Skip to comments.Next NEA leader's first task: Win back public
Posted on 07/06/2014 9:29:08 PM PDT by Second Amendment First
The new president of the largest teachers union in the country will become the voice of roughly 3 million teachers at perhaps the most critical moment in the National Education Associations history.
First item on the agenda: Win back the public.
Union watchers say the newly elected Lily Eskelsen García a former school cafeteria worker teacher, folk singer and Utah teacher of the year has a hell of a job ahead of her. She faces court cases challenging teacher tenure and job protections, the defection of historically loyal Democrats, growing apprehension over the Common Core, diminishing ranks, public relations campaigns painting her union as greedy and a complicated chessboard of state and local members with a variety of interests.
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Eskelsen García, elected Friday, has big plans: She wants to further shift the union away from its longstanding and reflexive support of Democrats which it has already begun. She wants to banish what she says is a loaded word tenure. And she wants to lead a campaign against high-stakes decision-making based on test scores at the same time she firms up her unions support of the Common Core.
But to do any of it, she has to make clear not just what the union is against, but what its for, said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform.
In an interview with POLITICO, Eskelsen García said indeed, the union must be clear about its agenda.
People will take a bad idea if we dont offer them something better, she said.
DRAWING BATTLE LINES
At the unions annual convention last week in Denver, where Eskelsen García was officially elected, some teachers said its time for a leader who will play hardball with the feds and push back against Education Secretary Arne Duncans agenda, which includes evaluating teachers in part by student test scores and supporting the growth of charter schools, often staffed by non-union teachers.
We need a fresh face for the NEA, someone who will stand up to the conservatives and stand up to Arne Duncan and say, We dont agree with your plans, said Reed Bretz, a high school fine arts teacher in the Kenowa Hills public schools in Grand Rapids, Mich. Current President Dennis [Van Roekel] has tried to be too nice. Hes tried to play in the sandbox and it hasnt worked.
(Also on POLITICO: Full education policy coverage)
Eskelsen García already has fiery words for the feds, who she holds responsible for the growing use of value-added measures, or VAMs, an algorithm that aims to assess teacher effectiveness by student growth on standardized tests. The idea has gained traction under the Obama administration through waivers from No Child Left Behind and the administrations signature Race to the Top program. But studies, including some funded by the Education Department, have cast doubt on the validity of the measures.
VAMs are the mark of the devil, Eskelsen García said.
The algorithms do aim to account for variables such as student poverty levels. But Eskelsen García said they cant capture the complete picture.
The year she taught 22 students in one class and the year she taught 39 students in one class Is that factored into a value-added model? No, she said. Did they factor in the year that we didnt have enough textbooks so all four fifth-grade teachers had to share them on a cart and I couldnt send any books home to do homework with my kids?
Its beyond absurd, she added. And anyone who thinks they can defend that is trying to sell you something.
Reform advocates point out that VAM scores are never the only factor in a teachers evaluations. Principal observations and other factors are also weighted. They urge the union to embrace accountability and work to improve it, rather than resist it.
Were 20 years into the standards and accountability movement and accountability isnt going away, said Celine Coggins, founder of Teach Plus. So how can teachers own that? How can that be part of the profession and part of how the profession defines itself, rather than have it be something thats done to teachers?
Duncan said he believes the department will find common ground with the union and and strengthen what he called their longstanding partnership to improve public education.
PUTTING OUT FIRES
But NEA recently split with the Education Department on a court ruling out of California that struck down job protections defended by unions.
The world looks different today than it would have looked a month ago to a new NEA president because of Vergara, said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, an education reform group that often clashes with unions. Austin pointed to a new poll showing California voters uneasy with the tenure and job protection laws that unions have fought to defend. The teachers union now finds itself politically isolated in the bluest state in the nation, Austin said.
Eskelsen García must navigate that minefield carefully because the public will smell bullshit from a mile away, Williams said.
The general public thinks its absurd that theyre willing to go so far to defend what seems indefensible, he said. Theyve got to shift the conversation to fairness for teachers. The public loves teachers, but they dont want to stick up for bureaucratic processes.
Eskelsen García said that going forward, the union must emphasize that tenure doesnt mean teachers have a job for life, it simply ensures due process when they face dismissal.
Too many people have been told that its impossible to fire a teacher, she said. We want to stand for a reasonable due process when someone is about to lose their job. They should know why, they should be able to defend themselves part of the bully pulpit that I have is to at least explain to the public that were talking about due process for educators.
But unions have been explaining that to the public for more than a year and emphasized that point over and over in the Vergara trial and it hasnt notably shifted public opinion. And while Eskelsen García hopes to banish the word tenure, which she says has negative connotations, no amount of union pressure can stop opponents from using the phrase.
A TEACHERS TEACHER
Sitting on the couch in her office wearing a pressed white dress and gauzy pink scarf, Eskelsen García smiles at the wall where pictures of her past classes hang with pride. She points to her younger self with a mass of black hair (she irons it flat every day now) and remembers the year she taught 39 fifth graders at once.
What I want to bring [to the NEA presidency] is that voice that says unashamedly and without any modesty whatsoever I was the teacher of the year, she said. And I was the Utah Teacher of the Year for a very good reason: Because I could get my kids to want to do their homework. To love to read the next chapter in Charlottes Web. To do project-based learning. And I think our members and our potential members, by the way want someone whos going to stand up and speak that classroom teacher truth.
She beat her opponent Mark Airgood by a wide margin. Airgood, who opposes the Common Core and is eager to take on affirmative action and immigrant rights, had little visible support at the unions convention last week. But buttons and T-shirts supporting the Elect Lily Committee peppered the convention.
Several convention delegates said they found Eskelsen García endearing and her life story inspirational.
Im a huge fan of Lily. I think shes very personable. Shes someone I can have a conversation with, said Jess Hoertel, a sixth grade language arts teacher in Jefferson Township, N.J. She described Van Roekel as a little out of touch and very serious, whereas Eskelsen García is more of a people person.
Eskelsen García, formerly NEAs vice president, is assuming the presidency from Van Roekel, who has led the union since 2008. Her term is three years long with an option to run for re-election once.
She has a long history of activism: When she was named Utahs top teacher in 1989, she used the title as leverage to protest the states inadequate education funding. She was elected president of the Utah Education Association one year later.
In 1996, she was elected to NEAs executive committee. She even won her partys nomination for U.S. Congress in 1998, but lost when she earned 45 percent of the vote against her Republican incumbent. She also served as a member of former President Bill Clintons White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education in 2000.
Eskelsen García, now 59, has made a point to be visible and accessible during her time at NEA: She writes occasionally for her blog, Lilys Blackboard. She plans to ramp up that blogging as president, though shes the first to say that her tendency to speak her mind leaves her staff a little on edge.
Last year during a Netroots Nation panel discussion, she spoke out against politicians in Washington who refused to pass common sense measures to prevent gun violence. Her words quickly went viral: People who were elected to protect us have allegiances to the gun industry and they have allowed this to happen. Theyve allowed it happen sometimes because the gun industry saw a true believer and helped them get into office But others are just afraid of the gun industry and they dont want to make any noise. And Im not an ordained theologian, Im not a minister, but these guys [elected officials] are going to hell that is my daily prayer.
During NEAs 2012 Representative Assembly, she showcased her folk singer roots with a rendition of the National Anthem.
She has been open about personal hardships. Her husband of 38 years, Ruel Eskelsen, killed himself in March 2011. Eskelsen García, mother of two grown sons, harnessed union members, asking them to write to her adopted son Jared. He was in prison for theft at the time and couldnt attend the memorial service.
Last year, she married Alberto García, an artist she met in Mexico. The couple is navigating U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services so he can legally live in the country.
She jokes that her Spanish sounds better than it actually is. Her mother, from Panama, was trilingual. But Eskelsen García said her mother never taught her Spanish, thinking people in the U.S. wouldnt want to hear it. Eskelsen García decided to learn the language to honor her mothers culture.
NAVIGATING POLITICAL WATERS
Eskelsen García, who takes the helm Sept. 1, will be steering the ship at a critical time as states head into the thick of midterm elections. Mark Naison, co-founder of the militant union splinter group, the Badass Teachers Association, said NEA has to stop reflexively supporting Democratic candidates who are supporting policies that take power away from teachers.
Others think that the union needs to play up the importance of politics.
We do need to sell ourselves a little better, both to the general public and to our own members, said Martha Patterson, a special education teacher at an elementary school in Bremerton, Wash. She said she sees many union members tuning out of political campaigns because the NEA officers havent been able to persuade them that elections matter.
Eskelsen García said the union has to branch out beyond the Democratic party, endorsing candidates across the spectrum that give teachers more power. The union wants to know where candidates stand on equity and wants to endorse politicians who understand that a student is more than a test score, she said.
The NEA has already begun to support some Republicans, including several candidates for state legislature in Florida.
COMMON CORE CONFLICT
Eskelsen García is likely to come under pressure from some members, including the Badass Teachers Association, to renounce the Common Core.
But theres no chance of García backing off completely. She even has a favorite Common Core standard.
Van Roekel famously said earlier this year that Common Core implementation is botched and requires a course correction. Eskelsen García said theres nothing wrong with hitting the pause button to make sure states and districts are getting it right.
The Gates Foundation recently proposed temporarily suspending high-stakes accountability measures based on Common Core-aligned tests for that reason which was an important announcement, Eskelsen García noted.
But NEAs new leader realizes that Gates, which has donated to the NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education, isnt so popular with the unions members.
They funded the Common Core, Eskelsen García said. And for some of our folks, its like, But the Gates Foundation funded the Common Core, so we must be suspect. Its corporate. Its Bill Gates the mega billionaire! But I dont see it that way. I see the Gates Foundation as funding ideas.
If she had to grade the Gates Foundation, Eskelsen García said shed give it a B+. She questions some of the foundations investments, like Teach for America and the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
But Gates has supported one thousand and two great ideas that make perfect sense the Common Core being one of them, she said. When the standards were still an idea, Eskelsen García said she told the Gates Foundation that it can expect a partner in the NEA on higher standards.
But she also warned them.
I said Ill be your personal nightmare if you betray high standards by trying to cram them into a standardized, commercial, mass-produced test.
Because you cant do that with my favorite standards, she said.
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She has a hard row to hoe. I don't know anything about her, but if someone doesn't bring common sense to unionists it will get worst for them.
Lily Eskelsen García, an elementary teacher from Utah, is Vice President of the National Education Association. She is one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country and one of its most influential Hispanic educators.
Lily was president of the Utah State Retirement System, only the second woman to ever be elected to the position; president of the Children at Risk Foundation; and was a member of the White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education.
She often works with coalitions to engage the public in the political process, and she herself was the first Hispanic to run for Congress in her state, raising almost $1 million and taking 45 percent of the vote against the incumbent.
She has been featured on MSNBC and CNN en Español.
She believes that no matter how students arrive, and no matter what their learning conditions, their home conditions or their health conditions, that educators have the sacred duty to be professionals and to care for the whole child.
Support the DREAMERS
common sense would disallow her pet project... Common Core ...thats for sure.
I have been so busy lately I haven’t been able to keep up with the most recent supreme court ruling concerning unions. Could the ruling in anyway impact teacher’s unions? I sure hope so. The democrats will have to find another way to extort campaign funds.
A collectivist is still a collectivist, even if female and cute by Latrino standards.
May G*d rot her and the collectivists she represents.
In 1998 she attempted to put her 20 years of experience working with small children to practical use by becoming her partys nominee for the U.S. Congress.
Her advice has been published in Parenting magazine and she has been featured on MSNBC, CNN en Español and as the noble opposition on Fox & Friends.
In 2000, she served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education, and in 2011, President Obama named her a member of the Presidents Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
Eskelsen García is a national leader among Hispanic educators; she addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Conference in September 2008.
Her union leadership has included writing protest songs, including one about the No Child Left Behind Act. As vice president, she has been part of NEAs recent emphasis on working with the American labor movement; she appeared in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 2009, with labor leaders from the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO to speak out against taxing health-care benefits, where she said, “We should tax the millionaires, not teachers and bus drivers.
One of my best friends, a teacher of 15 years, submitted her resignation because of Common Core. She doesn’t even know what she’ll do next, she just knew she couldn’t do THAT.
She is not alone. This country is being wrecked.
Amen and Amen!
Eskelsen García brought the message into her meeting with students, drawing the connection between union membership and education and explaining how a national union of 3 million members finds its power in grass-roots organizing. The union creates a circle of influence to achieve the education goals our members want, she said.
There are those motivated by greed and fear, said Eskelsen García, describing interests that advocate putting colleges and universities in private hands and shrinking public funding for higher education. At the NEA, we believe the business of education is to open students minds.
It’s a bitch when you work so hard to get to the top and find out Obama is president.
Provided by us taxpayers of course. Nothing but the best. There is nothing funny about this epic disaster, but your "Latrino" typo did make me laugh.
Eskelsen García: We Are Fearless and We Will Not Be Silent
NEA president-elect Lily Eskelsen García, after praising those who have supported and worked in concert with her, concluded NEAs 152nd Annual Meeting with a strong message to those who dont know what theyre talking about: We will not be silent
We, of course, refers to the three million educators who know whats best for students, learning, and the teaching profession.
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.
The thousands of delegates who filled the Denver convention center also got a taste of Eskelsen Garcías grit when she reflected on the 1992 presidential campaign of the then-candidate Gov. Bill Clinton whose slogan made headlines: Its the Economy, Stupid.
For us, one thing is clear, before anything is going to get better: Its the Testing, Stupid. Better yet, its the stupid testing, she said, referring to the phony accountability system that has hurt students and demeaned the teaching profession.
Becky Pringle, a middle school physical science teacher from Harrisburg, Pa., was elected as NEA vice president, making her now one of the highest-ranking African-American female leaders in the labor movement.
Pringle served since 2008 as NEA secretary-treasurer, where she oversaw the fiscal integrity of the organization while advocating on professional issues important to educators and students, as well as issues of equity in education, diversity in the classroom, and human and civil rights.
As vice president of the nations largest union of educators, I will work to ensure that NEA lives up to its rich history and legacy of human and civil rights, which is the foundation for realizing a great public school for every student.
Rounding out the top three NEA leadership positions and making NEA the first major union to be led by three women of color, Princess Moss was elected secretary-treasurer. Her responsibilities will include overseeing the multimillion dollar budget and fiscal integrity of the organization.
NEAs delegates have elected some extraordinary leaders who will continue to push for equity in education and carry on the organizations commitment to student-centered union leadership and our commitment to social justice, said outgoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who leaves the term-limited post after six years.
Teachers Union VP: Gun Rights Supporters “Are Going to Hell”
Kyle Olson | Jun 26, 2013
NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia even believes she looked into their souls and determined that NRA leaders and supporters are going to hell.
I’m not an ordained minister, I’m not a theologian, but these guys are going to hell, she said at the annual Netroots Nation conference last week, according to Mercury News.
We have to make those senators as frightened of us as they are of the gun lobby, she reportedly said. Shame on us if we give one inch to the gun lobby. They got where they are because they never give up. ... Now the movement is us; we are the ones we were waiting for.