I want to share with you some of my impressions of the NEA RA and try and respond to some of your questions.
1. What's different this year?
The main thing that's different is Barack Obama.
A lot of the hot button issues when we had Bush as president have a different meaning with Obama in the White House. The attitude towards charters is the most obvious, although not the only one. Perceived with little differentiation as an anti-union, anti- public school strategy under Bush, the simplest response that made the most sense was to simply say no. Now the discussion is more nuanced. New Business Item A, the main position statement on charters is an 8 point directive on how to collaborate on developing charters, rather than a plan of opposition to them. It was approved by the body overwhelmingly.
2. About the reaction to Duncan's speech. What does it signify?
Some education bloggers, including those who are here and some who are not, heard boos to some of Duncan's comments and got their pants all twisted around. There were some boos of course. But in plenty of conversations outside the hall, the reaction was considerably friendly and open. I found this was almost universally true among minority teachers. Remember, Obama got booed when he spoke at the RA in Philadelphia during the primary campaign and the NEA members voted for him in huge numbers.
Outside the hot house of wonker debates, and away from Chicago, where we have had
experience with Duncan's leadership, the Duncan approach works pretty well.
His personal story about his mom, and the success stories of the lives she touched, is a powerful one, particularly if you haven't heard it dozens of times before.
Again, there is the issue of context. As one observer said to me, a Bush EdSec could have come into the hall and given the same speech and the place would have gone up in flames (of course, no Bush EdSec ever did or ever would).
But Duncan can talk about pay-for-performance, teacher accountability, charter schools and even testing and get an entirely different reaction. He can do it because of Obama. Teachers know Obama isn't an anti-union guy, and Duncan says it in a way that implies respect for union input and voice. Nobody in the Bush USDE ever did that.
3. Will the NEA jump into charter organizing.
I can't tell if they are willing to put the resources, organizers and money into it that it requires. But they now have permission from the rank-and-file. That's new.
4. Why do I complain about my seats? Because it's funny. And true.
Two things you don't hear around the hall: Not much about the economic crisis. Nothing about the wars.
See you soon.