|2011 NEA Convention: Higher Dues, Obama Endorsement|
|posted by: Alix | July 05, 2011, 03:42 PM|
While most Americans were enjoying a festive Independence Day weekend, the National Education Association was holding their annual conference in Chicago. Beaten down after a solid year of negative press, declining membership, and legislative and legal battles, the NEA convention took on a surprisingly different tone in 2011.
The Chicago convention was meant to be a rallying cry for union members as the NEA tried to create an atmosphere resembling a political party convention. Despite countless speeches, confetti and deafening music, the conference was noticeably lacking delegates, with less than 7,500 in attendance, the lowest number since 1998. Despite the party-like environment, the conference almost immediately turned toward grim budget realities, as union leadership conservatively predicted a decline of about 60,000 teachers this year alone.
NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle predicted an even more challenging time in the years ahead, "We have to assume we haven't hit bottom yet." The harsh reality is compounded by the fact that presently the NEA faces a $14 million budget shortfall, with more than 39,000 active members lost since 2010.
In light of union-crippling legislation in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, the speeches at the convention were meant to rally the members in attendance to stay strong despite the obvious setbacks. The "loudest and most positive crowd reaction" was for Earl Wiman, the former president of the Tennessee Education Association who was running for a seat on the NEA Executive Committee, according to the union-watchdog Education Intelligence Agency. Wiman's speech was filled with partisan bickering and even compared Hitler's rhetoric about labor unions with that of today's policy makers.
The NEA's most high-profile guest was Vice President Joe Biden, who despite policy differences between the NEA and the administration, was invited to speak. Vice President Biden mainly stuck to the union staples, including expressing support for their collective bargaining plight and accusing Republicans of waging war on the middle class. He steered clear of their education reform clashes, as Biden was clearly in attendance to solicit an endorsement from the organization.
The speech must have been convincing as the delegates approved an early endorsement of President Obama this go-round, despite some controversy and rhetoric that condemned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his education reform initiatives. The approval triggers the flow of NEA PAC dollars toward Obama's re-election campaign for 2012.
In conjunction with their Obama endorsement, the NEA approved a controversial measure that doubles individual member contributions to their political action funds from $10 to $20. The increase was made in effort to combat declining membership numbers and to ensure that the NEA remains the single largest contributor to partisan politics for the upcoming election cycle.
Among their many policy recommendations, NEA delegates approved a policy statement that recognizes test scores as a means to evaluate teachers. Interestingly, the language specifies that "unless tests are shown to be scientifically valid and reliable for the purpose of measuring both student learning and a teacher's performance, such tests may not be used to support any employment action against a teacher and may be used only to provide non-evaluative formative feedback." Double-talk at its finest–union leaders assert that no such fair test exists, and even if it did, the results could not be used to evaluate them.
Information from the convention continues to surface following an eventful weekend. Be sure to read the AAE blog this week for the latest developments.
What are your initial reactions to the NEA conference?