Teaching Profession

National Teachers’ Union Ushers in New Leadership

By Liana Loewus — July 09, 2014 1 min read
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For Lily Eskelsen García, who was expected to be chosen last week as the next president of the National Education Association, it all comes back to testing.

Debates around standards, teacher preparation, and other teacher-quality issues “will come to naught if we don’t get one thing right first,” she said in a phone interview before the election, scheduled to take place in early July at the union’s Representative Assembly in Denver. “We’ve got to get rid of misusing and abusing tests.”

Above all, she’s concerned about the high-stakes decisions, in particular related to staffing and student retention, that are increasingly being linked to test scores.

“Until we stop abusing commercial standardized tests to make decisions they were never designed to make, we will get everything wrong,” she said.

Ms. García, 59, has served as the vice president of the 3 million-member teachers’ union since the last election in 2008. She is on track to take over from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on Sept. 1.

Among Mr. Van Roekel’s significant achievements during his six-year tenure was the creation of a $6 million grant program to support state and local student-centered projects. NEA delegates approved a $3 dues hike for the program, called the Fund for Great Public Schools, at last year’s convention. Ms. García said she’s “excited about” the initiative and plans to continue supporting and refining it.

A native of Utah, Ms. García began her education career working in a school cafeteria. She then went to the University of Utah—supplementing her scholarships and loans as a folk-singing busker—and earned a degree in elementary education. After nine years of teaching, she was named the Utah Teacher of the Year. Soon after, she was elected president of her state’s union affiliate.

Ms. García made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Congress in 1998. In 2011, President Barack Obama named her to the White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as National Teachers’ Union Ushers in New Leadership

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