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Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President addresses the Connecticut delegation.

Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President addresses the Connecticut delegation.

NEA Vice President, Becky Pringle set the stage for a successful Friday session by rallying CT educators to “clear the way of the stupid and crazy” and “to pass legislation with it’s original intent.”  With 11 bazillion riders and amendments attached to bills as compromise to pass something through Congress, this point is not lost on citizens of a stalemated government.  We all literally saw where senate copiers go to die in the underground tunnels between office buildings, no doubt a partial product of excessive and unrelated legislation being attached to main bill points.  For us to find our utmost strength, not only do we need to be involved, but “we’ve got to change the brand of our union” according to Pringle.

Friday’s session was the absolute bomb because our group got to see what the NEA actually does, where our dues money actually goes to work.  In fifteen minute round-table sessions, small groups were able to meet with department heads on a rotating basis to dive deeper into the scope and sequence of individual group missions.

NEA Round table representing Oxford, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Putnam

NEA Round table representing Oxford, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Putnam

On the government relations side of things, thirteen people are employed, six of whom are lobbyists trying to sway politicians to pass legislation friendly to public education.  They have a forty-six page government policy book that they say covers “everything.”  While it can’t be found online, citizens can see how friendly their Congressmen are towards education by viewing NEA’s Congressional Report Cards.

One of huge issues facing the 114th Congress is the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Originally enacted under LBJ’s Great Society, it morphed in 2002 into what the country knows as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  For anyone interested in voicing their opinion to help Congress get it right, click here for the link will serve as a conduit for positive contact.

From the NEA, the 4 major “asks” for ESEA are:

  • Move away from exclusively test-based accountability. Schools should be accountable for opportunity gaps, only getting kids over the hump
  • Reduce testing and offer more flexibility in the time frame
  • Divorce high stakes from standardized tests
  • Empower educators

In 2015, how are these things not a reality already?  Before groups could really get into the minutia of it all, time was up and rotation commenced.

At my next table, I couldn’t really restrain my leftover wonder.  If support of education seemed like such a clear cut and responsible mandate, how come we had to dump so much capital into making it a reality?  And by reality, I most clearly mean moving a mountain toward just and equitable opportunities for all.  Luckily I had moved on to speak with Melissa Mayville, Senior Policy/Program Analyst for NEA’s Education Policy and Practice who would help me ponder this question a little deeper.  She was the only other person in the room who was as energetic and enthusiastic as I am; I think I actually cut her off to compliment her on her passion.  I asked her if there are any people on the hill who are considered friends of education, legislators who can be counted on to back laws that promote learning and empower all involved in the process.

Melissa Mayville, will you personally mentor me and pay me a respectable salary to help shape the future of education?

Melissa Mayville, will you personally mentor me and pay me a respectable salary to help shape the future of education?

It was sad to hear that there are people who are thought to be friends, but one can never really be sure.  With all the capital we invest into trying to sway lawmakers onto our side, I asked point blank if it would just make sense  if we had educators who were also lawmakers.  En route to shape educational policy, I wondered if it would be more beneficial for the cause to get my Doctorate in Education or pursue a Law Degree.  While Melissa obviously couldn’t guide me to an answer, I had already found one…I’m going to get both.  These two entities shouldn’t be separate, which I believe the country is starting to understand as UPenn is rolling out a pilot Ed.D/JD dual degree program.  I’ll be seeing you again real soon, DC….ready an office at NEA and Congress…just in case.

Other departments, while they didn’t excite my inner core to the point that government policy did, were still super exciting! It’s good to be amongst the vibrant energy of others who share the same views and are investing action into their cause.

Social Justice Management is a vibrant crew dedicated to the causes of anti-bullying (with special emphasis on LBGT rights) and school to prison pipeline issues.  We spent most of our time talking about awful stories of bullying we have encountered and how social media has played a part.  Curse you, Yik-Yak.

The number of times I have personally said, “I wish I learned that in grad school” vastly outnumber the instances of me saying “I learned that in grad school.” The Department of Organizing offers student programming that gives focus to issues not normally learned in school, such as how to prepare for a sub.  These are all the things needed on a day-to-day basis in education, but not touched upon in college because there is too much course work, field work, and getting students prepared to pass a certification exam.

If the massive time investment isn’t enough to break the back of teaching candidates, the financial investment might be.  Luckily, as our nation moves forward with debt forgiveness programs, once again showing they realize the value of a good education, college is becoming less of a strain on those that pursue degrees.  The NEA is spearheading the “Degrees not debt” program that forgives federal loans after ten years of continual payment.  Not too shabby for a debt that previously followed people into the grave and beyond.

Organizing also includes UniServ which was created in 1971 to get 12,000 staff members into the field.  Most of the action this year will revolve around agency fees, which I now understand because of yesterday’s session.  Boom! . Side note, UniServ reps are paid really well (by teacher’s standards).

Jesse Graytock, Grants Manager from the NEA Foundation was by far the most popular man in the room on Friday because he was telling people how to get free money.  The NEA Foundation offers four main types of grants that have rolling deadlines throughout the year of February 1, June 1, and October 15.

  • Student Achievement Grants: for classroom projects that align with teaching standards up to $2,000
  • Learning and Leadership Grants: funding professional development up to $2,000
  • Group Grants: year long PLC/Research up to $5,000
  • Donors Choose matching: 88% of projects are funded by the NEA

The Student Achievement Grants funding dries up by Halloween, so educators should apply when the money first becomes available in August.  The other grants seem to be under utilized with Jesse just looking to throw money out at people.  Along with this they have instructional videos, tips, and dedicated staff to help prepare grants and secure funding opportunities.  If there is one thing this post causes you to do, it should be to click this link to go the NEA Foundation website.

A group meets with Jesse and learns that getting one grant is the equivalent of three years of dues money.  Your money is hard at work to constantly improve public education.

A group meets with Jesse and learns that getting one grant is the equivalent of three years of dues money. Your money is hard at work to constantly improve public education.

The rest of our time at NEA was devoted to a group activity called “Toxic Testing.” This was a brainstorming session to gather alternative ideas to SBAC.

Some ideas include:

  • e-portfolios to track progress, growth, and proficiency.
  • dipstick testing that gives progress at a glance, but not high stakes
  • revert back to CAPT/CMT
  • Use PSATs

Action steps:

  • Organize/reach out to get parents involved (group consensus was that this was the most important factor)

    Mark and Kerry on the brink of reform.

    Mark and Kerry on the brink of reform.

  • Create talking points to help educators contact their Congressmen.
  • No testing before Grade 3
  • Make calls to Washington
  • Have legislators take SBAC test on Chromebooks
  • Educate families and communities about the financial cost of testing
  • Make another CEA commercial on the topic
  • Hold small community rallies
  • Have 10 minute meetings in every school across the state to engage communities
  • Offer beverages to parents to come have a conversation about the issue
  • Do something at the Capitol to get media attention

As a group of strangers, we descended upon the capitol to learn about about our union and we return home as a tight knit group of empowered educators, ready to rouse some rabble. Watch out, Connecticut, we’re about to make some noise and we’re not using our indoor voices.

 

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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