NJEA Needs to Leave Joe Camel BehindJuly 6, 2009
Canary Carnage!July 8, 2009
A group called Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights has released a 36-page report entitled “National Teachers Unions and the Struggle over School Reform.” Signatories to the report include Former U.S. Senators Birch Bayh and Bill Bradley, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, and Chair William L. Taylor, Former Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The purpose of the study is “to set forth a full and fair explication of the words and actions of national unions over the last several years.” More to the point, it’s an exploration of the difference between the words and actions of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. This discrepancy is due to conflicting missions of the NEA ( a little less so for the AFT): to improve academic achievement for students and to promote policies that benefit educators. Sometimes those missions work in concert and sometimes they don’t, and the report clearly shows that, when push comes to shove, the unions vote for the latter.
For example, while the NEA has publicly espoused some measure of accountability for teachers, they actively resist “uniformly measuring student achievement – the basic requirement for a strong accountability system”:
The NEA position is more far reaching than that of either side in the multiple measures debate. It is arguing for allowing school districts and schools to adopt differing assessment systems, making comparisons between schools difficult, if not impossible. The bottom line is that the NEA would permit different standards for different children, a system that was prevalent during the days of racial segregation in schools.
And even when local unions embrace meaningful reforms, the national organization opposes them.
A 2007 report from the Citizens’ Commission, “Fresh Ideas in Collective Bargaining: How New Agreements Help Kids,” catalogued some initiatives “embraced by local teachers’ unions”: pay for performance, decreased role for seniority in hiring, enhanced professional development. However, according to the new report,
Over the last decade, the national leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have made their unions foes of laws and policies designed to improve public education for disadvantaged children.
It’s not a pretty picture, and certainly illuminates why the NEA booed Ed Sec Arne Duncan at the recent NEA meeting. He was talking reform. The NEA was talking job protection. And, according to the report, this irreconcilable difference in agenda is the primary obstacle in the way of improving schools.
There’s a bit of irony here. Finally, a true consensus has emerged on the key elements necessary to improve schools: standards, accountability, and assessment. But the national unions’ agenda, propaganda to the contrary, mandates an oppositional formula, one that waters down high standards and differentiation among teachers and students. The report doesn’t offer any suggestions beyond urging “the NEA and the AFT to reconsider their positions on the critical elements of reform.”
How do we get beyond the abyss that separates meaningful education reform and the agenda of the national teachers’ unions? Somehow, “urging” doesn’t seem like it’s going to get the job done.