Teachers union out on fringe
7.22.10 – The National Education Association boasts a membership of more than 3 million teachers and is one of the most powerful interest groups within the Democratic Party. But, despite its size and influence, the nation's largest teachers union has positioned itself well outside America's political mainstream.
The NEA is so far out, the New York Times reported that union officials didn’t invite President Barack Obama or U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to speak at the union’s annual convention in New Orleans this year out of concern the 9,000 delegates might heckle them off the stage.
Never mind that Obama poured $100 billion in federal stimulus money into education last year, or that he wants to increase the Education Department’s budget to nearly $50 billion in 2011 even as the federal budget deficit tops $1.3 trillion. And pay no attention to the unprecedented steps Obama has taken to empower federal bureaucrats to usurp state and local education policy-making, which the NEA supports. To hear the nation’s largest teachers union tell it, the president’s policies mean the end of public education. The NEA is so far out that union President Dennis Van Roekel lamented in his keynote address to convention delegates in New Orleans, “[O]ur members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment that I have ever experienced.” Nonsense: Americans love teachers and care deeply about students.
If anti-union sentiment is rising, the blame rests entirely on Van Roekel and his ilk. They have all but purged the word “compromise” from their lexicons and, instead, continually insist taxpayers pour more money into a failing system.
The NEA is so far out that delegates on July 4 passed a “no confidence” resolution against Obama’s Race to the Top grant program. Now, there is plenty wrong with the $4.35 billion program. Overly prescriptive rules, top-down mandates disguised as guidelines – including a requirement that states “voluntarily” adopt national reading and math standards – and “stakeholder buy-in” that gives the union veto power over a state’s application are just a few of the problems.
But those weren’t what the NEA denounced. The union argues any competition “undermines public education.” The resolution’s author actually claims the reforms Race to the Top encourages – more charter schools, greater teacher accountability – “brutalize” students and educators.
For four days this month, speaker after speaker marched to the podium at a convention center in New Orleans to fulminate against charter schools, merit pay and virtually any other effort to change rules protecting incompetent instructors from layoffs while punishing energetic young teachers – reforms that have won bipartisan support this year.
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