This decision will not stand

NEA vows fight for integrated schools

PHILADELPHIA — Some 9,000 National Education Association delegates wrapped up their four-day national assembly here in an upbeat mood, determined to continue their active opposition to the Bush education agenda.

Among the meeting’s many highlights, none was more stirring than the adoption of a resolution condemning the Supreme Court’s June 28 decision overturning school desegregation plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle.

Branding the decision a “major setback” that showed “how out of touch the court is with the will of the people,” the 3.2-million-member union declared its support for “efforts by local and state affiliates, community and civil rights groups to defend school integration plans to ensure that this decision will not stand.”

Referring to notorious 19th-century Supreme Court pro-slavery and pro-segregation rulings, the NEA declared, “Like Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, this decision is not set in stone and can be reversed.” As if to underscore the association’s commitment to school integration, the delegates earlier gave a warm welcome to six of the “Little Rock Nine,” who, as teenagers in Arkansas, had desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957.

The delegates addressed other important issues as well. A resolution on the Iraq war committed the NEA to “participate in coalitions and otherwise support efforts to implement an exit strategy to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq” and to make sure that returning troops are supported “in regard to education, employment and health care.”

Another resolution dealt with the immigration issue and stated the NEA’s commitment to protect the “human and civil rights of undocumented immigrants” and “the integrity of the family unit.” It said it aims to assure that every child, regardless of immigration status or that of his or her parents, “has the right to a free public education in a safe and supportive environment.”

The meeting featured speeches by eight presidential candidates and visits from other dignitaries, including actor Richard Dreyfuss, a prominent advocate of civics education.

A theme running throughout the week was the delegates’ determination to work for major changes in the Bush administration’s education policies.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County (Ky.) Teachers’ Association, told the World that the administration’s No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) “flies in the face of what we know about how children learn best, and it places schools and teachers in the position of having to focus on virtually meaningless test scores instead of authentic learning.”

In a pamphlet for delegates that is available to the public, entitled “It’s Time for a Change,” the union explains the problems with the current law and the needed changes. It says, for example, that the federal government’s $4.1 billion class-size reduction program was eliminated under NCLB and should be restored.

The pamphlet notes that NCLB is actually a drastic revision of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which established the federal role in supporting public education. The NEA is involved in a major effort to overhaul the current version of the law and restore and expand its original supportive character.

As part of what the NEA calls “a multifaceted lobbying strategy,” President Reg Weaver at one point urged the delegates to get out their cell phones and become “instant lobbyists” by calling their legislators to urge comprehensive NCLB reform. The delegates readily complied.