Teaching Profession

NEA Convention 2015: Priorities and Challenges

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 02, 2015 2 min read
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After a hiatus of a year (thanks, Liana!) I’m back to covering the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly. Posts will begin today.

As is traditional by now, here’s Education Week‘s scorecard of things to watch out for if you’re following online, in person, or on Twitter.

President Lily Eskelsen Garcia will give her first keynote address to the RA, laying out her themes and priorities for the upcoming year. The speech is expected to be heavy on her consistent themes of ending “toxic testing,” revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act accordingly, and taking aim at critics who seek to undercut prerogatives like tenure.

The NEA is also expected to announce a slight increase in membership, after multiple years of declines largely due to the economy and the legislative scaling-back of collective bargaining.

I have it on trusty authority that none other than Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, is giving this year’s welcome, which suggests that the two remain close—in public, anyway.

One thing we’re not likely to see: A whole bunch of presidential nominees. Usually, the RA before the presidential election year is when presidential candidates make their cases. But this year, most of the Democrats who have announced a bid have already stopped in at NEA headquarters in Washington. Moreover, Hillary Clinton is the clear front-runner for the Democratic nominee, reducing the need for so much pomp and circumstance. (The 2007 convention, by contrast, had every single Democratic nominee in attendance.)

As for NEA policy, one of the most interesting things to watch will be one of the proposed constitutional amendments. This measure would give the six state affiliates that are merged with the AFT more representation within the union’s governance structures. Right now, those states only get as many delegates as there were proportional to the NEA share of members prior to their merge. If passed, the balance of state power would change dramatically: New York, a state in which most members were AFT-affiliated prior to 2006, would suddenly get far more delegates.

All that said, these continue to be fairly challenging times for the NEA. It now has three state affiliates—Alabama, Indiana, and South Carolina—in receivership, due to various financial improprieties. It has struggled to rebrand the education debate in favor of “love of learning” instead of “rigorous evaluations.” A case accepted recently by the U.S. Supreme Court has the potential to end the unions’ ability to collect agency fees from nonmembers nationwide, which would yield a crippling loss of cash.

The NEA has had some success pushing back against testing, with several affiliates promoting the opt-out movement. The anti-testing sentiment is even one of the union’s lead organizing tactics in Oklahoma. But the NEA hasn’t gotten as much press for things like its plan to fund local innovative projects. As is so often the case, the union currently seems defined more by what it opposes, than by what it proposes to do about things like teacher quality.

Do follow the action here at Teacher Beat, on Twitter at the handles below, and don’t forget to use the hashtag #NEARA15.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.