NEA’s Eskelsen-García promises tougher line on public school critics

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DENVER (PAI)--The nation's largest teachers union, the 3-million-member National Education Association, will take a tougher, more outspoken line defending teachers and their students against critics - including Education Secretary Arne Duncan - who use test results as the sole standard to rate teachers, NEA's incoming president, Lily Eskelsen- García, says.

And the NEA convention's 9,000 delegates who elected her in Denver in early July also voted overwhelmingly to have the group launch a national campaign against what NEA Executive Vice President-elect Rebecca Pringle calls the "toxic" testing system.

"People who don't know what they're talking about are talking about increasing the use of commercial standardized tests in high-stakes decisions about students and about educators...when all the evidence that can be gathered shows that it is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn," Eskelsen-García told NEA's convention.

Eskelsen-Garcia, now NEA's Executive Vice President and an elementary teacher from Utah, will succeed Phoenix teacher Dennis Van Roekel on Sept. 1, and Pringle will succeed Eskelsen-Garcia. Van Roekel was term-limited to six years in the job.

But some teachers also criticized him for being not forceful enough in pushing back against public school foes. One group of teachers protested by forming their own independent alternative, the Badass Education Association. And several months ago, Massachusetts NEA members ousted their president in favor of a more outspoken teacher.

The other teachers union, the 1.5-million member American Federation of Teachers, opens its convention on July 14 in Los Angeles. AFT President Randi Weingarten has been much more critical of Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan, especially when Duncan cheered a recent California court ruling invalidating the state's teacher tenure and due process laws. NEA and AFT California affiliates defended those laws in court.

Eskelsen-Garcia told the NEA delegates that she wants to give teachers "a platform to fight for what is best for their students." She added: "We know what is at stake and it is why we are who we are. It is why we are fearless and why we will not be silent when people who for their own profit and political posture subvert words like 'reform' or 'accountability.'

"For us, one thing is clear, before anything is going to get better: It's the Testing, Stupid. Better yet, it's the stupid testing," she said. She called the accountability system "phony" and said it hurt students and demeans teachers. Duncan, Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools before becoming Education Secretary, is an outspoken proponent of using tests to measure teacher effectiveness - and to hire and fire them.

"No commercial, mass-produced, industrial-strength standardized factory test should ever be used as the determining factor for any student or adult," Eskelsen-Garcia retorted. Schools, she added, must return to "personalized and humanized instruction by giving authority to caring, competent professionals," she declared.

Photo: NEA President-Elect Lily Eskelsen García addresses the 2014 NEA Representative Assembly.

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