Racism, privatization and testing are key issues at the NEA RA

The following commentary was written by MTA President Barbara Madeloni upon returning from the 2015 Representative Assembly on
July 7:

I just returned from Orlando, where 179 MTA delegates joined thousands of our union sisters and brothers from across the country at the NEA Representative Assembly. The debate, which took place over four days, covered topics including racism, high-stakes testing, the Common Core State Standards, adjunct faculty, the effects of poverty on our students, the rights of LGBTQ students, the NEA relationship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and more.

In perhaps its boldest move, the RA approved New Business Item B, which calls for the NEA to work to dismantle institutional racism. This NBI extends the ideas supported by MTA Annual Meeting delegates to deepen our commitment to naming racism, understanding how it affects our students and our communities, and building coalitions to undo racist structures.

Several of our own delegates proposed NBIs that passed, including:

  • Len Paolillo, MTA Retired, who moved an NBI that has the NEA working with scholars and social justice organizations to correct the misinformation in textbooks regarding the Civil War, its causes and its aftermath (NBI 17).
  • Sue Doherty, Brockton, a first-time delegate, who moved two successful NBIs. One calls for the NEA to examine what is happening to school libraries and librarians and determine whether students are being given the access they need to both (NBI 89). The other calls for the NEA’s “opportunity dashboard” to include librarians and access to libraries (NBI 103).

Two of our own moved amendments to the NEA legislative agenda that also were approved:

  • Dennis Naughton, MTA Retired, moved language to emphasize that the NEA opposes defined-contribution pension plans (Legislative Amendment 2).
  • Mary Porter, Revere, like Doherty a first-time delegate, moved two amendments that more purposefully assert the NEA’s commitment to ending the use of test scores to evaluate students, schools and educators (Legislative Amendments 10 and 11).

“The NEA RA reminded all of us that when we engage in a democratic process and act in solidarity, we have the power to drive the changes that we, our students and our communities need.”

Other items of note include the NEA supporting members who want to opt their children out of high-stakes testing, publicizing the work that locals are doing to inform parents about opting out, and recognizing and telling the stories of parents who do opt their children out. Further, NBI 32 requires the NEA to conduct a campaign to end the high-stakes use of standardized tests created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), along with other state and district tests, as long as those tests are being used for teacher evaluations and to rate schools.

Sue and Mary, along with other first-timers, described to me their excitement at being part of the debate and policymaking for the country’s largest educators’ union. And, of course, that same excitement was felt by the many MTA delegates who have attended the NEA RA for years.

There is more work to be done — there always is — but the NEA RA reminded all of us that when we engage in a democratic process and act in solidarity, we have the power to drive the changes that we, our students and our communities need.

Visit ra.nea.org to find out more about the RA, important national education issues that were debated and policy decisions that were made by the delegates.