A bigger threat than Friedrichs ever was.


In reaction to the mass killings in Charleston last year, Bree Newsome climbed a flag pole in front of the state Capitol and took down the Confederate flag. A year later, the NEA has barely reacted at all.

Union teachers breathed a sigh of relief when the Supremes failed to uphold Friedrichs in a recent decision. Had the court ruled differently the right to Fair Share, or agency fees, would have been taken away from us. Agency fees are the fees all employees must pay to the union for the cost of bargaining and the duty to represent them in disputes with management.

There is a greater threat to teacher unions than Friedrichs ever was.

That threat is frequently the poor leadership of the teachers union itself. Leaders like Cinda Klickna, President of the Illinois Education Association, Lily Eskelesen Garcia of the NEA, Michael Mulgrew of the UFT and his boss, Randi Weingarten President of the American Federation of Teachers.

Yesterday I received the results of the recent elections for delegates to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly. It will take place this year in D.C. in July.

The results illustrate exactly what I am saying.

Delegates are mainly elected by a vote of local members. But state leaders are elected in an at-large election of the entire 120,000 state-wide membership.

Compare the 2015 results to the 2016 results:



1600 votes out of 120,000 is nothing to get excited about. But this year the number of members voting for the union’s highest governing body is half of what is what last year.

Members don’t feel connected to the IEA or the NEA.

IEA Retired also sends its own group of delegates.

Disclosure: I recently resigned from IEA Retired after four years of trying to build a chapter where there had been none. Although we were successful in establishing a chapter, I no longer believe IEA serves the interests of retired teachers.

It appears I am not alone.

IEA Retired claims 12,000 members. IEA Retired delegates also elect national convention delegates on a state-wide ballot. I was elected each time I ran, an unusual accomplishment for a newly retired member.

Here is a comparison between last year and this year’s vote for Retired delegates. I did not run as a delegate this year:



Again, less than half the turn-out.

Of course, this is just one measure of membership engagement. It is a significant measure.

Yesterday I also received the final of three reports on the NEA’s leadership implementation of my New Business Item 11 from last year’s Representative Assembly. New Business 11 directed the NEA leadership to take action in response to the flying of the Confederate flag in schools and public spaces. Since it is new business, action must be taken before the next Representative Assembly.

My NBI resulted in a two-hour debate. Language calling for the removal of all symbols of the Confederacy were removed from the NBI over my objection. It then passed overwhelmingly.

The first two reports I received earlier this year reported no action had been taken.

Here is the final report I received yesterday:

NEA drafted model state legislation and a model school board resolution that were distributed to state affiliates. We also conducted a comprehensive research project to analyze state activity, and coordinated and shared model legislation and resolution language with national civil rights partners for work within particular states.  NEA shared model language with Members of Congress who have taken a leadership role regarding this issue. At the time of this report, very few states or local school boards had introduced bills or resolutions calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public spaces and/or public schools.  With our model legislation in hand, state affiliates can work to get laws passed around the country. NEA has also highlighted actions in communities and states across the country.  A story on EdVotes.org is slated for spring 2016 to share information and drive activism to end the use of the Confederate battle flag.

Last year’s Representative Assembly in Orlando followed by a few weeks the mass killing of nine African American members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The killer was a white supremacist.

Bree Newsome, a Charleston activist, was in no mood to wait for officials to do something. She climbed to the top of the flag pole in front of the Charleston capitol building and took down the Confederate flag that had flown there since the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties. She was arrested by Charleston police.

“In the name of Jesus, this flag has to come down. You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today,” Newsome said.

Meanwhile the NEA responded a year later with model legislation yet to be distributed to state affiliates along with a soon-to-be-published article in EdVotes.

I will look forward to hearing which states have the model legislation offered, let alone voted on.


The NEA’s strange fight against institutional racism.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 6.48.54 AM (1)

When the NEA talks of teaching excellence, do they mean white?

Pictured above are the winners of the NEA Foundation awards for teaching excellence.

I’m sure they are all good teachers. But it looks like the nominees for this year’s Oscars.

At last year’s NEA Representative Assembly in Orlando, we passed a New Business Item calling for a union-wide fight against institutional racism. Perhaps the Foundation didn’t get the word.

Or perhaps everyone has been too busy working for Hillary.

For second time this year I have received an update on what the NEA has been doing to implement NBI 11. That is the one I submitted and was passed after a two hour debate, the longest debate in RA history, according to some.

11. Confederate Flag

The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces.

NEA is supporting efforts and working with our partners in the Civil Rights community to lift up stories and actions on this issue. On the legislative front, state model legislation and model school board resolutions are being drafted for distribution to state affiliates. We will monitor active state legislation on this issue and share information with affiliates and partners, where appropriate. We will also use EdVotes.org to share compiled information on legislation and highlight stories of actions in communities and states across the country to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces.

This is all pretty vague, amounting to nothing.

Model legislation is being drafted?

The RA was in July.

Do a search on EdVotes.org

Enter Confederate flag.



Will the NEA RA be nothing more than a Hillary pep rally?


Hillary Clinton and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

I received the nominating form in the mail for Retired IEA delegate to the NEA national convention. I didn’t fill it out.

For the first time in decades I won’t be running for NEA Representative Assembly delegate or attending an RA.

For twenty years I represented my local and region. The last three years I represented retired Illinois Education Association members.

This July I won’t be in Washington, D.C.

It will be interesting to see the turnout for this election. Only 700 out of 13,000 IEA Retired members voted for Retired delegates to the state convention. That was one third the number of the votes cast last year.

At last year’s convention in Orlando the NEA delegates voted to target toxic testing and institutional racism as the main national campaigns for the year.

Instead it turned out that the main national campaign has been Hillary Clinton.

A New Business Item which I offered and was supported by the Illinois delegation calling for the NEA to support efforts to removed the Confederate flag from public places was passed after a two hour debate.

It has never heard from again.

Common Core? PARCC?

Dead silence.

Institutional racism?


Over at the AFT, where President Randi Weingarten once tweeted about education issues, now she is all-Hillary all the time.

And NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is not much different.

Between the NEA Retired Conference followed by the NEA RA, that would be ten days in D.C.

I fear it will be nothing more than a very long Hillary pep rally.

Dear President Garcia. What happened to my New Business Item calling for the NEA to oppose the Confederate flag?


Dear NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia,

There is this disturbing report about white parents attacking the NAACP in Georgia for suggesting Dixie is not an appropriate fight song for the local high school.

At Tulane and across New Orleans, the issue remains a hot one.

And in Texas.

In Tennessee, a public school has refused a parent’s request to remove the Confederate flag that flies over the building.

Where is the NEA in all this?

At the NEA Representative Assembly we had a two-hour debate over the issue of the public display of the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy.

The debate was in response to my NBI 11.

“The Representative Assembly directs the NEA to support efforts to remove the Confederate flag and all symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.”

After an amendment removed references to “symbols of the Confederacy,” the Item calling for removing the Confederate flag passed overwhelmingly.

What happened to it?

Did it fall into the black hole of New Business Items?

Can you share with members how this New Business Item is being implemented?

It appears that there continues to be many opportunities to support efforts to remove the Confederate flag as our NEA delegates requested.


Fred Klonsky. Illinois Retired Delegate. 2015 NEA Representative Assembly.

“I knew people in the church.”


–  By Angie Sullivan. Angie was an NEA RA delegate from Nevada.

I was assigned South Carolina.

In my Nevada delegation to get a seat on the end, you offer to be a state delegate. I had several new business items I wanted to speak to and a couple I wanted to present. So I signed up to get my seat on the end.

At representative assembly one day, a stately tall African American man named Michael approached me and bowed his head and said quietly, “I knew people in the church.”

I wept.

I had just made my own South Carolina pilgrimage a few days before to pay my respects to that place. I was on my annual road trip. I had watched the news reports. I needed to visit the place and show I cared.

So I wept because Michael was from South Carolina.

I wept hard. I grabbed his hand and dragged him to my state president. We needed to make some time on the agenda to hear from South Carolina and this man. He was promised 5 minutes and I made arrangements to go get him the next morning.

I do not think Michael wanted to come. He texted me and said he wanted to quietly mourn and it was in the past. I told him that he did not need to come – but I would really love to hear from him. He was too polite to decline. I was too persistent because I wanted to hear the story.

So early the next day, I picked up the elegant man at his motel and drove him to the Nevada caucus. He was sitting straight and tall on a bench waiting for me. A military man and a prison teacher. He spent his life in the service of country and community. He was a mentor to young men who looked like him in prison. Trying to encourage them.

And he came to the Nevada Caucus.

This is what he said.

He spoke of his aunt who usually attended that church for Bible study. She has a hard time seeing at night so she had not gone that evening when all were killed. He spoke of relationships he had with people who were killed. He had gone to high school with one of the victims. He spoke of the text messages and the shock and the horror of his friends and neighbors on the day it happened.

Then he spoke about the Confederate Flag and the racist symbolism that rules in his town. He spoke of history and things of the past having a place in museums.

He spoke of respect and dignity.

Then he spoke of the KKK and the Panthers and the impending threats from outsiders coming there. The South Carolinians did not want or invite either.

Michael who did not want to come to Nevada told his story. A story of dealing with very difficult issues and people being strong and elegant.

And of course I wept.

When I took Michael back, I told South Carolina that the whole world was watching beautiful people deal with this horrific incident and we admired that community.

And that is why the Confederate Flag is a problem.

All the quiet and strong people who endure under that symbol waving, do not deserve one more day of oppression in that direct or indirect manner. We should take it down because real people died. The hate the flag symbolizes killed them.

And I weep again because Michael who served his country and his South Carolina community, told Nevada quietly but firmly, the flag has to be taken down.

My article for In These Times. Why I introduced a resolution against the Confederate flag at the NEA convention.


– From In These Times.

I was recently in Orlando, Florida, a few weeks after the brutal murder of nine African-American members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for the annual Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA), the union I am a retiree member of. Just 12 months earlier, the NEA, the nation’s largest labor union, made headlines when it elected three women of color to its executive leadership: President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Becky Pringle and Treasurer Princess Moss. No other labor union in the United States could make that claim.

This year, a conversation about the issue of race and racism took center stage at our NEA annual meeting, and that seemed to be a big deal to me. I thought it was odd, though, that following this year’s Representative Assembly, which took place from June 26 to July 6, there was barely a word in the national mainstream press or the progressive media about what had happened in Orlando.

I was there as a delegate from Illinois. Before arriving I read that an African-American activist, Bree Newsome, had been arrested for bravely climbing a flag pole and taking down the Confederate flag that still waved in front of the South Carolina capitol. I went on social media and suggested that it might be a good idea for the NEA to take some action in support of removing all Confederate flags, symbols, names and memorials from schools and public spaces.

My friends seemed to think it was a good idea. I was sure that my union, a union that had played a crucial role in its support for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, would also support such a proposal.

The NEA leaders were prepared to present a proposal to the Assembly of 7,000 delegates to approve a quarter million dollar campaign aimed at combatting institutional racism. The proposal, New Business Item B, was vague in detail. Its very vagueness may have helped its adoption by a unanimous voice vote on the first day of the convention.

Yet I could see that while no delegate voted against NBI B, many delegates sat on their hands. They didn’t participate in the voice vote, and while they were unwilling to openly oppose the leadership’s call for an anti-racist focus to our union’s work over the next few years, they were also apparently unconvinced it was something we should be doing.

I decided that, in addition to the campaign to combat institutional racism, I would submit my own new business item. My item, which I made on the convention floor with the full support of the Illinois delegation the next day, consisted of just one sentence: “The Representative Assembly directs the NEA to support efforts to remove the Confederate flag and all symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.”

It was at that point that open division among the delegates broke out. We no longer had even the appearance of being unanimous on the issue of race and racism.

The way that debates often get framed in NEA convention parliamentary rules is through the use of questions to the maker of the motion. And I was the maker of the motion. So for nearly two hours, I stood at the microphone answering questions—many of which were actually statements of opposition to the motion posed as questions.

“Would this keep me from putting a Confederate flag on my bulletin board?” one delegate asked. Others: “Wasn’t Robert E. Lee morally opposed to slavery?” “Isn’t this a violation of free speech?” “What about Southern heritage?”

The debate format also had the unfortunate consequence of keeping many delegates from speaking at a microphone. Earlier in the day, before the formal debate, delegate after delegate sought me out to tell me their stories of growing up in the South, of facing the intimidation of Confederate flags waving over schools named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. And they told even more horrific tales of facing cross burnings and KKK rallies.

These were teacher stories that never got heard by the delegates. But if the NEA is serious about taking up the cause of institutional racism, we should start with sharing these stories of our own members.

The debate at the Representative Assembly on race and racism reflects a change in the demographics of the teaching profession. While all public school teachers feel on the defensive, for teachers of color there is a larger crisis.

Beyond the issue of how we should teach and interpret the symbols of the Confederacy, our teachers union is being forced to address, too slowly, the impact of racism on our own profession and union. Not only is there a failure to recruit teachers of color to the profession, in districts across the country teachers of color are leaving or are being driven out. When Chicago closed 49 neighborhood public schools in 2013, many of Chicago’s remaining African American teachers lost their jobs.

When I asked Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the NEA, about the decline in the numbers of African American teachers in cities like Chicago, she called it a scandal. But then she went on to talk only in terms of the general decline in new teachers going into the profession and the general drop in enrollment in college and university teacher preparation programs.

She blamed the decline of new teachers on the corporate reformers’ attack on the teaching profession and teacher unions. But Eskelsen Garcia had nothing to say about the crisis inside the crisis: America’s public school students are majority non-white, and there are fewer minority teachers to teach them than at any time in recent memory.

In Chicago, the percentage of African-American teachers has dropped from nearly half 15 years ago to less than 20 percent today, while 40 percent of Chicago public school students are African-American.

Back on the convention floor, an amendment to my NBI to remove mention of symbols and monuments in public spaces was passed by the delegates over my objection—I preferred a statement that encompassed the whole issue of the Confederate heritage mythology and not one just about the flag. Failing that, I was happy to have my new business item to support efforts at removing the Confederate flag pass overwhelmingly.

Never in the history of an NEA Representative Assembly had so many requests for information been made in response to a new business item. On the other hand, never in my 20 years of attending the Representative Assembly of the NEA has there been such an open and passionate debate about race and racism with educators from across the nation. It was a difficult conversation, as the discussion of race and white racism in America always is.

Illinois delegate Gina HarKirat Harris from Oak Park was at the assembly and shared her thoughts on the debate over the issue of racism and our union on my blog:

We have an opportunity to have the very hard conversations. We started to have them at the RA. A conversation with 10,000 people is difficult. A conversation with the person behind you who voted no is a little bit easier. When I heard [another member of the assembly behind me] say “no,” I turned around and said, “It’s a way to declare that we stand for eradicating institutional racism.” She replied, “We haven’t ended racism in all these years, you can’t change people, so doing this is pointless.” To which I said, “There is not an expectation of ending racism. Racism and institutional racism are connected but not the same.

This NBI is about institutional racism, the systems that are in place that continue to create inequalities in education. Racism is a part of it and when institutionalized we end up with systems where a disproportionate amount of students of color, mostly boys are disciplined or placed into special education. And that’s just one example.” “But you can’t make people not be racists,” [she responded.] “But we can have a platform to begin having the conversations that lead to understanding.” She thanked me for explaining what institutional racism is but said she still didn’t think we could do anything about it. She continued to vote no on EVERY other NBI that dealt with race.

The last two decades have seen an increasing assault on public employee unions, with teacher unions taking the brunt of the attack. As has historically been the case, racism and white supremacy have been the soft underbelly of labor solidarity and our ability to fight back. The decline in the number of African-American teachers in urban districts, the too-quiet adoption of the plan to address institutional racism and the contentious debate over the Confederate flag new business item at the NEA national assembly have exposed that soft underbelly once again.

Make no mistake: The debate over race, racism and white supremacy is precisely what the labor movement needs. The Confederate flag debate at the NEA RA was a good thing. But it also may have proven a surprise to the NEA leadership, who saw that in bringing up the issue of institutional racism to its membership, the union could see that our own institution was in desperate need of attention.

After 9,000 blog posts Peter Cunningham finds one of mine he likes.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 12.53.23 PM

I have written over 9,000 posts on my blog over the years.

All of them are cross-posted on Twitter.

One day this month I will reach 3,000,000 site visits.

And finally Peter Cunningham has found one post he thinks is re-tweet worthy.

In case you don’t know, Cunningham is the Executive Director of Education Post, a blog site that promotes a corporate education agenda.

The rest of his resume:

He recently served as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama Administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter was President of Cunningham Communications, a Chicago-based communications company serving public, private and non-profit sector clients. He also is affiliated with Whiteboard Advisors, a DC-based education policy and research firm. For several years Peter worked with the political consulting firm Axelrod and Associates and also was a speechwriter and senior advisor in the administration of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

His blog is funded by the usual corporate interests.

It’s pretty messed up that he would try and use an important discussion about race and racism to serve his corporate agenda.

But that’s what they do.

A post about my IEA leadership. You might want to sit down before reading this one.


It is no secret that over the many years of teacher union activism I have been a vocal critic of our state IEA leaders.

Some have concluded that I have some personal vendetta.

I don’t.

Some (really just one person) has labeled me anti-union and anti-IEA because I voice criticism of policies I think are wrong.

I am so not anti-union or anti-IEA.

But this must be said.

When I approached President Cinda Klickna about the Illinois delegation supporting my NBI on the Confederate flag, she immediately said she would help.

“Write it up and we will bring it up with the steering committee,” she said without a moment of hesitation.

The Illinois steering committee gave their support and Cinda scheduled it for a discussion and vote by the Illinois Caucus the very next session – early enough so I could get it to the hall and get it filed so it wouldn’t end up as NBI 135.

Cinda’s swift action resulted in it being NBI 11, among the very first to be debated.

It meant that I spoke, not as an individual, but on behalf of the Illinois delegation.

NEA Board of Director from Illinois Jim Grimes functioned as a guide and coach through the complicated RA technicalities and rules.

When I made the motion to support NBI 11 from the floor and debated for nearly two hours, the steering committee essentially said to me that however I wanted to play it, whatever I wanted to accept or reject as friendly amendments, they would support and notify our delegates that I had steering committee support.

NEA Board of Director Rainy Kaplan was unstinting in her support of the NBI and of me.

When amendments came up, I simply had to signal thumbs up or thumbs down to the Illinois steering committee and that was that as far as they were concerned. Even when our state stood nearly alone in opposing removing the term “Confederate symbols” from the language of the NBI.

We will fuss and fight again, I am sure.

But on the day of a long and contentious debate over race and racism, Illinois stood together.

And I wanted to thank them all.

NEA RA: Okay. I’m spent.


Okay. I’m spent.

We went through over 100 New Business Items on this last day of the RA and I am so done.

I didn’t bring out the hard copy of RA Today which has all the Resolutions, Legislative Items, Constitutional Changes and New Business Items back to the hotel with me.

I know that there were a lot of anti-testing NBIs that were passed that came from BATS and other activists. But, frankly, I don’t think there was much new in that area. The NEA leadership and delegates are still not willing to make a break with Democrats on Common Core.

Perhaps they think it will take care of itself if the Congress passes a reauthorized ESEA.

I don’t think anything takes care of itself.

I’ll check what passed the RA online when I get home to Chicago tomorrow.

My sense is that way too many of the New Business Items that focused on minority issues got voted down. But I need to look more closely at the list.

Odd, right? A grand, if vague, plan for fighting institutional racism gets adopted but these specific New Business Items fail to get a majority vote.

My friend Gina came up to me this afternoon with a kind of what the hell is this look on her face.

And there was no question in my mind that the fact that I was white and at the mic permitted a discussion to take place  of race and racism that would not have taken place if a Black delegate was in my spot.

And the reality of the structure of the debate meant that I was keeping others from telling their stories of flags, symbols and racial reality.

I need time to look at the data more and reflect some more. I have also encouraged others to write their impressions and reflections from the viewpoint of delegates who aren’t white  and to post them here as well. Or somewhere.

I hope they do.

I know they will.

Yet I can say that I have been in the NEA for over 30 years and have been coming to Representative Assemblies for over 20 years and I have never experienced conversations about race and racism like I did this week among 10,000 teacher union members from all across the country.

That is so important a story.