NEA Conference Opens Without Obama, Award Winner Krugman

Mike Antonucci is reporting on the 2012 National Education Association Representative Assembly which opened July 2 for 7,403 delegates — but did not include President Obama or the convention's honoree Paul Krugman.

They were greeted with the NEA theme song and the news that in place of President Barack Obama there would be a speech tomorrow by the nation's official consolation prize, Vice President Joe Biden.

Antonucci notes with amusement that 2012 NEA Friend of Education award winner, Paul Krugman, didn't turn up to receive his award — nor even send any acknowledgement. He describes NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's keynote speech as ‘even more vanilla than last year'; 2011 being the year Van Roekel and Biden competed to give the least contentious speech possible.

We received confirmation that the national union was working with 70 fewer staffers – most of whom accepted a retirement incentive – that constituted 148,000 lost hours. That math doesn't add up for me, but the extent is more important than the exact number.

In order to balance its budget the NEA has used its $3 million contingency fund for the past years and says it is prepared to do the same thing for the next two years, although that would largely exhaust the fund.

As of June 20, total active membership was down 81,287 since 2011 and student membership was down 6,676. Retired membership of the NEA was up 7,201.

We also finally got a count of how many NEA members are classroom teachers. I get asked this question a lot, but the union normally aggregates teachers with other certified professionals – guidance counselors, speech pathologists, specialists and the like. Today the delegates were told that about 1,441,000 NEA members are working classroom teachers.

Antonucci reminds us that the low point has yet to be reached as teachers unions traditionally lose members over the summer and then add new members once the school year starts.

Much of the conference is expected to deal with how to adapt to the modern professional environment and challenges that the NEA is facing, while dealing with the attrition of its membership. Not much was achieved on this front during the first day but the delegates did approve a series of items which set out the NEA's plans for leading education professions in the future. The most notable aspect of this was that when it came time to approve a declaration that they would set up a ‘universally accepted body of rigorous standards for all of the education professions', the delegates chose to strike the word rigorous from the text.

"Times have been bad before, but they've never been this bad." – NEA vice president Lily Eskelsen.

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