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July 28, 2003

1)  Nadeau Resigns from NEA Executive Committee. Wayne Nadeau of Vermont resigned his seat on the NEA Executive Committee in response to mounting internal opposition. Nadeau had been under the gun for over a week after Vermont newspapers learned his teaching license had been suspended for having sex in his classroom with a female teacher’s aide.

Shortly after the story hit, Nadeau sent a “Dear Colleagues” letter to NEA officials and the union’s board of directors in which he stated, “I deeply regret the hurt, embarrassment, and discomfort that actions of the past have caused my family as well as my professional colleagues.” He referred to the incident as “a past indiscretion of mine with a female co-worker.” The July 17 memo also implied that Nadeau was ready to ride out the storm. “Regrettably, past events can’t be erased, but I sincerely hope that my present and future actions will reinforce the confidence that has been placed in me as a member of the NEA Executive Committee,” he wrote.

But Nadeau miscalculated the level of umbrage taken by his NEA colleagues. The story received a lot of play on talk radio in Oklahoma, a state where the union is especially sensitive to the effects of NEA controversies on its membership numbers. But evidently the wheels were already turning. The new president of the Oklahoma Education Association, Roy Bishop, sent out a press release on Wednesday calling on Nadeau to step down. “The Oklahoma Education Association and its members are devoted to high standards, teacher quality and building respect for the profession,” he said. “We don’t believe Wayne meets these criteria and call on him to resign immediately.”

On Thursday, Nadeau tendered his resignation to NEA President Reg Weaver, who notified state affiliate officers that Nadeau had concluded “it will be impossible for him to function effectively as a member of the Executive Committee and to achieve the goals he set for himself when he ran for the position.”

The Executive Committee has the authority to fill vacancies in its ranks between elections, and is expected to appoint someone to Nadeau’s seat at its next official meeting in August. An obvious choice would be Mark Cebulski of Wisconsin, who was the next highest vote-getter for the seat at NEA’s 2003 convention earlier this month. However, the Executive Committee can appoint any member, who would serve until July 2004. At that time, convention delegates will vote for someone to serve the remaining two years of Nadeau’s term. The appointee, should he or she decide to run for the rest of the term, would have the significant advantage of incumbency.

The focus of the story now shifts from Nadeau to the way NEA and its affiliates handle information. Nadeau wasn’t the only one caught with his pants down, and now the union is struggling to cover itself. Some of EIA’s union readers are expressing skepticism that NEA – and especially Vermont NEA – had no knowledge of Nadeau’s “indiscretion.” But EIA’s own sources confirm that the union was unaware of Nadeau’s suspension, and that Vermont NEA had no clue why Nadeau had retained a union attorney. So when the story broke, NEA acted on instinct, defensively. “The matter is closed,” said NEA spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons. “The Vermont Department of Education has taken care of the matter,” said Vermont NEA President Angelo Dorta. Apparently, enough people within NEA disagreed with this sentiment to force Nadeau to change his mind about resigning.

But why didn’t they know? Well, Vermont NEA was victimized by the very confidentiality laws they champion. Non-disclosure policies are meant to protect the innocent from baseless charges, not to enable both the district and the school employees to cover up embarrassing but true incidents.

More importantly, the Nadeau case illustrates NEA’s ongoing inability or unwillingness to deal with bad news. Visit the NEA web site today and try to find a single mention of this two-week-old story. Or the Vermont NEA web site. The Vermont newspapers ran with the story, but the only national attention has been through Internet outlets. Vermont NEA still hasn’t taken an official position, a failure which will bite back when members ask questions at the start of the school year. There is no doubt in my mind there will be NEA delegates who voted for Nadeau this year who will show up for the 2004 convention wondering where he is and why they are voting for someone else to fill out his term.

They didn’t know because they really didn’t want to know. Wayne Nadeau counted on that, and he was only done in by what amounts to a stroke of bad luck and an obscure public records request. Are there others like him? Do you really want to know?

2)  Catholic High Resists Michigan Union. Teachers at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Michigan, want an election to determine whether they should join the Michigan Education Association. This would hardly be newsworthy if it weren’t for the fact that Brother Rice is a Catholic high school.

School officials took their case to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, where they claimed negotiating with the union would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Such challenges have had mixed success in the past, but are becoming less likely to succeed as Catholic schools rely more and more on lay faculty instead of clergy.

We will see more stories like this in the future, as unions react to vouchers and membership losses, and Catholic school teachers react to lower salaries and fewer job protections when compared to those of public school teachers. But teachers’ unions in Catholic schools will remain an anomaly. Unions operate most effectively when they can apply similar strategies in one district after another. Flexibility in unique environments is not their strong suit, and an archdiocese can be a more formidable foe than even the most defiant school district.

3)  Nevada Amicus Briefs Funnier than Seinfeld. Not content with the farce produced by its first amicus brief that led to a national political uproar (see last week’s EIA Communiqué), the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) filed another, this time to prevent the case from receiving a rehearing by the Nevada Supreme Court.

The supermajority debate lost its immediate crisis status when one of the fifteen Nevada Assembly Republicans changed his vote. The tax increase thus passed with a two-thirds majority in both houses. The only thing on which both sides agree is that the issue is not going away. Supporters of the supermajority want the state Supreme Court to withdraw its opinion. Last Thursday, NSEA filed its opposition brief.

One of the complaints is that none of the parties to the original suit sought the type of “relief” the court provided. NSEA was happy to address the question:

“Certainly the radicals were not going to suggest such a possibility, since it was only because of the Gibbons Initiative that they were able to maintain an effective veto power over any tax proposal. Nor, for sound political reasons, were the Governor, the Attorney General or the legislative majority likely to suggest that the Gibbons Initiative ought to be struck down or given a limiting construction. After all, the Initiative had been highly popular with the voters, and if the voters were so eager to disenfranchise themselves and most of their fellow citizens, who were the politicians to argue? For these reasons, it was left to the Education Associations to argue in their amicus brief that the Court ought to take a hard look at the Gibbons Initiative.”

There you go, Nevadans. You voted for the supermajority. Neither your governor, nor your attorney general, nor your representatives of either party saw fit to challenge your decision. Thank heavens the Nevada State Education Association was there to straighten out your moronic impulses. Express your appreciation at your earliest opportunity.

4)  Quote of the Year? Every so often, someone is able to state in a simple sentence a profound, if obvious, truth about American public education. The most recent example comes with a soon-to-be-released report from the University of Washington about the nation’s superintendents and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But the ramifications of the quote go beyond that topic. In fact, where you stand in education’s political battles shouldn’t affect your recognition of the statement’s wisdom.

The Associated Press, in reviewing an advance copy of the report, talked to Jim Harvey, a researcher at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a division of the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

“The public discussion about what schools are supposed to do isn’t reflected at all in the internal dynamics of the schools,” Harvey said.

Lay the blame where you will, but the debate over what public schools ought to be doing is not the same as the debate over what they are doing. What Harvey calls the “internal dynamics” are what give us the schools we have, not the well-intentioned remedies of lawmakers. When the public policy and internal education worlds collide, there is a lot of heat and smoke, but it’s usually the public policy that gets obliterated. Each world makes fundamentally wrong assumptions about the other.

The policy world fails to recognize that public education is a unique institution in American life. It rarely responds to the reward/consequence model that most of the rest of us live by. The chain of command is amorphous. Most of the people who pay for the service don’t use it. Many of the people who use it don’t pay for it. Its support functions take on a life of their own, sometimes supplanting the education mission. Subjective employee evaluations are misused and abused by administrators, but at the same time objective measures are derided as inadequate by employees. Finally, though we are all interested and involved in the debate over public education, a very tiny few of us ever see it at work under normal circumstances.

Lawmakers only see schools under controlled conditions. Parents visit on open school night, and some may even observe a few classes. How many have attended a staff meeting? How many have seen a substitute teacher work? How many have visited the detention classroom? How many have read or examined the textbooks? How many have attended an in-service or other professional development seminar? The public, and its representatives in government, labor under assumptions about public education that may not be accurate.

School employees and their unions often make the “walk in our shoes” argument. At the 2003 NEA convention, President Reg Weaver told the delegates they should not allow their achievements “to be swept away by people who would not last a day in our classrooms, nor would they know what to do on a school bus, or in a cafeteria with our students.”

The education world may be right about that, but fails to recognize the implications. If the public really understood the internal dynamics of public education, it might respond with sympathy and greater funding. But it might instead conclude that the system is too dysfunctional to repair. Yes, if a parent, a politician or a reporter taught your class for a day, he or she would probably screw up royally. But what if, instead of recognizing the monumental task you face everyday, that person simply refused to acknowledge his deficiencies, and insisted on teaching your class for a week, or a month, or a year? What if instead of seeing he was damaging each student’s opportunity for a good education, he insisted on remediation while he figured things out? How would you get rid of him?

A lot of the bitterness in the public education debate comes from two sides arguing loudly in different languages about which direction to go. It’s impossible to choose wisely if we don’t know where we are.

5)  Quote of the Week #1. “Is there gay math?.... What next? Maybe we should have schools for chubby kids who get picked on. Maybe all kids who wear glasses should have special schools. It’s ridiculous.”– New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, on the opening of New York City’s first public high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students. The school expects an enrollment of 170 students by September 2004. (July 28 New York Post)

Quote of the Week #2. “Oh sh--.”– California Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, upon discovering an open microphone was broadcasting throughout the Capitol remarks being made in a private discussion by legislative Democrats. One lawmaker suggested that Democrats may want to “precipitate a crisis” in the budget this year in order to bolster support for a proposed ballot initiative to lower the supermajority threshold needed to pass a budget to 55 percent. Goldberg herself said, “What you do is you show people that you can’t get to this without a 55 percent vote.” (July 22 San Francisco Chronicle)

 

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