Keeping retirement weird. Florida countdown.

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Jack’s, near Orlando, has great barbeque.

Three more days until we snowbirds head for Sarasota for a week of warm.

Then there may be another trip to Florida in July.

The National Education Association is holding their national meeting, the Representative Assembly, in Orlando this year.

I’m running again in an Illinois state-wide union election as a retired delegate.

The last time the NEA RA was in Orlando was 2006. I was a delegate then from my Park Ridge local.

Surprising as it may seem, I don’t think Orlando is that great for a teacher convention. Things are expensive and everything is so spread out that getting around is difficult except by shuttle bus or if you have your own car. And because of that the restaurant choices are limited to what’s in the hotel and big national chain restaurants in what they call Downtown Disney. Which, as I said, can be expensive.

And uninteresting.

Unless you have old friends that own what is one of the great barbecue places I have had the pleasure to eat at.

Last time I was in Orlando I gave my friends a call.

That would be my old friends of over 40 years, Charlie and Eileen. The place is Jack’s. It’s a regular stop for those going to UF football games.

Charlie cooks a mean brisket in his smoker.

The last time I was there he packed me up a box of his spice rubs to take home.

Orlando is a bit of a drive from where we will be in Sarasota next week. But I’ll call Charlie and Eileen if I get elected as a delegate.

Although Charlie might be out fishing, which from looking at his Facebook page he seems to be doing more and more of.

Delegates get a day off from business during the RA.

In 2006 I was down there with Debbie and Terry.

I love them both, God bless them. But they liked to do things that don’t exactly resonate with me.

“C’mon, Fred. We’re going to the Magic Kingdom today,” Terry said to me in the lobby of the hotel.

“I’m a little old for Micky and spinning tea-cups,” I said.

“We’ll do Epcot. That’s educational!”

If you have never been, Epcot has a Disney version of the nations of the world. They supply visitors with a re-creation of each country comprising one famous landmark, a restaurant with a Disney version of their cuisine and a gift shop. Disney has the ability to reduce a culture to its least interesting, hardly authentic but most accessible components.

This was all before I owned a digital camera.

However you could buy a disposable camera and then have the pictures developed in two hours.

How quickly the technology has changed things.

I had Debbie take a picture of me in front of each national landmark.

Mexico had a repro of an Aztec pyramid.

France had a mini-Eiffel Tower.

And so on.

I got the pictures developed and put them in a little photo album. That night at the Illinois caucus dinner I showed the album to those at my table, claiming it was photographs of my latest travels around the world.

A teacher looked up from the photo album and frowned at me. “You’re wearing the same t-shirt in each picture.

You know, you just can’t fool a teacher.

Why didn’t Arne make NEA’s worst of 2014 list?


This is the time of year when we get all the best and worst of the year lists.

The other day I received one from my National Education Association.

2014’s best and worst players in education.

The NEA gave an apple to Susan Bowles. She is a Florida kindergarten teacher who made a stink about giving a bunch of high stakes test to her kindergarten students.

Right on Susan Bowles!

The best also included teachers in Ferguson, Missouri.

No argument there. I can imagine being a teacher in a town with tear gas in the air and tanks on the street.

Even the onions – who the NEA called the worst of the year – made sense.

It included the Koch brothers, Campbell Brown, high steaks testing zealots and and my old friends from Democrats for Education Reform.

Just to remind you, DFER director Joe Williams once promised to kick my ass.

I would agree about giving him an onion.

The NEA also included a list of anti-education governors.

Illinois’ Pat Quinn was not on the list even though he was a major teacher pension thief. But the IEA endorsed him for governor anyway. So I’m not entirely surprised that the NEA looked the other way when they made their list of bad governors.

But the big surprise was the name that was missing from the NEA’s worst list.

Because I distinctly remember the vote at the Representative Assembly by the members of the NEA back in July.

We were in Denver.

We voted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan should resign.

You may have heard about it.

It was in all the papers.

So, why didn’t he make the NEA worst of the year?

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia talks testing turkey with Obama.


New NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.


A former elementary school teacher from Utah took the reins of the nation’s largest teachers union this week.

As president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia represents nearly 3 million teachers. Her No. 1 one priority? As she puts it: “Roll back standardized testing before it does more damage than good.”

The NEA has been critical of the Obama administration, especially its support of using test scores to evaluate teachers.

Garcia spoke with the president over the weekend. And this week, NPR Ed talked with the new NEA president about that meeting and her broader concerns about education issues.

What did the president say about your concerns about testing?

The president made it very clear. He said, “I agree with you and Secretary Arne Duncan agrees with you. There’s too much testing.” And I said, “That’s not the point.” It’s not the amount of testing. It’s the high-stakes toxic punishment that’s being applied to these standardized tests that were never meant to measure whether a child gets to graduate from high school.

The NEA this summer passed a resolution calling for Secretary Duncan’s resignation. Did you discuss that with the president?

No. We didn’t talk about that. Why would I? We have a lot of things in common with the administration, like Head Start, preschool, affordable college, immigration reform that keeps families together and protects children and their right to an education. [But] if [they] don’t end this obsession with high-stakes punishments hooked to a standardized test score, none of that will matter.

Do you still think Duncan should resign?

We have a huge disconnect with … Duncan on the use of testing. We believe testing should be used to guide our instruction and he will agree with that but has not yet told us that [he] has made a big mistake hooking big-stake consequences to those tests.

But last month, Duncan proposed that states delay using standardized test results to evaluate teachers. He said the Education Department would soon come up with new guidelines because he, too, was concerned about “overtesting.”

It is an absolute step in the right direction and I was all smiles when I heard the secretary of education. In the presidential limo, I heard the president say, “There’s too much testing.”

You’ve been quoted as saying that this election season you will support GOP candidates in instances in which they stand with the NEA on this issue.

I would have never said that. It’s not an accurate quote. I look at the whole politician as I look at the whole child. I don’t care what their party is. What we’re looking for is people who will listen to what needs to happen with equity and measuring what matters and using the data well.

I’m always optimistic.


National Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and me at the NEA RA in Denver.

The new school year has started.

The third without me. How have they survived?

For me, the start of a new school year was a moment for optimism.

It is like the optimism I felt leaving this year’s Representative Assembly of the National Education Association in Denver last July.

We had just passed a stinging rebuke of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

The NEA leadership had proposed, and we had passed, a New Business Item calling for an end to the constant, pervasive testing and the misuse of testing scores for teacher evaluation.

We had elected three women of color to head our union, the nation’s largest.

While I was critical of the protective wall that the NEA leadership had built around the Common Core, I choose to think that this reflected the perspective of the former NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel. Van Roekel was never willing to directly challenge the Democratic Party leadership on education issues. Although Eskelsen served with Dennis, you never really thought they were entirely on the same page. It reminded me of the relationship that Reg Weaver had with Bob Chase when Reg was NEA vice-president under Chase.

Chase was a go-along kind of guy. He advocated something he called “New Unionism,” which sounded suspicious to many of us.

Weaver was a fighter.

It was only when Weaver won election as NEA president (while Bush II was President) that the tone and substance of NEA leadership changed.

Eskelsen has now taken the helm of our three million plus union.

In the months since the RA, dozens of people have asked me about her. “I hear she is pretty good,” a union friend said to me just the other day at a Labor Day barbecue. It was more of a question than a statement.

“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’,’ she told the RA after her election.

Leadership matters and I am always optimistic.


NEA and AFSE need to settle this thing.

I left the NEA Representative Assembly in Denver with good feelings. We passed a strong statement on the misuse of testing. We called for the firing of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. We caused heartburn for union-hating centrist Democrats and public school-hating Republicans. We elected three strong women of color to head our union.

So, it is more than a little troubling that members of the NEA Staff Union – employees of the NEA – can’t get a contract.

I strongly believe that collective bargaining works. Regardless of the issues being bargained, an agreement can be reached if both sides want one.

Our new leadership should direct NEA Executive Director John Stocks to do whatever he can to reach a settlement that is fair and equitable to both sides.

This from the NFSE:

NEA Staff Union Urges Management to End the Hypocrisy

Bullying, intimidation and anti-union tactics used against employees

(Washington, D.C.)— Despite multiple attempts to reach a settlement with management, National Education Association (NEA) employees continue to work without a contract. Meanwhile, NEA executive director John Stocks hasn’t stopped his attacks on the very workers who have helped slow the membership decline over the last year. Contract negotiations, which began on May 13th, have stalled as managers refuse to include anti-bullying language and diminish workers’ rights. Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE) President Sue Chase, which represents NEA’s national field organizers, issued the following statement:

“Over the last year, we have done our best to work collaboratively with new management to meet the goals of the organization. Unfortunately, we cannot seem to break through the new culture—one that rewards secrecy and divisiveness, instead of respect and cooperation. Mr. Stocks’ management team issued their “last, best, and final offer” last week even while negotiators were making progress at the table.

We are no strangers to this type of hostility.  The truth is, we come across it every day when we’re on the front lines, supporting and fighting for NEA members.  What we have witnessed is shocking: just like “so-called” reformers who want to rid public schools of skilled and experienced educators, unfortunately it seems NEA has the same vision for its field staff.

“Never before has AFSE worked this long without a contract, or has management been so antagonistic.  When we entered this bargain we had hoped that Mr. Stocks—who was recently named chair of the Democracy Alliance—would support AFSE employees.  After all, we have travelled the country, working tirelessly over the years to help NEA empower its leaders and grow the organization.

“We are dismayed by the reality. We don’t think it’s too much to ask that a social justice champion like Mr. Stocks honor the employees and the members of the organization by encouraging his management team to end bullying and support basic union values.

It is our sincere desire that when we return to the bargaining table with the federal mediator on July 28th that we will be able to settle a contract which supports the staff who work to support the everyday working heroes in America’s schools, colleges, and universities. Labor-management collaboration is in the best interest of all concerned.”


# # #



CONTACT: Valerie Wilk, (703) 598-0427,

Facebook: Association of Field Service Employees-AFSE

Twitter: @AfseNea



Since 1973, the Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE) union representing field service employees of the National Education Association has been working to protect the rights and improve the working conditions of those NEA staff who advocate for NEA members in the field.


Staff at largest labor union fight to win a fair contract. First time in history union management refuses to extend contract.


The Association of Field Service Employees outside the NEA RA in Denver.

(Washington, D.C.)—For months staff members at the nation’s largest union–the National Education Association–have been trying to negotiate a fair contract with their employer.  Ironically, the very same employees who work on-the-ground to assist NEA teachers and education support professionals secure fair working conditions, have now been working without a contract for nearly a month.  President of the union representing these employees, Sue Chase, issued the following statement:

“We have been at the bargaining table for months with NEA’s top management, trying to negotiate a contract for our employees that will allow us to adequately fight for and protect NEA’s members and the children they serve.  We would like nothing more than to be able to show up to work, and go into battle for public education, free from distraction and fear in our own workplace.

“In public, NEA’s executive director John Stocks delivers passionate and fiery speeches about social justice unionism and activism.  In private, however, his rhetoric does not match his actions.  Mr. Stocks and and his spokespeople continue to say that they “support collective bargaining.”  But he knows well that supporting the process is not synonymous with supporting union values.

“Throughout this process we have tried to negotiate a contract which restores dignity to our employees, recognizes our professionalism and demands respect for the work that we do.  Instead we have found ourselves having to defend basic union values: we can’t even get Mr. Stocks to consider language that protects NEA staff from bullying.

“In a recent speech, Mr. Stocks said that NEA is prepared to play the ‘long game’ to defend against attacks from anti-union forces like the Koch brothers, and that ‘the power lies dormant within us until someone tramples on our core values.’

“On this playing field, no one knows the game better than NEA’s field staff. But how can Mr. Stocks possibly expect us to unleash our power if he doesn’t consider his own staff as part of his team, doesn’t give us the resources we need to win the game and demonstrates that when it comes to union values, he may not really be on our side?

“We go into battle for NEA’s members, and fight for rights which aren’t even guaranteed for us.  If you want the community to treat NEA members with respect and dignity, and to recognize their professionalism, then you must also live these values.  It is not enough for Mr. Stocks to say he believes in collective bargaining, he must demonstrate that he believes in union values, too.

“We would like nothing more than to get in the game for public education–our shared cause is too great to be stalled by these types of distractions.  It is hard to win the game when our own coach isn’t rooting for us, and is, in fact, undermining our ability to be strong advocates.

“We hope Mr. Stocks reconsiders the plays in his handbook as we move forward in negotiations. The attacks on NEA’s members and the children they serve are real, and we don’t have time to play any more games.”

# # #


CONTACT: Valerie Wilk, (703) 598-0427,

Facebook: Association of Field Service Employees-AFSE

Twitter: @AfseNea



Since 1973, the Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE) union representing field service employees of the National Education Association has been working to protect the rights and improve the working conditions of those NEA staff who advocate for NEA members in the field.


I left Denver very pleased with the results.


The American Federation of Teachers is meeting in LA this weekend.

As I write this they are debating a resolution on the Common Core that was drafted by my friends in the Chicago Teachers Union and adopted by their House of Delegates.

Randi Weingarten has already said that if the delegates choose to follow the lead of the National Education Association – which met in Denver last week- and vote for Arne Duncan’s retirement from Secretary of Education, she has no objection.

As an IEA Retired delegate that was chosen in a statewide election, I left Denver very pleased with the results.

Included in those results I count the election of three women of color to lead the nation’s largest union.

I include a sharply worded New Business Item that criticizes standardize testing and the misuse of testing results to evaluate teachers. It supports the parent opt-out movement.

And I am very happy with the call for firing Secretary Duncan.

I was disappointed that the leaders of the NEA constructed a protective wall around the Common Core State Standards – unwilling to have even a discussion about them.

I spoke for such a motion in the Illinois caucus and received little support.

I think that in the long run this will not matter as much as the larger message that emerged from our convention.

The pundits and analysts have argued for a while that the Democratic Party and unions were in a troubled marriage. The Wall Street crowd was even boasting that the Democrats were cheating on us and sleeping with them.

When the NEA voted to endorse the re-election of Obama two years before the 2012 campaign, it seemed as if we were trapped in an abusive relationship, afraid to walk out the door.

We still seem to be sharing a house, even if we are now sleeping in separate bedrooms.

But to really break free, we need somewhere to go.

We need to build something new for unions members, people of color, women and for all those who call themselves progressives, remembering that these are not always separate groups.

NEA RA. The largest union in the United States has elected three women of color to lead it.


NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Becky Pringle and Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss.

Put aside for a moment all the debate (actually too little debate) about Common Core and high-stakes testing.

Or the other 100 New Business Items that will be considered before the NEA Representative Assembly wraps up on Sunday.

The 9,000 delegates did something quite remarkable this morning.

They elected three minority women as leaders of the 3 million member National Education Association, the largest labor union in the United States.

It is a historic event.

NEA RA. Toxic Testing and building a firewall around Common Core.


The view from the IEA Retired section in the back of the hall at the first Illinois caucus session yesterday.

The NEA RA opens tomorrow at the green Colorado Convention Center.

Illinois had its first caucus meeting yesterday afternoon and will have another at 7AM this morning.

Yesterday NEA Board of Director from Illinois, Jim Grimes, told us that the leadership would present two New Business Items (NBIs) to the delegates.

One addresses the issue of the use and misuse of standardized testing.

The other one will call on local and state affiliates to work with governors, state school and local superintendents to better implement Common Core.

As far as the testing issue is concerned, the NBI will call for a national campaign. They’ve even created a brand: Toxic Testing. 

We will hear those two words a lot over the next few days.

From NEA Today yesterday:

The National Education Association will launch a national campaign to put the focus of assessments and accountability back on student learning and end the “test blame and punish” system that has dominated public eduction in the last decade.

If the 9,000 NEA delegates at the organization’s Representative Assembly vote to pass the measure at its annual meeting later this week, the campaign will among other things seek to end the abuse and overuse of high stakes standardized tests and reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by them.

The leadership’s anti-testing NBI will support measures such as parent opt-out efforts.

In a draft I saw from Illinois Board member Eric Brown it even includes a bullet point opposing the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.

This is ironic given that in Illinois value added measures as a basis for teacher evaluation was made into law based on the Performance Evaluation Reform Act drafted by a committee headed by our Executive Director and further codified in Senate Bill 7, which the Illinois Education Association and the Ilinois Federation of Teachers enthusiastically endorsed and lobbied for, and which was applauded by both the AFT and the NEA.

But unwilling to make a break with the national Democratic Party over Common Core, the purpose of the New Business Item will be to salvage it, separate it from the discredited testing component and build a firewall of protection around it.

“We’re just talking about standards,” IEA Executive Committee member Kathi Griffith told me last night. “Where ever a student goes to school, we want them to be at the same place with the same expectations.”

Widespread unhappiness with Common Core is being blamed by the union leadership as a matter of poor implementation.

But if it isn’t working anywhere, I think there’s a conceptual problem that is much deeper than the implementation.