Reporter's Notebook

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NEA Runs Hot--and Cold-- For Hillary Clinton

Orlando, Fla.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 1999 recipient of the National Education Association's Friend of Education award, drew loud and enthusiastic applause with nearly every point in her policy-laden speech to delegates here--except when she praised charter schools.

Hillary Clinton

Delegates to the NEA's annual Representative Assembly here July 1-6 were conspicuously silent when the only first lady to receive the award brought up the politically sensitive topic.

Mrs. Clinton recounted a visit to a District of Columbia charter school with high academic standards and a lengthy waiting list. She argued that parents deserve more such choices for their children.

"When we look back on the 1990s," she said, "the charter school movement may well be one of the ways we have turned around the entire public education system."

Although the NEA has a project to help interested affiliates open such schools, many delegates remain suspicious that charters will open the door for publicly financed tuition vouchers and for- profit companies.

The more than 9,200 delegates were much more comfortable with Mrs. Clinton's calls for smaller class sizes, improved school safety, more competitive salaries, and steps to recruit and retain teachers.

They also thunderously applauded her denunciation of vouchers, which were a hot topic here, given Florida's new voucher law.

"There is simply no evidence that vouchers improve student achievement," Mrs. Clinton asserted, calling voucher proponents "dead wrong."

Those proponents include New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, her most likely Republican opponent if Mrs. Clinton seeks a U.S. Senate seat from New York.

Led by Maureen Dinnen, the president of the Florida Teaching Profession-NEA, delegates held a rally to protest the Florida plan, which is the nation's first statewide voucher program.

Students attending schools that receive failing grades from the state in two out of four years will be eligible to receive vouchers worth about $4,000 to attend the schools of their choice, including religious schools.

Waving placards reading "Quality Education for All Children," the delegates loudly gave Gov. Jeb Bush an F for signing the bill this spring. They also joined hands and sang "We Shall Not Be Moved," some wearing buttons calling the Republican "Governor Shrub."

In his keynote address, NEA President Bob Chase called the Florida bill "a pure and simple disgrace." Handing out vouchers to students attending struggling public schools, Mr. Chase said, is like "applying leeches and bleeding a patient to death."

With no opposition, Mr. Chase was re-elected to a second term. Reg Weaver, the vice president, and executive committee members Lily Eskelsen and Eddie Davis also had no challengers. Each will begin a new three-year term Sept. 1.

The annual meeting was the debut, of sorts, for the NEA's KEYS program, which was the subject of a media briefing before the convention kicked off.

Keys, which stands for Keys to Excellence for Your Schools, was created by the NEA to help faculties find out how their schools stack up against 35 indicators that contribute to success. For the past three years, more than 300 schools have used it.

The indicators fall into five major categories: a shared understanding and commitment to high goals, open communication and collaborative problem-solving, continuous assessment for organizational change, personal and professional learning, and resources to support organizational change.

Teachers and administrators who have used KEYS shared their stories, saying that the program helped them communicate better and figure out where to focus their school improvement efforts.

In Memphis, Tenn., for example, where schools are required to pick schoolwide reform designs, faculties have used the KEYS questionnaires to lay the groundwork for selecting a program.

"What KEYS has done is help our schools take stock of who and what they are, by revealing both their strengths and weaknesses and focusing them on the path to quality," said Lucy B. Stansbury, the president of the Memphis Education Association.

Preliminary results from research on the KEYS program in 13 Memphis schools, conducted by Samuel Stringfield of Johns Hopkins University and Linda Bol of the University of Memphis, indicate that it helped teachers and principals write improvement plans.

If schools can find the right model and stick to it, Mr. Stringfield said, their work will eventually raise student achievement.

--Ann Bradley

Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 12

Published in Print: July 14, 1999, as Reporter's Notebook
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  • Read more about the NEA's Representative Assembly at RA Online.
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