More than 7,000 educators from all 50 states, including about 80 from Utah, gathered in Orlando July 3-6 to attend the National Education Association’s 94th Representative Assembly (RA). The RA is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets Association policy for the coming year. Embracing the meeting’s theme – “NEA: Unite. Inspire. Lead.” – delegates tackled complex issues with far-reaching implications for the profession, from the future of testing to equity in education.
“The RA was an empowering learning experience. It was exciting to learn more about the NEA and get to know other new delegates and Utah delegates,” said Murray Education Association member and first-time RA attendee Mindy Ball. Weber Education Association member Shelese Stansfield added, “I loved getting to know more Utah and other state delegates. Learning about their opinions and personal lives has shown me that we are all here to work together for Utah and the good of our students.”
“My experience…inspired me to go home and start working on some things at the local level,” said Cynthia Bowser, member of the Jordan Education Association. “By the end of the session I was in awe of how it could work so smoothly with such a large group,” noted Alpine Education Association member Joan Jensen.
Delegates passed two high-profile New Business Items (NBIs) supporting the recommendations of the NEA Task Force on Accountability, which recently released its report, “A New Vision for Student Success.” In the report, the 19-member Task Force addresses issues that the current narrow focus on testing overlooks, including equity and access, and explains how shared responsibility for our educational system will best serve students.
“By passing this NBI, the delegates recognized that we can’t do this important work alone,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “We must partner with other education, parent and community stakeholders; we must work shoulder to shoulder or we won’t be successful in realizing our vision.”
RA delegates also approved an NBI that addresses issues of institutional racism. The measure also calls for a coalition of partners to work together to eradicate policies that perpetuate institutional racism in education and expand educator-led professional development in areas of cultural competence, diversity and social justice.
The indispensable role educators play in forging progress on these fronts was a recurring theme in many of the speeches delivered at the RA.
“Whatever journey brought you to this room, your hearts are wrapped around your students. From the very beginning, our mission has never changed: we wake up every day set on doing whatever we can to ensure that our students have every opportunity to learn, to grow, to succeed,” said NEA President, Lily Eskelsen García.
In her keynote address, García congratulated educators everywhere for their relentless advocacy in helping shape a better Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently being debated in the U.S. Senate.
“A minor miracle occurred because of you. We demanded an end to the toxic testing produced by AYP that limits what it means to teach and what it means to learn to what fits on a standardized test. We told your Senators: Replace that failed one-size-fits-all bubble sheet with a dashboard of multiple indicators of success,” García said.
NEA Executive Director John Stocks told delegates that educators are part of a “New American Majority” that is demanding action on a wide range of economic and social justice issues.
“This movement is fueled by growing income inequality, the scourge of racial injustice, attacks on our voting rights, a political system rigged to benefit the wealthy and powerful, the corporate takeover of our public school system and the threat of global climate change,” Stocks said.
2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples also addressed the delegates, encouraging her colleagues to do “battle with stories” by being the voice and champions of their students.
“Our critics love clichés, simplistic slogans and manipulated data,” said Peeples. “This is how they attack, and the good news is the utter banality of those attacks. Stories are different. There is no defense against a good story.…I contend that we advocate best for our students and our profession when we are brave enough to tell our stories.”