While most Americans were enjoying a festive Independence Day last week, the National Education Association was holding their annual convention in Washington, D.C. Beaten down after another solid year of negative press, declining membership, and legislative and legal battles, the NEA convention took on a hyper-partisan tone best reserved for partisan political rallies. Pegged as just another extension of the Democratic Party convention, the views coming out of the conference couldn’t be further from mainstream American teacher sentiments.
The convention comes on the heels of a clear public education crisis that is only getting worse. Despite a record level of spending in America, students from 16 countries are outperforming their American counterparts. To top it all off, educators are losing confidence in teacher unions in record numbers. This is not the recipe for a well-educated public—and stakeholders are taking notice.
Teachers across the country are fed up with the partisan politics, astronomical dues, and resistance to commonsense education reforms like never before. Calling the projected 300,000 membership losses “devastating,” union higher-ups are beginning to realize that following a mass exodus in teacher members, the NEA will be left with a $65 million budget reduction. This spells trouble for the nation’s largest union as the cuts will severely limit their manpower and well-oiled political machine.
Money troubles aside, the rhetoric coming from the NEA convention would shock many American teachers–a workforce just as political diverse as any other–into complete disbelief. According to the union-watchdog Education Intelligence Agency, NEA Executive Director John Stocks called NEA members “Social Justice Patriots.” A term meant to illustrate members’ duties to fight “opponents of the DREAM Act and voter ID laws, CEOs who make too much, and big corporations.”
Further, the NEA proposed a series of controversial measures, some having nothing to do with education at all. Among their many policy recommendations, NEA delegates considered resolutions opposing any policy of U.S. military action against Iran, an initiative to gather information on groups that “discourage NEA membership,” and a failed effort to recommend the ousting of reform-minded Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The ridiculous list goes on and on.
While the controversial measures stack up, among the most shocking is the NEA’s commitment to the 2011 endorsement to reelect President Obama. Despite the fact that members have not been surveyed and a Republican challenger has yet to be selected, the money is beginning to flow. Following the President’s telephone call to energize the crowd, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel promised that the union would put its full support behind the president's re-election: "We believe in you, Mr. President, and we're behind you all the way.”
Despite the mass applause for candidates and partisan speakers, there is growing dissention among the rank and file delegates based on the early presidential endorsement. Among the Republican and independent teachers who haven’t left the union already, dozens expressed severe frustration with the hyper-partisan tone of the convention.
In several interviews, teachers said they felt pressure from union leaders to support Obama's re-election — and felt marginalized when they wouldn't. Some teachers said they were so worried about retribution from their colleagues that they preferred to remain anonymous. The bully mentality clearly stretched beyond conference center walls.
Sadly, despite the massive disconnect, NEA leadership seems to be buckling down to attempt to weather the storm and emerge yet again as the largest contributor to partisan politics in the country. For those teachers still involved in the union, it is critical that you recognize where your dues are going. NEA membership directly supports these hyper-partisan initiatives and teachers must stay informed for the sake of the future of the profession.
As we approach back-to-school season, frustrated teachers and concerned citizens should be aware that educators have a non-partisan, non-union alternative with the Association of American Educators (AAE). Looking forward to a new school year in the coming months, we encourage teachers across America to take these revelations to heart and choose membership in an organization that best represents them and their profession. Those who don't identify with the unprofessional, partisan tactics of the unions should join with the over 300,000 other teachers who have embraced truly professional organizations like AAE.