When I started attending NEA Representative Assemblies in the mid-nineties, I began writing something I call “Notes from Camp.” (More on this particular aberration here.) For a number of reasons, it proved difficult this year to write the daily journals that formed the basis of previous years’ “Notes,” and I find myself writing my impressions close to the end of the trip. Rather than the details of each day’s events, I’ll focus here on observations about the general themes of this year’s RA.–Bill Lavezzi, NEOEA Executive Director
The business of the RA this year emphasized six general themes that between them account for the majority of the actions taken this year. Most of these comments reflect the 125 New Business Items (NBIs) submitted to the 2015 Representative Assembly.
1) Gender Issues: Recent events, including cultural attention to transgender issues and the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, are reflected in a large number of issues pertaining to gender: student issues related to counseling, bullying, and youth suicide, and staff issues related to discrimination and fair dismissal.
2) Frenemies: NEA and its leaders want to reward our friends and punish our enemies, but that has proved more complicated than you might expect. Delegates rejected NBI 23, which would have required NEA to stop accepting grants from various funds and foundations which sometimes agree with us and sometimes don’t, choosing to leave those decisions in the hands of NEA’s leadership.
3) Racial Justice: The recent shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston concerned the delegates a great deal. This led delegates to adopt NBI B, which states that “We, the members of the National Education Association, acknowledge the existence in our country of institutional racism—the societal patterns and practices that have the net effect of imposing oppressive conditions and denying rights, opportunity, and equality based upon race.” Delegates enacted NBI 8, stating “The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces.” In the last hour of the RA, delegates responded to news that the South Carolina Senate had voted to take down the Confederate battle flag with a standing ovation.
4) Labor Relations: NEA’s relationship with the labor movement was a serious topic of discussion. In the late nineties, NEA and AFT state affiliates began to merge; they pay dues to both NEA and AFT, but not both full amounts per member. Under an arrangement agreed to then, their voting strength at the RA is geared to the portion of full NEA dues they pay. This has led to complaints of disproportional representation and a constitutional amendment that would have greatly increased the representation of the merged states. That amendment failed, after which delegates passed NBI 39, which creates a “taskforce including national, state, and local leaders from merged and non-merged states selected by their respective organizations to work toward an agreement(s) on issues being raised by merged and non-merged states.”
5) High-stakes Testing and Opting Out: Educators’ anger at the legalized child abuse represented by excessive testing was expressed in a number of proposals. Several NBIs dealt with parents opting their children out of standardized testing, including educators advocating opting out, advising parents on opting out, protecting educators’ rights to speak out on the topic, etc.
6) Equity for Special-needs Students: Delegates heard a number of moving accounts on the effects of standardized testing on students with disabilities. Although most states have now passed laws under which testing affects educator evaluation and jobs, most discussion focused on how standardized testing effects students rather than on how it affected educators.