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Van Roekel: It Is Our Time to Lead

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel delivers his keynote address at the 2011 NEA Representative Assembly in Chicago, Il.

NEA President Calls on Educators to Keep Up the Fight for Public Education

July 02, 2011
By Tim Walker

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel kicked off the 2011 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) on Saturday with a vigorous call for educators everywhere to stand strong in the face of continuing, relentless attacks on public education, their profession and working families across the nation.

In his keynote speech (which began with a tribute to the “oldest life member of NEA in the hall today” – Dennis’ mom, age 97), Van Roekel reminded the 8000 delegates that NEA has seen trying times in the past. The Association stood up then and will continue to stand up today.

“Today we are at another crossroads, another moment in history. A moment that compels us to stand up for our values and our worth … to speak out for our students and our profession,” Van Roekel said.
In 2011, state lawmakers, emboldened by victories in the 2010 elections, launched an all-out assault on the rights of public workers, targeting educators with particular ferocity. Legislation gutting collective bargaining and slashing education funding was introduced in statehouses across the nation – hallmarks, Van Roekel told the delegates today, of an “extreme agenda” that has nothing to do with improving public education.

Van Roekel singled out governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Scott of Florida, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin (the delegates responded to each name with a chorus of boos) for their slash-and-burn policies designed to please powerful political benefactors.

“Their political donors - like the Koch brothers - want to silence us because they know that we are a strong voice for middle class families in this country. They know that we’ll fight any agenda that puts corporate CEOs in the front of the line and working families and students at the end.”

It is students, especially those in greatest need, that are victims of these  politicians’ destructive so-called “reform” agendas , which try to persuade Americans that poverty plays no role in student achievement. Educators across the nation know better, Van Roekel said today.

“Any teacher or para who has watched a student’s head drop in fatigue because they’re tired and hungry… knows that poverty matters. Any educator who notices a child can’t read the board but doesn’t have the money for glasses… knows that poverty matters.”

Through the Priority Schools Campaign, NEA is empowering those very schools that serve these students and placing itself on the frontline of real, proven education reform.

Van Roekel also called for a comprehensive overhaul - as spelled out in NEA’s proposed Policy Statement - of both teacher evaluation and accountability systems-systems that are designed to advance learning. The Policy Statement also calls for the NEA to take responsibility for ensuring the development, implementation, and enforcement of these high quality systems.

“As teachers, we know what evaluation and accountability should look like if they were really designed to improve professional practice and student learning.”

The voice of teachers and educators must be heard everywhere by everyone – especially on  Election Day, Van Roekel said, and called on delegates to send a message at the ballot box in 2012. Although he acknowledged differences with the administration over specific ideas, Van Roekel urged delegates to vote to recommend President Barack Obama for a second term.

“President Obama is the candidate for President who shares our vision for this country,” Van Roekel said. “He has never wavered from talking about the importance of education – from pre-K to college, fighting for Pell grants, fighting for the DREAM Act, fighting for struggling students.”

The message NEA needs to send, Van Roekel told the delegates, is not to our political allies, but to Scott Walker, Chris Christie and other extremists.

“Our message to them is simple: We care about every student… we care about public education… we care about this country… and we are closing ranks.”



Video Highlights of Keynote Speech

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel calls on educators to keep up the fight for public education


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