Saturday, September 29, 2007

Unions and Education

I was going through an older issue of “The Economist” (July 21st, 2007) and came across an article entitled “’The teacher’ holds back the pupils” about the stranglehold the National Education Workers Union has on education, and too an extent politics in Mexico.

I swear if you dropped the identifying information from the article and just addressed it as a generic education union in an unidentified country it could be about the NEA in the US.

The similarities are astounding:

a. Extremely large size giving the union enormous political clout
b. Opposition to educational reform in spite of falling performance in the schools
c. Devotion to a large bureaucracy
d. Overwhelming support to one political party
e. Demands for increased government spending on education in spite of the systems manifest failings.

The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest professional employee organization in the United States, representing public school teachers and other support personnel (membership is mandatory in various school districts), faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has 3.2 million members and is headquartered in Washington DC. It employs over 550 staff and had a budget of more than $307 million for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.


In recent decades the NEA has greatly increased its visibility in party politics, endorsing almost exclusively Democratic Party candidates and contributing funds and other assistance to political campaigns. The NEA asserts itself "non-partisan", but critics point out that the NEA has endorsed and provided support for every Democratic Party presidential nominee from Jimmy Carter to John Kerry and has never endorsed any Republican or third party candidate for the nation's highest office[10][11]. Based on required filings with the federal government, it is estimated that between 1990 and 2002 ninety percent of the NEA's substantial political contributions went to Democratic Party candidates. Although this has been questioned as being out of balance with the more diverse political views of the broader membership, [12] the NEA maintains that it bases support for candidates primarily on the organization's interpretation of candidates' support for public education and educators.

Others benefitting from NEA funding, according to the most recent filings, include Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International and AIDS Walk Washington.[13]

The organization tracks legislation related to education and the teaching profession and encourages members to get involved in politics through a comprehensive Legislative Action Center on its website. Because of the NEA's large membership it commands considerable funds and personnel, and therefore exercises substantial power in the political process.

NEA involvement in political causes and party politics has long been a contentious issue itself with some members and others forced by work rules to pay union dues. In a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court (Davenport v. Washington Education Association) on behalf of 4,000 Washington State teachers who are not NEA members but are nonetheless forced to pay NEA dues, the Court partially addressed the issue of collection and use of dues by unions such as the NEA


Substantial criticism has been leveled against the NEA and other teachers unions for allegedly putting the interests of teachers ahead of students and for consistently opposing reforms that critics claim would help students but harm union interests.[31] The NEA has supported class size reductions and across-the-board salary increases for teachers: two measures that increase the number and compensation of NEA teachers. On the other hand, the NEA has often opposed measures such as merit pay, school vouchers, reforms to teacher tenure, curriculum reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, and many accountability reforms. Critics note that in general, the NEA opposes any measure which distinguishes between poor and good teachers, makes bad teachers easier to fire, or increases competition. In a 1999 interview, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan said that "ever since the judges have gotten heavily into education, and the National Education Association has gotten into control of that Department of Education, test scores go down, there’s violence in classroom, things are going wrong".[7] Also criticized is the NEA's alleged "goal of changing public opinion on homosexuality, starting with the youngest generation,"[32] according to a former chairman of the NEA Ex-Gay Educators Caucus. [33].[34] [35]

Some have criticized the NEA for its opposition to education reforms of Republican administrations, including the bipartisan No Child Left Behind law and pay-for-performance plans such as merit pay.[citation needed] Also criticized by some is what they perceive as the NEA's promotion of the gay rights agenda, especially since the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals 2005 case Fields v. Palmdale School District.[citation needed] The court in that case ruled that parents' fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children "does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door," and that a public school has the right to provide its students with "whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise

I can't really say I care about the Gay Rights agenda but the complete opposition to accountability is disturbing to me. In essence what the NEA is doing is a giant Ponzi scheme in which we the taxpayer contribute enormous amounts of money in return for future returns that never materialize. In the reakl world people go to jail for that.

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