DVR says goodbye to the retirees.


These are the final days for Dennis Van Roekel as President of the NEA.

VP Lily Eskelsen Garcia will be elected to replace him later this week.

His appearance and speech Sunday in front of the 350 or so retired delegates at our pre-RA conference was warmly received.

DVR usually doesn’t so much fire up a crowd as make us all a little sleepy.

But the retired delegates responded warmly yesterday to a president who genuinely expressed his appreciation to IEA members who have lived committed lives. And he pointed out veterans of the struggle in the crowd by name, expressing jovial surprise as he caught sight of them in the room.

His speech to the retired conference is often a preview of what he will say from the over-sized podium of the Representative Assembly.

Last year he went a little off-message and awkwardly pitted collective bargaining against advocacy of the Common Core. And did it with an aggressive tone and with a little belligerency.

I wrote then:

Yet here is what I heard DVR say: That with the defeat of collective bargaining in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, the NEA will focus less on those kind of issues and focus more on issues of teaching quality, particularly the implementation of the Common Core. He was quite aggressive in his advocacy of the Common Core, throwing down the challenge to those on the Right and the Left who have been critical of it. DVR said that if you have nothing better to offer, step back.

When I reported on his speech to the 2013 Retired Conference I  caught hell from some of his staff. But I had checked what I had heard with others in the room, and I had reported it correctly.

This year the substance hasn’t changed although the tone certainly has.

Dennis traced the history of the NEA, its transition from a professional organization into a union, its merger with the African-American ATA in the sixties, our role in the Civil Rights Movement and our decades-long and continuing fight for school equity.

Many of the retirees nodded along as he recounted that history because they had been through so much of it.

It was all about how the NEA had changed over the years and how that change was always difficult and how support for Common Core was a continuation of change that is difficult.

If the speech to the retirees was a preview of what is coming we can hear sharper words coming from the RA than ever before on the use and misuse of standardized testing and broken teacher evaluation models.

We will hear stronger support for the growing movement of parents opting their children out of the tests.

There will be louder demands to end No Child Left Behind.

But the support for Common Core will continue.

DVR was clear as he could be when he equated Common Core with equity.

Rather than being aggressive in tone, he was pleading. “I shake my head when I hear from those who say that we – as education professionals – should not be in the business of taking control of our profession and demanding high expectations and high standards for all students.”

There are very few active teachers that I come into contact with who describe Common Core in the classroom in that way. In fact, quite the opposite. Common core hasn’t raised expectations and standards of achievement.

It has dumbed it all down.

It does not seem as DVR will change his Common Core narrative in his final days as President of the NEA.

Dennis Van Roekel’s call for Common Core course correction.


The response to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s call for a course correction in the implementation of Common Core State Standards has been all over the ideological map.

This might be expected when DVR in his statement took a swipe at “the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards.”

As if those with a vision of what good schools and good teaching should look like are somehow tainted.

Reality is a different matter however.

It’s not as if those who consider themselves progressive educators have always been of one mind on the issue of Common Core.

There were many who DVR would probably tag as on the left who had hopes that Common Core might address the inequalities in the kinds of education that rich and poor students received. Most of the national Civil Rights organizations supported Common Core State Standards early on.

I think DVR, like his counterpart Randi Weingarten at the AFT, saw the conservative assault on public education that has found a home in Obama’s Department of Education and funded by billion dollar philanthropies and thought that a conciliatory approach would get them to the table.

That approach has failed miserably.

In the year and half since I retired there is not a conversation that I have with former colleagues and those who I am in contact with through my writing and activism that does not begin with a story of how bad things have become in the classroom because of Common Core.

At last year’s NEA Representative Assembly in Atlanta the leadership and delegates were unwilling to go beyond resolutions opposing using Common Core assessments misused to evaluate teachers and rank schools.

Perhaps things will be different at this year’s RA (DVR’s last) in Denver.

If I can get the votes from my IEA Retired colleagues in Illinois, perhaps I can be there to take part in that important discussion.

The new math of Dennis Van Roekel. Add SB7 but take away SB191.

new math

I’ve told the story a million times by now.

How Stand for Children’s Jonah Edelman came to Illinois and dropped a bunch of money on a few legislative races, which came out the way he paid for. Then Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan immediately established an education reform committee that included Edelman and the IEA’s Executive Director, Audrey Soglin. That resulted in SB7, the law which took away seniority and tenure rights, reduced teacher evaluation to a checklist and student test score results and raised the bar for Chicago teachers (and only Chicago teachers) to strike. It was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Democratic Party controlled legislature and signed by Governor Pat Squeezy Quinn.

At the time, then IEA President Ken Swanson, current IEA President Cinda Klickna and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel described Illinois’ SB7 as a model of collaboration for the nation and a great example of teacher-led reform.

Almost at the same time, the same corporate reformers like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) went into Colorado with the same agenda. They found the same friends among the corporate reform minded Democrats. In Colorado they called it SB191. But aside from the name, the rules are almost the same.

In the next day or two the teachers union in Colorado will go into court and file suit to have major parts of SB1 overturned.

As it should be.

Yesterday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel released this statement:

“The National Education Association supports the efforts of Colorado educators in their fight to keep quality teachers in the classroom and preserve the stability of our students’ learning environment. Legislation should be used to ensure that every public school student has a quality teacher in the classroom. It should not drive out great educators without the benefit of a rigorous evaluation system. The way SB 191 has been implemented by the Denver School District has resulted in the removal of more than a hundred teachers without a hearing or cause. The lawsuit brought by Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association challenges firing those teachers without cause. The notion that a veteran quality teacher can be removed from the classroom without due process not only subverts the essence of the law but hurts our students.”

It is a good statement.

I just wish he would have made it about Illinois a couple of years go.

How does he explain supporting the law in Illinois while opposing it in Colorado?

Steps and lanes and Dennis Van Roekel.

Dennis Van Roekel

NEA Prez Dennis Van Roekel.

I’m writing this morning as a guy who has done more bargaining than a used car salesman.

Mine have been union contracts.

So, I was interested when NEA President Dennis Van Roekel spoke out against the traditional step-and-lane salary schedule.

“Let’s get rid of step-and-lane. I don’t like it. It forces people to work for peanuts when they start, and if you stay there 30 years, you get all the way to, depending on the state, $40,000, $70,000, or $80,000 … The first thing you have to decide on is what you differentiate the pay on? Is it skills and knowledge? Is it responsibility? And as soon as you decide that answer, you have to say: How will I measure it? If you can do those two things, then you can implement that system. … I am more than willing to look at alternative compensation systems. I don’t think we pay [teachers] enough when they start; we don’t pay them enough when they end. And there are a lot of different ways to differentiate, but I do know based on the work I’ve done for 20-some years, it will cost more money, and if you’re not willing to invest more into compensation systems, it’s a really difficult challenge to find a different way of paying [teachers].”

For those of you new to the topic, a step-and-lane salary schedule is one in which your compensation increases based on seniority and professional development such as additional degrees, certifications and course work.

In my old district it took 20 steps (roughly 20 years) and 48 hours of professional development hours beyond a master’s degree to reach top earnings.

And that was only after we negotiated it down from 54 hours beyond a master’s degree.

DVR’s comments have caused some stir.

Some people have decided that he was advocating for merit pay.

Others saw it as another maneuver by DVR to appear to be for changing things to block changing things.

However, local contracts are not bargained in Washington by the NEA President.

They are bargained in thousands of local districts across the country and in locals of state affiliates.

In Illinois, things have been made more difficult by changes in the teacher evaluation system and by Senate Bill 7 which ended seniority and tenure protections and tied teacher evaluation to student performance on tests.

These non-reforms were supported and advocated by our state union leaders.

Compensation schedules that have a huge number of steps and lanes tend to drive teachers out of teaching. It takes way too long to earn the maximum.

Then we only have a few years where we are able to earn the maximum.

There is no evidence that merit pay systems do a better job of attracting or keeping good teachers in the classroom.

Student test scores and Danielson check lists are worthless in evaluating a teachers worth.

Our bargaining team’s goal was to flatten the schedule, not eliminate it.

Experience is an indicator of skill.

Quality professional development can lead to instructional improvement.

Teachers who are able to earn the maximum over a longer period will stay in a profession that currently loses half of us in the first five years.

Of course, not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.

Some want to spend very little, and shove us out the door after two years.

Experience means little to them.

Who does that serve?

Anthony Cody: Our union leaders are in denial.


The NEA Representative Assembly in Atlanta last July. Delegates tried to separate Common Core and high stakes testing.

At the NEA Representative Assembly held last July in Atlanta, delegates refused to put the union on record opposing Common Core Standards (CCSS), but were willing to denounce the high stakes assessments that were driven by the standards.

This was an attempt by delegates to reach a pragmatic if educationally impossible compartmentalized compromise.

I said so at the time.

The compromise can be reached when passing New Business Items at a convention. But in schools curriculum, instruction and assessment are inseparable.

Responding to NEA President Dennis Van Roekels cheerleading the Common Core Standards, Anthony Cody writes in EdWeek:

Mr. Van Roekel seems to want us to inhabit some alternative universe where teachers can teach according broad guidelines, and high stakes tests are on hold until we somehow have perfected their ability to fully capture student learning. Yet in New York, Common Core tests were given just a short five months ago, and only 30% of the students were rated proficient. Governor Cuomo is calling for the “death penalty” for low scoring schools. Teacher evaluations are required to include test scores. There will be more pressure brought to bear at every level, and once again, schools in African American and Latino communities will be the first closed.

As the tests are brought to bear, we already see ads of companies offering Common Core test preparation materials. Fear of failure will motivate their purchase. There will be beginning of the year tests to find out where students are starting from, and frequent benchmark tests to make sure they (and their teachers) are on track. Teachers are finding the lessons they have designed and used successfully for years jettisoned and replaced with district-mandated Common Core-aligned lessons. Here is what New York teacher Katie Lapham reports:

Both the content and purpose of the CCSS test prep materials we were given, which consisted of a random selection of reading passages, disconnected from a larger, more meaningful unit of study, contrast with our own teacher-created materials and performance tasks. Unlike our thought-provoking social justice curriculum, the test prep materials were largely devoid of any real world knowledge that we find our students crave. I recently examined Pearson’s scripted NYC ReadyGEN Common Core curriculum that my school is using for ELA this year, and, like the test prep materials we were given for the spring tests, it closely resembles the content and skills assessed on Pearson’s NYS Common Core exams.While schools can choose from a menu of options, there is financial pressure to choose the curricula that the District has paid for, and even more pressure to choose materials which are approved as being aligned to the new tests.

Mr. Van Roekel acknowledges these concerns, but something does not make sense here. He writes:

If this all sounds too good to be true, well, there is a catch. Some teachers are wary of the Common Core. In most cases, I believe their anxiety arises from a fear of the unknown, because we haven’t yet determined how to assess student learning under these new standards. Many teachers understand the what of Common Core, and now need to understand more of the how to implement it in the classroom.I truly do not understand. Are we not already getting tests based on the Common Core? This is hardly “unknown” to teachers, students, administrators and parents in the state of New York. I think what we have here is a fear of the known, and a fear of the what and the how as well.

Our union leaders have suggested that we can praise the standards and condemn the high stakes tests that are being abused in our schools. In this column Mr. Van Roekel seems to be in denial about the fact that tests are already being implemented – this is no longer some unknown out there. The tests are very real, and our political leaders like Governor Cuomo are making it clear that they will be used to further stigmatize and punish teachers, students and schools.

Read the entire article here.