Rick Hess invited Maddie Fennell to guest-blog this week. Fennell chaired NEA’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, the union’s effort to address teacher quality issues in the years ahead. In her first post, she discussed the commission’s report, Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning. There is much to like in the commission’s recommendations, but the real difficulty – as I noted last December – is not transforming teaching; it’s transforming teachers’ unions.
Change is needed in our profession; if we don’t choose to lead the change, then we will be forced to react to the changes being forced upon us. The Commission — a collaboration between accomplished educators who developed a vision and a call to action — was a first step, but it’s going to take an entire network of willing change agents to transform our profession and the education system. As the largest teachers union in the country, the NEA is taking responsibility for the quality of teaching and for student learning, and leading a substantive collaboration among all stakeholders.
What she doesn’t mention is the first attempt to inch the commission’s recommendations into NEA’s structure was an abject failure.
Among the commission’s recommendations was one to “address internal barriers to organizational engagement about teaching quality and student learning.” It called on NEA to “transform the UniServ Program, making UniServ directors advocates for educational issues to advance NEA’s professional agenda.” This recommendation prompted an influential group of delegates to the NEA Representative Assembly to submit New Business Item 4, which called on NEA to “create a plan for presentation at 2013 RA to implement” that recommendation.
The NBI was introduced by Steve Owens of Vermont, whom you may know from his blog Education Worker. The measure had the support of the Teacher Union Reform Network, Fennell, Massachusetts Teachers Association president Paul Toner, a host of state caucuses, and other individuals. But it was defeated handily by a voice vote on the RA floor. Why?
“NBI #4 became a screen on which the regressive forces in NEA projected their worst fears,” Owens said. ”The opposition did not listen to our arguments. They simply let their imagination run amok.”
Note that NBI 4 didn’t direct NEA to implement the recommendation, merely to create a plan for implementing it, subject to a vote by next year’s delegates. If you believe that teachers’ unions can become a primary instrument for professional quality in education, you are heartened by the prominence of people like Fennell, Toner and Owens in the organization. But you have to be disheartened that their first marginal effort to steer a new course hit such a big roadblock.