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.