Teaching Profession

UPDATED: Van Roekel on Journalists

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 05, 2009 2 min read
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NEA Pres Dennis Van Roekel really seems to have beef with journalists.

At least four times over the course of this Representative Assembly, he’s brought up his dismay with the way the media has covered speeches by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and their support of performance-based pay. The headlines, especially, seemed to have gotten him all riled up.

Earlier this weekend, he said that he doesn’t understand why journalists seem focused on the differences between the NEA and the Obama administration’s teacher plans. They should instead focus on the much better access that the union has to power players these days, and the fact that Duncan made the trip out to San Diego to talk to the union.

The latest jab came as Van Roekel was telling the RA about a call he had with a journalist. The reporter was pressing him to talk about issues on which he disagreed with Duncan. Van Roekel said he thought to himself, “If I have a bone to pick with [Duncan], I’m not telling you so he can read about it in the paper ... I’m going to tell him face to face.”

I can’t speak for anyone else in the field, but here’s my take: Right now there are few specific policy proposals on the table from this administration, and we’re pretty much getting a love-fest between Obama and the NEA as a result.

But what happens when the administration starts putting out stuff the union doesn’t like? What happens when the Teacher Incentive Fund application gets released? What happens when the ED puts out a plan for renewing the NCLB Act?

Let’s look back to 2007, when we saw a big blowup between the NEA and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., over a performance-pay proposal. (Miller, I might add, is a very strong supporter of organized labor and key proponent of the Employee Free Choice Act.) We also saw the California affiliate of the NEA stage a march on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office. Things got ugly, and they got ugly fast.

Politics are messy and personal and it is incumbent on journalists, especially those writing for papers like Education Week, to outline faults and fissures so that we can educate the public when they become make-or-break factors for events like the passage of an NCLB renewal.

In all, Van Roekel really seems to have a different take on the profession of the media compared to his predecessor Reg Weaver, who was constantly on the phone with reporters (although generally not very specific in his answers).

Reg has even been checking in daily with the journalists at the reserved media area at this year’s RA.

UPDATE: This item seems to have ruffled a few feathers at the NEA. I didn’t mean to imply that Van Roekel has been unresponsive to journalists, merely to point out that Reg and Dennis seem to have different levels of comfort with the media. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to Dennis several times over the past year, and, of course, I’m looking forward to doing so more in the future.

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