The Representative Assembly (RA) takes place during the final four days of the Annual Meeting. It is the primary legislative and policy making body of the Association and derives its powers from, and is responsible to, the membership. The Representative Assembly adopts the strategic plan and budget, resolutions, the Legislative Program, and other policies of the Association. Delegates vote by secret ballot on proposed amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws. Those delegates with full voting rights elect the executive officers, Executive Committee members, and at-large members of the NEA Board of Directors, as appropriate.
NEA RA Report of OEA Delegate Manny Lopez
attended this RA knowing full well that NEA would do whatever it could
to push through the Policy Amendment on Assessment and Accountability,
give President Obama the early endorsement he was hoping for, and
re-elect the Officers that shepherded both activities. Although these
issues were vehemently argued within the California caucus, the debate
was substantially less involved and tense on the floor of the RA. No
My second NBI was intended to get NEA to pursue a legal challenge against states that currently do not allow parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized testing. I argued that to prohibit parents from doing so violated their rights to free speech and would be in violation of their rights under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. constitution. I modified the motion to have the NEA explore the feasibility of doing so as the initial wording incurred a substantial cost (anyone familiar with the RA understands that NEA RA Delegates are always eager to shoot down items that exceed allowances provided by the Strategic Plan and Budget). The modification drastically reduced the cost. That said, and after a rigorous 20 or so minute debate, one in which I was asked several different questions as was NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel and NEA Chief Legal Counsel, Alice O'Brien, the motion failed by about 70/30. I knew the chances were slim to non-existent but I have been wrestling with this particular issue at the national level for years and felt the conversation simply needed to continue.
In closing, I was pleased that OEA's first time delegates to the NEA RA enjoyed the experience and genuinely were interested in the enormous potential a single person has to effect change within the NEA. I was heartened that they expressed interest in returning to the RA and that although frustrated with the conservative nature of our NEA brothers and sister, they gained a better understanding of what we are up against and just how comparatively wonderful is to be struggling within the bubble of California and then indeed the microbubble that is the OEA. I look forward to returning and am eager to work alongside them if not others.
Report from 2011 NEA RA in Chicago
June 25, 2011
The central issue of the RA this year was the question of the early endorsement of Obama for another term as President. The NEA has always endorsed a candidate for President in the July RA preceding the national election. This year the NEA Executive Committee recommended early endorsement – a year earlier than usual. I opposed this – and ran for NEA President on a platform of opposing this – because I believe that to endorse now effectively rolls-over to the anti-public education, anti-student, anti-teacher policies that have been the centerpiece of the Department of Education under Arne Duncan. The NEA has the greatest leverage in changing those policies and getting a new Secretary of Education if we withhold endorsement now, and act like a union – making demands on the Obama Administration to stop the anti-public education attacks.
Although the RA passed a two page NBI that detailed the depths of the attack by Duncan, the vote for early endorsement carried with about 70% of the vote. I think that this is a serous set- back for the ability of the NEA to win our demands over the next year, as we have effectively signed a national contract of collaboration with the Obama Administration and with Duncan who will be continuing as Education Secretary. However, I think that California came-out in somewhat better condition with nearly half of the California delegates strongly opposing early endorsement. I think this puts teachers in California in a better position to support student/community actions to defend our schools over the next year. Michigan, Virginia, and Maryland are some of the other state delegations that had strong opposition to early endorsement.
In a related vote, the RA delegates voted to approve a position paper on evaluation that for the first time allows standardized test scores to be used in evaluation. I opposed this and know that many other delegates did too. Any inclusion of test scores for evaluation will have to be bargained state by state and locally, so I hope we can prevent this from being applied to Oakland.
My run for NEA President on the EON/BAMN slate – along with Tania Kappner, Ed Guxman (LA) and Ceresta Smith (FL) was centered on the issues above. I earned about 9% of the vote, and believe that I had a very positive impact on clarifying and putting at the center of debate the main issues of the convention.
As has been the case for many years, California and especially Oakland were at the center of fighting to defend public education for the whole country in this RA.
Mark Airgood, Oakland RA Delegate
Report from the 2011 NEA Representative Assembly, Chicago
This was the seventh Representative Assembly I’ve attended, and my overall impression this time was similar to my first: a mixture of inspiration (e.g. the ability of this huge democratic body to make decisions) and enormous frustration (e.g. the unwillingness of NEA leadership to take a strong stand against policies emanating from the Obama Administration and the Department of Education, and the conservatism of many of our colleagues throughout the country). As always, the OEA delegation was the most active of any local in the state or even country. I was proud to lead 16 delegates who participated in a variety of ways, from writing and advocating for New Business Items (NBIs), serving as state contacts, working with caucuses, being mic yielders, getting signatures, and even running for national NEA offices. And for those of you reading this who are not familiar with the size and scope of the RA, there are over 8,000 delegates, and 38 microphones, so getting up to speak at the RA takes a certain amount of courage.
Before the official start of the RA (July 1 – first “Annual Day of Learning”) I attended a presentation by the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching – the work of numerous organizations and individuals, including Linda Darling-Hammond, Barnett Barry, Mary Hatwood Futrell, etc., that will issue a final report in November after gathering more feedback. The focus was on teacher-driven reform (including crafting a new vision of a teaching profession that is led by teachers and ensures teacher and teaching effectiveness, and developing a comprehensive set of recommendations for the NEA about the union’s role in advancing and promoting teacher effectiveness and the teaching profession). Of special interest was the interactive period where we worked in small groups with teachers from other states to envision what we hoped education would look like in 30 years, and then proposed one action item for NEA to consider. (These were turned in to the presenters to include in the final report.) I worked with teachers from Oregon and Oklahoma and presented our idea to the entire group: that NEA sponsor legislation to mandate paid residency programs for prospective teachers, similar to medical internships and residencies. These would be 1-2 year programs during which candidates would do student teaching rotations in one school, returning to the same school after completion of the residency. This met with considerable enthusiasm.
On the RA floor I introduced NBI #27, “Trading Bombs for Teachers,” a campaign that grew out of Davis, CA. Not surprisingly, it was defeated, but I plan to reintroduce it next year. The NBI read:
“NEA will publicize, through existing media, local and state grassroots efforts, including the 25 Teachers’ Salaries Campaign, to ‘trade bombs for teachers’ and make education a funding priority. This will include:
A letter from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel;
Providing model language to state affiliates for a joint resolution to be passed by state legislatures;
Publicizing grassroots successes in securing state passage of a joint resolution supporting a proposed citizens’ bill, ‘America’s Weapons Rebate to Education Act’ (not yet introduced) or similar legislation that redirects resources from military purposes to education.”
In my rationale (40 words or less!) I stated: “Every state faces a crisis in education funding. The Pentagon budget is $685 billion this year. For $1 million the government can buy one bomb or the states can pay 25 teachers’ salaries.”
I was given three minutes to speak for the California delegation, and in my remarks included:
The 25 Teachers’ Salaries Campaign was started in Davis, CA on July 4, 2010 as a grassroots campaign for public school funding.
It takes its name from the fact that for about $1 million, the government can either buy one bomb or the states can pay 25 teachers’ salaries.
The goal of the campaign is to create a nationwide movement through local and state government, including teachers’ unions, school boards, PTAs, community groups, and individuals, to eventually pass a citizens’ bill in Congress to “trade bombs for teachers.”
The campaign hopes to do this by getting states to pass joint resolutions supporting “America’s Weapons Rebate to Education Act,” which is a proposed citizens’ bill that would reallocate back to the states and their school districts a percentage of the money that would otherwise be spent on the Department of Defense weapons budget.
59% of the discretionary portion of the 2011 federal budget was allocated to the military, while only 4% to education.
Before the start of the war against Iraq in March of 2003, my fifth grade students saw clearly the link between war funding and education. They instinctively knew how to organize, and set about getting petitions signed against war, speaking at the School Board, and helping to write a play about resources going to war spending instead of education.
This NBI is an invitation to do the same – organize at a grassroots level against war and military spending and for more resources to education and other public services.
The money is there – it’s a question of priorities!
Aside from the relative conservatism of NEA leadership, what I see lacking at the RA is dialogue among members of different states. (NB: Although each state has volunteer members designated as “state contacts” who work with their counterparts in each state, this is mainly to share positions taken at state caucus meetings.) There is more dialogue at pre-RA conferences (e.g. NCUEA, National Caucus of Urban Education Associations), but once on the RA floor, states tend to vote in blocs and some of the discussion on New Business Items (NBIs) feels more like competitive sporting events than thoughtful debate. There were exceptions this time, notably the discussion on Manny’s NBI around opt-out rights for parents and the debate on Teach for America and world languages. One way to encourage more discussion might be to have half a day of the “Annual Day of Learning” be an inter-state Organizing Academy where heterogeneous groups would respond to several questions, e.g. what are the main issues facing your local? What are some ways you are organizing members around those issues? This might begin to break down some of the regionalism.
President, Oakland Education Association
(510) 763-4020 x15
272 E. 12th Street
Oakland, CA 94606
Representative- NEA RA
The NEA RA, in general, was well covered by daily communications by the NEA itself. I will limit my comments to my experience, and observations.
This was my second NEA RA, and my initial impression was confirmed; that this is an extremely large assembly of educators who, in general, function as a rubber stamp of the leadership’s endorsements. It is somewhat naïve to be surprised and dismayed at this revelation and, at times, one wonders if the RA is worth the huge financial cost of the assembly. It is a cumbersome and slow moving vehicle. However, there is a need for locals such as OEA to be in attendance, and there are opportunities for personal growth and contributions on a national level.
Although, there is little that happens at the RA that could not be anticipated, it is essential that delegations such as ours (OEA’s) be present. Delegates from Oakland, and California, presented many NBIs, and consistently spoke at the assembly in support of progressive resolutions, policy, and business items. I worked with Jim Mordecai by gathering signatures for one of his items; I also was available as a time yielder for others. The most controversial action of the assembly was the early endorsement of President Obama. This was widely debated, and seemed to be the topic of most gatherings in the days leading up to the actual vote. This was not an assembly in which new, progressive, bold or controversial ideas will take hold, but it is an opportunity to have that POV represented, and OEA does that job.
On a personal level, I am continuing to expand my understanding of building crisis in education, and of the challenges that we will face as we go forward. This year, I joined two caucuses, the Fine Arts Caucus and the Peace and Justice Caucus. I made contacts with other teachers from across the nation and I believe this community building is empowering. On a personal note, I always reach out to the Nebraska delegation (my home state) I talk with them and share commonalities.
Representative Assembly Report
This was my first Repetitive Assembly and it was definitely a learning experience. Most of the learning was interesting, while other parts tested my patience. I liked going to the California Caucus, despite the ungodly start time of 7 am, because it gave me an opportunity to get a grip on what the important issues were and why they were important. It was also a helpful period of time because it was a little overwhelming going into the actual convention center.
When the RA actually started, I was a little confuse about all the rules, the steps for being called on, all the amendments (and there were quite a few of them), and all the changed language in the amendments. As the days passed, I felt more confident and was able to understand more readily what was going on. I was asked to be a mic yielder a few times and that became easier as I went along. On the last day, I was asked to speak if a motion wasn’t taken to committee. Thankful, I was spared the harsh big screen, but I was ready to do my part, if necessary.
It was wonderful to see so many of my colleagues in Oakland enter New Business Items and Amendments, as well as seeing them speak passionately for or against other colleagues’ NBIs. I feel like Oakland brings a lot of passion to the table, which made me proud to be among their numbers.
Some highlights for me of the convention were Joe Biden’s speech (even though I was in a line for 2 hours), hearing the robust debates on various issues, and learning about division. I feel like I would be better prepared as to what to expect next year, if I’m lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to represent Oakland again.
Report on 2011 NEA R.A in Chicago
I attend all four days of the Convention. I voted in many of the hundreds of main motions by voice and many of the standing votes when someone yelled “division”. Most of my votes were aligned with CTA leadership but not all. California caucus began at 7:00 a.m. each of the four days of the R.A. and delegates role was to vote up or down committee recommendations on proposed motions and on occasion I participated in California caucus debate regarding whether to support a motion.
In addition to the above work, I worked on a new business item calling for a boycott of Georgia Pacific paper products from Koch brothers industry. Also, I tried to come up with amendment to NEA rules that would block anti-woman’s right to choose forces continuing to abusing NEA procedures by submitting a resolution motion dressed as an NEA bylaws amendment. The amend would require NEA taking neutral position on abortion whereas it has defended members rights under Roe vs. Wade. I also submitted an
amendment to the NEA Constitution’s preamble adding to the preamble the following phrase: “defend collective bargaining”. My proposed amendment was announced at the close of the R.A. and will be brought to the floor of the 2012 NEA R.A. to be held in Washington D.C.
I also proposed an NEA Bylaws amendment as follows: “advocate for tax reforms to reduce the gap between the nation’s economic classes.” That will also be brought to the floor at the next R.A.
I was successful in getting New Business Item 20 passed. However, under NEA Standing Rules motions for a boycott or sanctions that pass must be referred to the NEA Executive Committee that then makes a recommendation to the NEA Board of Directors and the Board can implement or wait for next year’s R.A. and let it decide on implementation.
I realized that my call for a boycott would not be immediately acted on and asked the assembly to “suspended the rules” for purposes of taking immediate action. But, the body did not want to suspend the rules and my motion failed to even get a majority voice vote. I suspect that few voting understood that they were giving their power to decide for or against a boycott up to leadership.
Each new business item, amendment to the NEA Constitution and amendment to the NEA Bylaws required gathering of 50 delegate signatures of support to bring a motion to the floor. I was helped in the gathering of signatures by a number of OEA delegates including Rodney Brown, Janan Apaydin, Susan Brooks, Toni Morozami, and Aimee Green. (I apologize if I failed to recognize someone that helped with signatures.)
Good Evening OEA Members,
Please find below and attached my report on the NEA Reepresentative Assembly, which I attended as your delegate. Your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome.
First, some links:
President Dennis Van Roekel's speech:
US Vice President Joe Biden's speech to the RA:
2011 National Education Association Representative Assembly Report
Steve Neat, Secretary and Representative Assembly Delegate
Oakland Education Association
This report represents a summary of the National Education Association Representative Assembly (NEA RA), covering in particular major decisions taken at this year’s RA and my actions and contributions. While I have tried to base this report on records of the meetings, I also have also attempted to cover the general mood of the assembly. Any views and opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent official Oakland Education Association (OEA) policy nor do they represent the opinions of any other members of the Oakland delegation to the RA.
This was my first RA and my general impression could be summed up in the following sentence: It is very difficult for a representative body of about 9,000 people hailing from all across the nation to take any action or express any opinion that (1) could be considered in any way progressive, or (2) could be construed as turning aside from the path chosen by NEA leadership. This fact did not surprise me, but I must admit that the degree to which this was uniformly true was often startling.
The most obvious example of this was when a new business item (motion) that called for the NEA to demand the removal of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was defeated. The RA had already approved, by secret ballot, an early endorsement of President Barack Obama by over 70%. I could understand the arguments in favor of this endorsement, although I did not agree with them. The claim was that an early endorsement would give the NEA leverage with the Obama administration and that we needed to get NEA money in play now to help the Democratic Party hold the White House in the fall of next year.
I would argue that a lever needs not only effort, but a fulcrum. The effort is NEA money and manpower. The fulcrum is when we choose to endorse. Having now already endorsed Obama, and given up the fulcrum of the lever, I fail to see what leverage we have with an administration that can only be classified as unfriendly to teacher rights and disdainful of teachers’ opinions. In addition, even the tens of millions of dollars that the NEA will undoubtedly put into the Obama 2012 campaign will be a drop in the bucket compared to the billions that will be put into the campaign of which ever Republican surfaces from the mire. It seems to me that the only chance the NEA would have of its voice being heard amidst the corporate-funded “wall of sound” that has already begun to sweep over this election, would be for the NEA to pour its money into the mix in the final stretch. In any case, the endorsement passed easily in the end.
Which brings me back to the Duncan motion (moved by Oakland ’s own Mark Airgood). Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been a disaster for public education as well as for teacher unions. He has fundamentally altered the way national education funding works, making states “race to nowhere” in pursuit of the money it takes to pay for public schools, which are a civil right, not a privilege. He has used his Race to the Top program to blackmail states into implementing reforms that fly in the face of research and evidence, and have only gained traction because of the significant financial backing of education deformers. These ideas include pushing for test score pay, advocating a massive increase in the number of semi-private charter schools, and supporting dismantling hard-won teacher rights. Duncan even called the firing of the entire staff at one Rhode Island high school a “courageous” act. Yet incredibly, when the simple choice was put to the delegates as to whether or not to call “for the removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education,” the delegates voted “no.”
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen were re-elected with more than 90% of the vote, in a clear signal of support from the vast majority of the membership.
The NEA leadership was also vindicated by the passage of a new statement of NEA Policy on teacher evaluation and accountability. This statement changed existing NEA resolutions and policy, which were clearly against standardized tests ever being used to evaluate teachers, to a policy which states that teacher “evaluations … must include indicators of contribution to student learning and growth. … Such indicators … may include … high quality, developmentally appropriate standardized tests that provide valid, reliable, timely and meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.” NEA leadership reassured us that they did not believe in test score pay and that there were not any standardized tests in existence that fit the above criteria. This was born out by the next sentence in the policy statement: “Unless such 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 …” So through this policy statement, the official view of the largest teacher union in the nation on using test scores as a measure of teacher performance went from strongly against to a deliberately vague doublespeak. This allows a foot in the door for the union busting oligarchs who are bent on proving that public schools are failing and that public school teachers—like other public employees, are incompetent and overpaid leeches draining the vitality of what would otherwise be a vibrant entrepreneurial society forged in the crucible of competition and free choice.
I firmly believe that we in the teaching profession must stop giving ground, and we must stop giving ground now. The past 15 years have seen us compromise our way into crisis. We have to say no to semi-private charter schools, we have to say no to test score pay, we have to say no to the lie that US schools are failing, and we have to say no to the conversion of the teacher from a professional to a missionary.
This brings me to a glimmer of hope at the RA. The following motion was approved: “NEA will publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.” I realize that there are many Teach for America program members and graduates who are also members of the OEA. I salute their service and I sincerely hope that they choose to stay in the teaching profession for many years. The fact remains, however, that two-thirds of TFA graduates stop teaching within 4 years (according to a Harvard study) compared to a 50%-within-five-years attrition rate for teachers as a whole. In addition, according to the TFA website, 18% of the 2009 TFA corps were black and Latino, whereas 90% of the students served by TFA graduates were children of color. (The TFA website does commit to making every effort to increase diversity among its graduates.) Please keep in mind that I am merely stating the facts. These facts give many the impression—fairly or not—that the TFA program lends itself to a model of teachers as upper- and middle-class missionaries who come in to working class neighborhoods and preach the gospel of achievement against all odds to children of color for a few years before moving on. This impression was definitely behind the passage of this new business item.
I submitted one new business item. The language was written by Oakland’s Jim Mordecai, the hardest working delegate at the RA. I agreed to take it on as it is on a topic near and dear to my heart. The original motion read as follows: “I move that the NEA make clear—through public statements, joining coalitions, etc.—that it favors amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that: (1) money is not speech; (2) corporations are not natural persons under the law and are not entitled to constitutional rights; and (3) regulations passed by Congress or state legislation limiting political expenditure by any corporation, limited liability entity, or other corporate entity shall not be an infringement of the 1st Amendment.” This motion certainly got NEA leadership moving, particularly because of the phrase “money is not speech. The NEA itself is, after all, a corporate entity and lobbies in Washington and in state capitols around the nation using our union dues as speech. The motion was reclassified as a legislative amendment so that it would come up later than it would have as a new business item. In addition, it was engineered that the NEA’s chief legal counsel (their top lawyer) could break down for the RA exactly how this motion would completely cripple the NEA immediately before a vote was taken. After observing the general mood of the assembly and working with other delegates, I had tried to amend the motion and make it more palatable by removing several of the most radical phrases (“money is not speech” for example) and by adding “for-profit” before any mention of corporations and corporate entities. I did this working with other delegates (Niels Pasternak, WA; Toby Spencer, CA). In the end, however, the amendment was rejected by the body, and the above motion was soundly defeated. I learned a lot from the experience and, if elected to represent Oakland again, I plan to use what I have learned. I will continue to challenge the belief that the NEA has any hope of competing within the corporate model of representative government under which money is speech, in addition to advocating for other issues of concern to Oakland teachers.
As usual, the Oakland delegation was the most active in the nation as far as pushing for substantive reform, submitting eight new business items. Several Oakland delegates made stirring speeches on behalf of our beliefs. However, I will let my colleagues remark on their efforts in depth. California’s representatives—who numbered about 800—were the most progressive, often voting against the rest of the body on controversial items. I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder on the front lines fighting for true education reform, and for the principle that public education is a civil right that is best delivered when teachers are valued, respected, and empowered. I wish to thank my fellow Oakland delegates for their hard work, and I appreciate all OEA members for giving me the opportunity to represent you in Chicago. I hope I did a good job. If you have any comments, questions, or feedback, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.