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April 23, 2012

1)  The Eternal Role of the Strategic Action Initiative. It was with a great sense of déjà vu that I read the 37-page Strategic Action Initiative of the Oregon Education Association. For 15 years, I have slogged my way through strategic plans, mission statements, core values, and assorted other declarations of purpose, all describing a change of direction that will lead to the promised land.

The OEA draft document is better than most, but still contains many of the elements common to the genre. Recognizing that this was created for an internal union audience, I won't spend time dissecting the claims of "years of disinvestment in Oregon's public schools" or "the 40-year corporate campaign." Let's just look at the words.

We're informed that "this strategic initiative is built upon five key premises," although the document actually lists six. They are:

1) We will think and act boldly with the urgency and sense of purpose our times require.


2) We will build upon our strengths.


3) We will organize and engage our members around building collective power.


4) We recognize that collective power is not built overnight.


5) In 5 years we will live on a budget funded through direct membership dues.


6) We will continually listen, plan, act and evaluate.

The document says this is a "new way of approaching how we do our work as a union" consisting of "new strategies." It suggests that these are things the union has not been doing. But the picture of the future painted by the authors is so bright it distracts from the obvious question: Why haven't we been doing these things?

Everything we do – at every level – will be driven by a shared commitment to increase member participation and activism; capture our members' passions, commitments and dreams; develop the programs, policies and structures that help organize and activate our members to achieve the power to control their professional practice and transform public education in Oregon.

And what has been driving "everything we do" up until this point?

There are some significant changes in structure proposed by the document, and there are some things we have seen a million times before (increase PAC contributions 25% by March 2013, increase member involvement, et al.). What happens if these goals are not met? A new strategic action initiative, no doubt.

School reformers are crystal clear about what it is they are trying to reform, even if you think they are misguided or you disagree with them. They think seniority and tenure protections are harmful. They think contract provisions stifle innovation. Internal union reforms or new directions rarely address what they think is wrong with the current system. It's difficult to increase member involvement if you don't honestly identify what is keeping them away. Is "social media" really the answer to all communications problems?

These are issues common to most teachers' unions, but the Oregon Education Association has additional difficulties. This is an organization that, by its own admission, doesn't take in enough dues money to sustain itself, and has employees who have been working without a contract for almost a year. Maybe all the talk of new furniture should wait until the roof is fixed.

2)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from April 17-23:

*  NATO's New Adversary: The Chicago Teachers Union. "What are you rebelling against?" "Whaddaya got?"

Doesn't Debate Require More Than One Point of View? A table with a single seat.

Nothing to Fear. Reactionaries.

*  Breakfast at Tiffany's, Courtesy of Teachers' Union. Lie now, pay later.

Dribbling. Union of the 1% not immune from infighting.

3)  Quote of the Week. "But it is not an attack on government to observe that government is bad at running schools, anymore than it's an attack on shovels to note that they make lousy Web browsers. No single tool can do every job. Nor is it an attack on the ideals of public education to say that state monopolies are an ineffective way to pursue them. That's a confusion of ends and means. Public education is a not a particular pile of bricks or stack of regulations, it is a set of goals: universal access, preparation for participation in public life as well as success in private life, building harmony and understanding among communities." - Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute. (April 20 Huffington Post)


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