Delegates Put Their Oar In on National Professional-Standards Board

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Washington--Mindful of the adage "he who pays the piper calls the tune," delegates to the National Education Association's annual convention here approved a resolution telling the union's board of directors to explore partial funding of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Beginning in 1993, the board will offer interested teachers national certification in 29 fields, based on a complex assessment of what teachers "should know and be able to do."

Nea delegates also approved a 19-point business item spelling out their position on national certification. According to the statement, such certification must be voluntary and permanent, should only be offered at one level, must not be a precondition for state licensure, and must not be linked by the national board to such local matters as compensation.

In addition, the union wants the board to train teachers to administer the assessment "to enhance the validity" of the process.

Despite the detailed position statement, the union's incoming president, Keith B. Geiger, said he considered its positions "still negotiable."

"It would be my guess that we won't say that if we don't get all we are asking for, we will leave" the board, Mr. Geiger said.

He also said he would ask Mary Hatwood Futrell, the nea's departing president, to continue as the union's representative on the board.

Although the Representative Assembly's 8,684 registered delegates were in their places bright and early each morning, one important person was missing from the mammoth meeting: President Bush. In her keynote speech, Ms. Futrell called on delegates to "mark him absent" for declining her invitation to speak to the assembly.

"Mr. President, read my lips," Ms. Futrell said to a roar of applause. "The children of America need your help and they need it now."

Delegates approved a resolution calling for the President to "be notified of our disappointment in his performance as the 'education President,"' and asking that he meet with the union's newly elected officers.

Mr. Geiger said during a press conference that the President "seems to be floundering. We simply don't see where he wants to take the country in education."

He said he would like Mr. Bush to fully fund federal programs with a proven track record in education, such as Chapter 1 and Head Start; outline his key education positions in a major speech; and devise a proposal to encourage young people to become teachers.

Although Ms. Futrell's farewell speech marked the emotional highlight of the assembly, a demonstration by the delegates in support of Chinese students who staged recent pro-democracy protests also produced its share of teary eyes and sustained applause.

Waving white posters decorated with the Statue of Liberty and the words "China: Remember the Students," delegates sang "We Shall Overcome" and "This Land Is My Land."

Shengping Feng, executive director of the China Solidarity Committee and a graduate student in political science at Princeton University, and Joseph Itotoh, president of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession, addressed the delegates.

"A lot of people say the students don't know what democracy means," Shengping Feng said. "We do know what we want. We want to speak freely, we want to live without fear, we want to walk without being followed, and now, we don't want to be executed."

But delegates were not as sympathetic toward Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, a leader of the Black Liberation Movement who is incarcerated in California's San Quentin prison. He is the brother of Virginia Pratt, an nea teacher based in Los Angeles.

Delegates defeated a business item calling on the union to support efforts to secure a new trial for Mr. Pratt, who was convicted of robbery and murder in 1968.

At last year's assembly in New Orleans, delegates were so closely divided on the issue that the matter required a lengthy roll-call vote. It ended in a vote not to support the convict's cause.

The second year of extended debate prompted one delegate, Peter Szalai of California, to complain that the union's national forum was being "misused."

"I do not believe that we as the nea should advocate every case, no matter how worthy," Mr. Szalai said. "The nea does not stand for the National Everything Association--it stands for the National Education Association."

Despite that admonition, delegates approved items on a grab-bag of topics. Among other resolutions, they voted to: endorse a ban on the importation of elephant ivory; support the use of alternatives to plastic-foam products; and back legislation to make the sale and possession of Uzi submachine guns and AK-47 assault rifles illegal for private citizens.

The delegates also patted themselves on the back for the nea's continued membership growth. Union officials project that membership will top 2 million by the end of 1989. During the past academic year, more than 75,000 members joined the organization, bringing its membership to more than 1.98 million.--ab & lo

Vol. 08, Issue 40

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