every one of us is damaged when one of us is unprofessional, unprepared, or unwilling," Weaver said.

If the nation is calling on its educators to ensure that all children receive what they need to be successful in school, educators can't do it alone:  Parents, policymakers and the public also must hold up their end of the covenant, Weaver said.  In his keynote speech to NEA's Representative Assembly (RA) on July 3, he laid out the six areas of mutual responsibility in "a covenant that states what it takes to make the promise of a great public school system a reality"

#1 – Parental involvement:  "If the nation calls on us to transform students into citizens who are prepared to make a true contribution to the workforce...then we call on the nation to give us more parental involvement."  Children need parents who are involved in their education, come to parent-teacher conferences, show interest in what's going on in the classroom, and do everything it takes to get them prepared for school and reinforce their learning at home, Weaver explained.

#2 – "No Child Left Behind":  "If the nation calls on us to support the rhetoric of the so-called No Child Left Behind Law, then we call on the nation to elect politicians and policy makers who will vote to provide the resources -- both human and fiscal -- that will turn the rhetoric of the law into reality, not sanctions that do the most harm to schools and students who are in the most need." 

#3 – High-quality school employees: "If the nation calls on us to provide high-quality education support professionals, those who will ensure that the standards for student services are high, then we call on the nation to stop privatizing [their] jobs."  Research shows that privatization leads to poor quality at a higher price, and it's bad for schools and bad for children, Weaver said.

#4 – High-quality classroom instruction: "If the nation calls on us to provide students with lessons that enrich their minds, with experiences that enable them to grow into well-rounded, lifelong learners, then we call on the nation to provide...small class sizes, up-to-date textbooks, updated labs and modern technology.  Weaver also emphasized that educators need support for music, art, physical education and foreign language programs that are vibrant and engaging.

#5 – Educators who give their best to every child: "If the nation calls on teachers and education support professionals to care for children with the most severe physical challenges...then we call on the nation to recognize these dedicated men and women as the backbone of our public education system."  To recruit and retain high-quality teachers and other educators, they must be paid fairly and according to the requirements, skill and worth of their jobs, Weaver explained.

#6 – A high-quality teacher in every classroom:  "If the nation calls on us to have a qualified teacher in every classroom, then we call on the nation to stand beside us and insist that we have work environments that are conducive to good teaching and learning."  With almost half of teachers leaving the profession after five years, we also need ongoing professional development, healthcare and retirement benefits that are secure, Weaver said.

Meeting Highlights

On the first day of the RA, Weaver delivered his keynote speech, which followed comments to the delegates by Antonio Villaraigosa, the newly sworn-in mayor of Los Angeles and a former labor organizer for the NEA-affiliated United Teachers-Los Angeles (UTLA).

Villaraigosa said public schools are the reason "why America is great" and called on federal and state governments to provide more funding to improve schools in his city and around the nation.  "Don't let anyone tell you that the effort will come cheap.  That's ludicrous.  That's snake-oil salesmanship," he told the crowd.

On July 5, NEA delegates backed their California Teachers Association (CTA) colleagues in protest against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's broken promises to schools to the tune of $2 billion and his anti-school employee ballot initiatives.  Weaver led a rally highlighting school funding issues across the nation -- culminating with a spotlight on the high-stakes fight in California -- that was followed by a two-mile march of about 300 NEA members from all 50 states and D.C. to deliver resolutions against the governor to his office in downtown Los Angeles

Weaver announced that NEA has increased membership in the 2.7 million-member Association by more than 92,000 during his first three years as president and by 45,000 in the past year alone.

He also announced a nationwide effort to attract and retain quality teachers and education support professionals.  NEA will mobilize its members across the country to fight for a $40,000 minimum starting salary for teachers as well as enhanced pay for veteran teachers and an appropriate living wage for other school personnel.

NEA Elections

NEA President Reg Weaver was returned to the top leadership post of the 2.7 million-member organization at the RA.  Weaver, who ran unopposed, was declared elected to a second three-year term that will begin on September 1, 2005.

NEA Vice President Dennis Van Roekel was also declared elected during this RA for another three-year term beginning September 1.  Van Roekel also ran unopposed in this election.

NEA Executive Committee members Mike Billirakis and Marsha Smith were declared elected for their second terms on the six-member committee.  Their terms will also begin on September 1.

NEA Awards and Honors

Jason Kamras, 2005 Teacher of the Year and a Harvard graduate whose commitment to equality led to eight years of teaching in the District of Columbia public schools, told the delegates that "we must focus our efforts around the unwavering belief that all children, regardless of background, can and must achieve at the highest levels."

Kathleen Lange, who was selected as NEA's 2005 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year, said in her RA address that even though she was once called "only a health clerk," she was given opportunities for leadership because her colleagues in the school knew "regardless of my position, I care about the students."

The highest honor given by the NEA, the Friend of Education Award, was presented to educator and historian Cheryl Brown Henderson, whose family was the lead plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the landmark case that led to the desegregation of public schools.  The famous lawsuit celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004, and Henderson spent the year traveling around the country, speaking about education in America's schools.  Her moving speech to the NEA delegates was met with a standing ovation.

Pre-Conference Activities

The theme of the July 1-6 Annual Meeting was "TEAM NEA: Fighting for You, Your Schools, Your Students!"  Prior to the start of the RA on July 3, a forum on critical issues in education was held, with sessions on professional pay for educators, minority communities outreach, closing the achievement gaps and 21st century technology in the schools.

At NEA's two-day Joint Conference on the Concerns of Minorities and Women, educators came together to explore the latest trends in education policy and classroom instruction that have proven effective in teaching minority students. This year the conference featured a groundbreaking report and special presentation on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students.

In the Association's tenth annual Outreach to Teach, more than 350 student, retired and active NEA members came to Franklin D. Roosevelt Middle School in Compton, CA, for a day of public service.  This was the first renovation in the school's 75-year history.

Weaver was joined by L.A. Galaxy soccer stars, other NEA leaders and scores of delegates who volunteered to participate in a Read-In to kick off the Annual Meeting.  More than 300 children from local public schools got to hear their favorite books, see the Cat in the Hat and receive book donations.

The six-day meeting was estimated to generate about $25 million for the economy in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The 2006 NEA Annual Meeting and RA will be held in Orlando, Florida.

--NEA media release