Unionists need to start playing offense - not just defense, if we want to change the game and beat back attacks on public education, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told delegates.
"When you fight with defense, you stay where you are," Van Roekel said. "The truth is we are losing ground and our response must be strong and bold."
Those seeking to blame unions and tear down public education are well-funded and relentless. "We're not being paranoid," he said. "If they're actually after you, you're not paranoid."
Van Roekel said he's tired of those outside the profession trying to dictate reform.
He said reporters are incredulous when he explains how a Florida teacher, a state Teacher of the Year, was rated "unsatisfactory," based on the test scores of students in another elementary school down the road because she taught students too young to take a state assessment. Fifty percent of teacher evaluations in Florida is based on standardized test results. "Yes, sadly they do that," he said. "It's insulting."
Van Roekel, who taught high school math for 23 years, said it's similarly insulting when so-called reformers believe anybody with a math degree can teach math.
"The content is the easy part." Van Roekel said. "It's not just a matter of knowing how to do the problems in the book." It's knowing how to create a learning environment and having the knowledge to teach the skills and reach even the most reluctant learner.
That's why it's time to create a strong offense, he said. It's time for those in the profession to take the lead and improve public education from within the profession, not the outside. He urged them to use their professional voice to bring about change.
In that spirit, he told delegates about a new online vehicle at NEA's Edvotes.org, where teachers can use their professional voice by offering feedback on the value and drawbacks of specific standardized assessments.
He also urged delegates to have the courage to use their outside voice - and go to the June 8 rally in Albany.
"When you leave this convention, I hope you are gloriously dissatisfied and you will not wait another day to do something," Van Roekel said.
"We have the power to act, to inform, to make a difference. We have to have the audacity to believe we can do it."