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N.E.A. Convenes State Leaders for Training in 'Coalition Building'

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Washington--In an effort to "move the nation's agenda" toward issues of educational reform, the National Education Association last week gathered its state leaders together for the first time in three years.

Another unique aspect of the gathering, according to Robert McClure, associate director of nea's instructional and professional-development division, was the topic of the conference: how to develop political-action coalitions.

More than 250 state leaders from all but two states participated in the training sessions at the three-day conference, entitled "Moving the Nation's Agenda."

Educational Reform Legislation

The purpose of the conference was to assist state union officials in developing and using political coalitions to lobby for and, in some instances, against the educational-reform legislation expected in most states this year, Mr. McClure said.

"We have not had a conference on coalition-building before," Mr. McClure said, "but so many of the reforms demand that a coalition be in place."

About 16 of the state education associations already have formed coalitions and union officials from those states were on hand to share information about their methods for developing such ties.

One such leader was Vivian Wat-son, president of the South Carolina Education Association.

In South Carolina, Gov. Richard Riley has proposed a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax to raise $210-million for educational reforms. Although the proposed tax increase faces opposition from Republican lawmakers and lobbyists for the retail sector in the state, the scea has joined forces with industry leaders who are concerned about improved training in math and science, other education groups in the state, minority groups, and parent groups to combat the opposition.

The South Carolina legislature is expected to discuss the tax-increase proposal this week.

In addition to learning how other union leaders have formed coalitions, conference participants also were instructed in the development of "strategy charts."

Filling in the chart, speakers explained, requires state union leaders to analyze their goals, which groups within the state would have a interest in furthering the same goals, which groups would make the best "partners," who will be the "opposing force," and tactics for defeating that force.

Five nea "white papers" outlining the union's stances on issues ranging from the teaching profession to the federal role in education funding also were released at the conference.

Positions Outlined in Papers

Among the positions outlined in the papers:

Salaries of teachers should be made "competitive" with those of other professions.

High-school teachers should be freed from classroom interruptions and "duties only marginally related to teaching"; the average class should include only 15 pupils; and the amount of available learning materials should be increased and their content updated.

High schools should experiment with different ways of scheduling classes.

The federal government should increase its role in education, especially since many state and local governments are experiencing budget problems. The union estimated that implementing the proposals of the National Commission on Excellence in Education would cost $8.6-billion.

Charlie Euchner contributed to this report.

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