New NEA President Lily Garcia Meets Morning Joe and Fails the Test

Lily Garcia is the vivacious new president of the 3 million member National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher union in the nation. The NEA has struggled since they torpedoed a merger agreement with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 2000, in spite of the support of the NEA president the state federations sunk the plan, and, the NEA has drifted from leader to leader without much of a national presence. These days when you think of a national teacher union leader the only name is Randi Weingarten.

Lily, since her early July election has hit the ground running. She is the first NEA president to address the AFT convention and she very publicly chastised Arne Duncan, especially in regard to his “dumb ideas,” comments which undoubtedly play well with her membership.

Lily was a guest on MSNBC Morning Joe, a network with a left leaning viewership, the perfect audience for Lily. One of the troubling problems is that some of the strongest opponents of teacher tenure and opponents of teacher unions are within the MSNBC audience – left leaning democrats.

Unfortunately, in my view, Lily failed the test.

Watch Lily’s five minutes on Morning Joe:–end-factory-school-reform-333357123798

The program, as they frequently do, put on the screen a particularly harsh comment from Lily referring to Duncan’s “dumb ideas” and his strong support for high stakes testing of students. One of the program hosts, referring to the international PISA scores complained that as a nation we are doing poorly compared to other nations, and, wasn’t Lily’s objection to testing simply a copout?

Lily’s answer: Instead of testing we should use the number the of Afro-American and Hispanic students who take Advanced Placement courses … and it went downhill … too bad.

How Lily, in view, should have answered:

“Let’s look at data from the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). On the children poverty scale the US places 27th out of the 30 nations that reported data ….we’re better than Mexico and Turkey

childhood poverty:

Denmark 2.7%
Sweden 4.0
Finland 4.2
OECD 12.4
US 20.6

When we compare ourselves with other OECD nations on four year olds who are in school we’re in the lower third.

We have more teenage births than every country except Mexico.

We’re third from the bottom in childhood immunization rates.

We have the second highest family income among OECD nations.

According to the UNICEF measures of child well-being the US scores next to last, just ahead of the United Kingdom.

Of course if we subtract out the 20.6% of children in poverty and compare ourselves to similar children across the OECD we do fine.

These data do not absolve Duncan from “dumb ideas,” did you know that Duncan requires that 99% of children with disabilities must take the annual state tests even though their handicap prevents them from passing the test? Millions of students forced to take and fail tests … clearly a dumb idea.

Did you know that immigrant children must take the annual states tests after they are in the country for one year? Students with only one year of education in the US must compete with all other children … another clearly dumb idea.

Why do we need to test every student every year? The National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) progress uses sampling and is not offered every year. The only reason is to enrich test creation companies and, perhaps, to use the data to assess teacher performance, the problem: kids change year to year and the year to year results for teachers varies wildly, from 20 -40%…

Arne’s requirement for annual testing is another dumb idea.

Our kids, schools and teachers, considering the burdens placed on our children and families are doing surprisingly well … it’s our nation that’s in trouble.”

Lily and Randi Weingarten are good friends; Randi’s partner officiated at Lily’s recent wedding. If Lily gets up to speed Lily and Randi may turn Arne Duncan’s “dumb ideas” into meaningful and effective policy for families, schools and teachers.


3 responses to “New NEA President Lily Garcia Meets Morning Joe and Fails the Test

  1. As far as testing goes, I have always been guided by a little old lady African American Principal of an East Harlem elementary school,who said to an inquisitive NY TImes reprorter when asked by that reporter if she thought that test scores needed to be discounted because they were unfair measuring indictaors of minority pupil achievement. She said that she would gladly stop testing, and stop test preparation periods when Harvard did the same! Common Core and its philosophy and its mandates will take another 3 years or more of strong Teacher Development to fully become the guiding light its proponents would have us believe that it is.It may well be that ,a new Nat’l Commissioner with a reactionary agenda may well come along and throw it all out. Havent we seen a willingness to return to “good old standards” with our own latest NYC Schools Chancellor since her taking over?. Colleges, Universities and their Admittance Officers are finding that whereas in the good old days, some incoming freshman students had to take summer remediation classes in literacy and math, has now changed from some to many, that have to take remediation classes as a pre requisite to full time matriculation, or in some cases be limited to minimum matriculation hours while taking non credited auditing classes.


  2. Ken, 830 colleges no longer require ACT or SAT for some or all applicants because the tests are weak predictors and the colleges can get equally strong but more diverse student bodies without the tests. The test mania turns schools into test-prep programs that fail to prepare them for adult lives. See for more on these and other testing topics.


  3. Lily addressed us at the California Teachers Association state council and sounded promisingly combative, but my gut told me she was not the heavy-weight we need. I don’t think Randi Weingarten is either –her TV appearances have been dismal, in my view. The more I think about it the more I realize that this education business is rocket science –only an extraordinary mind can compass it all and debate effectively on all of its myriad fronts (tenure, testing, curriculum, etc.).


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