Several new business items to be debated this afternoon by the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly focus squarely on criticizing or opposing elements of the Obama administration’s agenda.
The first batch of items comes straight out of NEA’s board of directors. New Business Item A takes a whack at a bunch of topics.
• First, it says that providing “basic” federal education funding through competitive, rather than formula, grants “forces local and state agencies to compete against each other for precious funding and resources.” This is an interesting statement, because while the Obama administration has proposed collapsing a number of formula grants into competitive programs—including $500 million of the Title II-A teacher quality grant—the administration has underscored that it would preserve the current formula-based Title I program for disadvantaged students.
• The NBI also says that it would require NEA to “eliminate the prescriptive nature” of the current school-turnaround models, including the Education Department’s “Rule of 9,” which bars more than half of the schools in a district with more than nine persistently low-performing schools from using the “transformation” model. That’s a problem for the NEA, which favors the transformation model over the other three. The model requires only the principal to be replaced, while the others would close schools or cause districts to take more-drastic measures, such as removing many educators.
• Finally, it would require NEA to “focus on supporting and creating great public schools, rather than supporting private charters or other programs that undermine the stability of great public schools.” On reading that, you might be surprised to know that some state delegations, like Wisconsin’s, are generally more favorable to charters. On the other hand, NEA’s board of directors, unlike its executive committee, apportions its seats based on state-affiliate membership numbers. So perhaps this is merely a reflection of the fact that several large state affiliates like California are notoriously hostile to charter schools.
New Business Item B, a bit of a no-brainer, would require the NEA to continue advocating for its Positive Agenda for the ESEA reauthorization.
Now onto the items submitted by state affiliates. NBI 2 would call on the NEA to take a position of “no confidence” on the federal Race to the Top program and the use of competitive grants as a basis for the reauthorization of ESEA. The rationale for the items says that Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s policies are “undermining the education of our students and are nothing less than an assault on public education.” (Ouch!)
If history is any guide, these resolutions will no doubt be the subject of vigorous debate and could emerge much less strongly worded. Remember, though there’s a general feeling of cautiousness about the Race to the Top, not all states affiliates entirely dislike it. NEA state affiliates in Tennessee, Delaware, Illinois, Ohio, and Florida (for its second round) have signed onto or are signing onto their state’s RTT applications.
Senior NEA national officials really seem to dislike these programs, but state affiliates are all over the map. An important dynamic to watch in the lead-up to the elections this November, and ultimately, toward 2012.
Finally—proving that no good deed goes unpunished—there is no mention in these statements about the rest of the $100 billion in education funding provided by the economic-stimulus bill, which did a lot to save teachers’ jobs.
We’ll keep you updated as the RA progresses.
UPDATE (5:28 p.m.): Both NBIs A and B passed with only minor alterations.
UPDATE (12/4, 12:43 p.m.): NBI 2 also passed after protracted debate. See this item for more.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.