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Highlights From the N.E.A. and A.F.T. Conventions

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Following are highlights of the conventions last month of the two major national teachers' unions:

National Education Association

'Operation Jump Start'

By the fall of 1991, under this nea proposal, as many as one-third of the nation's elementary-school children would receive an educational boost by beginning school two weeks prior to the start of the academic year.

During the two weeks, teachers would work closely with 15 or fewer children to motivate and prepare these primarily at-risk pupils. Teachers would involve parents through phone calls and home visits. If possible, the children would meet periodically for extra instruction during the school year.

"Children don't drop out in high school or middle school; they drop out up here [in their heads] in elementary school," the union's president, Keith B. Geiger, said in unveiling the plan. He exhorted the Congress to pay half of the proposal's estimated $2.2-billion cost and the states and local districts to pick up the remainder of the bill.

To ready children for academic success at an even younger age, preschool classes for 3- and 4-year-olds should be offered in all public schools, according to a position the nea's Board of Directors adopted.

Until all preschool-age children have the option of attending public schools, the union stated, the federal government should ensure full funding of Head Start.

Academic Tracking

The union stopped short of recommending the elimination of tracking, citing the difficulty in teaching large classes of heterogeneous students. Instead, union leaders encouraged individual schools to adopt alternative approaches to the practice.

A report prepared for the n.e.a. concludes that tracking, as it is commonly used, generally does students more harm than good. Once students are grouped by their perceived ability--often in an early grade--they are routinely stuck in the same groups for the remainder of their school days, according to the study by a Johns Hopkins University researcher.

The report also concludes that minority students are frequently underrepresented in college-preparatory classes and overrepresented in low-ability and special-education classes.

Single copies of the report are available from the n.e.a., Instruction and Professional Development, 1201 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

Teacher Training

The first large-scale new project of the n.e.a.'s National Center for Innovation in Education is seeking to foster collaboration in teacher training between experienced teachers, school districts, and institutions of higher education. (See Education Week, Feb. 28, 1990.)

The center plans to place advertisements in professional journals inviting educators to propose new methods of preparing teachers; the projects selected for funding will be announced in November.

Although the center does not envision centering on a particular model of teacher preparation, the creation of professional-development schools has been discussed, according to the center's director, Sharon Robinson.

Alternative Certification

Delegates overwhelmingly approved the concept of granting licenses to teachers who find their way to a classroom via an "alternative" route if they meet the same standards as traditional teachers.

In the union's view, nontraditional candidates should have to receive pedagogical instruction through approved teacher-training programs before going into the classroom and should be supervised by a licensed teacher, among other criteria.

Only recently has the union retreated from a position strongly opposing alternative certification. (See Education Week, May 23 1990.)

Home Computers

In association with the International Business Machines Corporation and Apple Computer Inc., the union has developed home-computer systems customized for teachers.

The ibm package, called nea EdStar, will enable teachers to use computers for such homework as entering grades, writing notes to parents, and accessing research.

Nea members will be able to purchase EdStar early next year through a special financing plan. Initial estimates put the cost of the system at about $2,000, but a firm price has not yet been set.

Apple will unveil its nea-targeted system later this year.

Elections

Marilyn Monahan, an elementary-school teacher and president of the New Hampshire nea for seven years, was elected secretary-treasurer of the national union. She will serve a two-year term at the union's headquarters in Washington.

American Federation Of Teachers

'Professional-Practice Schools'

The union has chosen schools in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Rochester, N.Y., for its pilot program to adapt to the teaching profession the teaching-hospital approach used in medical training. (See Education Week, Dec. 13, 1990.)

The three sites, chosen from among 20 applicants, will each receive a $30,000 grant to undertake planning for the projects during the next school year. The recipients are:

  • Norwood Elementary School in Los Angeles, a multi-ethnic school where the faculty and staff have been engaged in shared decisionmaking. It will work with United Teachers of Los Angeles, the school district, and the University of Southern California.
  • Henry High School in Minneapolis, a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools. It will work with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the school district, and the University of Minnesota.
  • John Marshall High School in Rochester, which will collaborate with the Rochester Teachers' Association, the school district, and the University of Rochester.

Organization and Membership

The aft, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, created a new division for higher-education employees and adopted a plan to provide its retirees lifetime memberships.

For the first time, each of the union's constituency groups, including the new Federation of Higher Education Faculty and Professionals, held meetings during the convention to discuss issues of particular concern to division members.

In a move that will allow the union to retain the approximately 350,000 of its members who are expected to retire by 2000, the delegates approved a provision whereby members will prepay their retiree membership dues while they are still working.

Officials announced that aft membership now stands at its highest level ever: 750,000. In 23 states, membership grew by more than 10 percent between July 1988 and July 1990, the union reported, adding that increases were recorded in all membership categories.

Affirmative Action and Layoffs

Delegates defeated a proposed resolution directing the a.f.t. to establish a policy of preserving affir4mative-action gains in layoffs of its members.

The issue is currently prominent in Boston, the site of the union's convention, where a federal judge has ruled that preserving minority-hiring gains must take precedence over seniority rights in teacher layoffs.

In a show of solidarity with 175 Boston teachers who are facing layoffs, delegates staged a protest in front of City Hall to urge the mayor to provide the school district with enough money to retain all of the city's teachers.

Children's Issues

Delegates unanimously approved a special resolution calling for the union to strengthen its voice as an advocate for "children in crisis" by lobbying for the expansion of federal programs to serve the health and educational needs of poor children. The detailed resolution also states that the union will work at the local level to enable schools to become "centers of advocacy" for children.

Other Resolutions

Also approved, with little debate, were resolutions advocating the restructuring of schools; supporting the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' request for $25 million in federal matching funds; and stating that the union will "remain open to public-school choice and approach such policies and plans on a case-by-case basis."

Elections

Albert Shanker, running unopposed, was re-elected to serve his ninth two-year term as president. The secretary-treasurer, Robert Porter, also was re-elected.

Elected to vice-presidencies were: Charles Dodson, executive director of the Kansas Association of Public Employees; Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; Thomas Mooney, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers; and Thomas Reece, treasurer of the Chicago Teachers' Union.

--kd & ab

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