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Teaching Profession

The 2011 NEA Convention: A Preview Edition

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 30, 2011 3 min read
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Delegates to the National Education Association’s annual convention will decide whether to revamp the union’s teacher-evaluation policies, among other things, beginning Saturday in Chicago.

For our fourth year running, Education Week brings you live coverage of the NEA RA. I’ll be in town a bit earlier this year to catch a few pre-RA events, so start checking back with us later today.

Here’s a rundown of what’s likely to be of most interest at this year’s event. Review this list, print it out, mark it up, and follow along with us.

• In what’s probably going to be the most closely watched development, the RA will deliberate on, probably amend, and vote to accept or reject an outline on teacher-evaluation practices and reforms to due process. This is potentially a big deal. Whatever the RA approves would supersede all the union’s existing policy resolutions on these sensitive topics. Read the background story here.

• Separately, the union’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching will release its findings to the delegates. Keep in mind that despite its billing as an independent body, a lot of the teachers on this commission are or were high-level NEA leaders. On the other hand, a separate advisory body for the commission includes a variety of outside perspectives, from folks like the New Teacher Project’s Tim Daly and Terry Dozier of the Center for Teacher Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, so it’ll be interesting to see what the commission comes up with.

• Delegates will be asked to approve an endorsement of Barack Obama for president, a move that will trigger the union’s ability to put its PAC funding and other support behind the candidate. (Remember, PAC funding is from voluntary contributions; it doesn’t come from members’ dues.) There may be a show of hemming and hawing about this endorsement, since many NEA members have problems with things like the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. Nevertheless, it’s all but a done deal, given the anti-bargaining stance taken lately by many Republicans. As union Vice President Lily Eskelsen reportedly put it: “We have to hold this administration accountable, but we will get a choice between President Obama and our worst nightmare.”

• And in what’s likely to be added sweetener for the endorsement, Vice President Joe Biden will also be on hand during the convention. The political season has definitely arrived. (No GOP contenders are expected this time around.)

• Delegates will be asked to pay more from their paychecks toward union dues, with a special $10-per-year assessment to support the union’s Legislative Action/Ballot Initiative Crisis Fund. This fund can be used for lobbying on policy, legislation, and other such purposes, but not for campaigns.

• We’ll hear from some special committees, including the union’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act commission, which helps make recommendations to the union about revising the now 9-year-old No Child Left Behind Act (the most recent iteration of ESEA).

• The union’s executive-director-to-be, John Stocks, will be on hand, so we may get some insights on what his priorities are for leading the national union’s staff. (Stocks is set to take over from longtime Executive Director John I. Wilson in August.)

• Compared with the American Federation of Teachers, the NEA has been practically silent about the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Where does it stand on that venture?

• Less policy relevant, but still of interest: Will NEA President Dennis Van Roekel get a theme song? Will there be any surprise guests? Will the union’s Oakland, Calif., delegation submit another of its famously outre new business items? Will anything replace the now-outlawed balloon archways and confetti?

We’ve got it all covered for you here at Teacher Beat, so check back frequently. And, if you’re in attendance, do stop by the press table to say hello.

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