The first day at the RA, like most days at the RA, is a nonstop parade of formalities and business items. The highlight of the day is usually the keynote address delivered by the president.
Reg Weaver’s speech this year—his last as president—focused a good bit on himself and on major challenges facing educators today. He recalled his beginnings in Danville, Ill., his motivations, and the legacy he leaves behind for the nation’s largest teachers’ union at a time when the No Child Left Behind law is awaiting reauthorization and a new president will enter the White House.
He talked about how membership has risen by 22 percent since he took over as president in 2002.
He talked about how the country is on the wrong track, citing the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, fears about the food supply and the soaring price of gasoline. “Our priorities must change,” he warned.
He also took the opportunity to blast the “elephant in the room,” the Iraq war, for which, he said, the youth of America “have paid a dear price in blood” as well as in education dollars.
But the highlight of the speech, which clarified Weaver’s motivations in opposing the focus on testing in NCLB, was an anecdote he recounted about how, as a high school student, he took a test at the department of employment security in Illinois in hope of getting a job. He was told by the person who interpreted the results that the only jobs he would ever qualify for were those that would require the use of his hands.
“But I didn’t let that stop me,” Weaver said. “I knew even then that my life could never be defined by one test.”
“Today, I know that no child’s future should be defined or limited by one high-stakes test,” he added, to thundering applause.
A version of this news article first appeared in the NEA & AFT: Live From the Conventions blog.