by Félix Pérez
More than 7,000 primary, secondary and postsecondary educators and education support professionals from every state will gather July 3-6 in Orlando, Florida, to set the course over the next year for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union of public education professionals.
Billed as “the world’s largest democratic deliberative body,” NEA’s Representative Assembly is where delegates, elected by their peers, determine NEA’s strategic plan and budget, legislative program, and resolutions. Delegates also elect NEA’s executive officers, Executive Committee members, and at-large members of the NEA Board of Directors.
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Delegates also direct association activity for the coming year through what are called New Business Items. Last year, they approved a national campaign to reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by standardized tests and to implement more effective forms of assessment and accountability. One of the outcomes of that New Business Item was the “opportunity dashboard,” a means by which to measure and publicize how much access states and districts offer low-income and minority students to the kinds of supports that add up to a great educational experience, including advanced coursework (such as Advanced Placement classes), fully qualified teachers, support personnel (like school psychologists and nurses), high-quality athletic and arts programs, and strong early-learning programs.
In addition to setting NEA’s direction, delegates engage in different legislative outreach activities while at the Representative Assembly. This year, delegates are likely to contact their members of Congress about a vote on the central legislative concern for educators and students at the federal level: the renewal, or reauthorization, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, after its July 4 recess.
“Now is the time for the Senate to put kids first. . . No student should start another school year living under the current failed education policy known as No Child Left Behind. We need the Senate to take up the Every Child Achieves Act now,” said Lily Eskelsen García, Utah elementary school teacher and president of the National Education Association, at a news conference last week of 10 national education advocacy groups.
As part of their emphasis on political activism, delegates will choose the Political Activist of the Year from among their own. The four finalists this year are:
- Colleen Briner-Schmidt, a California kindergarten teacher.
- Cassandra Montague, a New Jersey special education teacher.
- Anna Moon Bradley, a Kansas high school English language arts teacher.
- David Palanzi, a Virginia high school business teacher.
The Political Activist of the Year award recognizes the commitment politically engaged educators make to the success of every student. Whether attending school board meetings, sending emails to elected officials, knocking on doors, or phone banking, they understand that politics affects what happens in their schools and classrooms.