Article published in The Orange County Register (CA)
“The victories last night mark a critical change in course,” explained Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, one day after the recent elections. “Now the task is to make sure lawmakers make good on campaign promises. There must be accountability.”
The question is — accountability for what?
The nation’s largest teacher union — the NEA — is a self-proclaimed champion for “the cause of public education.” But this year, the NEA has endorsed all kinds of issues that have nothing to do with education — including a moratorium on capital punishment, a verifiable nuclear freeze, and legislation to expand Native Hawaiian land ownership.
The union has also called for a study into reparations for slavery, a tax-supported, single-payer healthcare plan, and “stronger federal action in solving the problem of toxic waste dumping.”
Late last month, the NEA’s annual financial disclosure report was released by the Department of Labor. The report shows that the union is spending a substantial portion of the dues paid by its 2.8 million members to promote a disturbingly one-sided political agenda.
Over the past year alone, the union has donated millions of dollars to liberal groups like Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, The Human Rights Campaign, and People for the American Way.
It has funneled tens of thousands to the Democratic Leadership Council, Grassroots Democrats, and Democratic Gain, and given nearly $100,000 to the polling firm of leading Democratic strategist Stan Greenberg.
Indeed, the union devoted nearly $27 million to “political activities and lobbying” in 2006, and dedicated another $74 million to “contributions, gifts and grants,” most of which furthered its partisan goals. In total, these funds comprised nearly 40 percent of the NEA’s $344 million budget.
Regardless of one’s feelings about these groups, parties, or issues, they have nothing to do with education. And these NEA causes certainly don’t reflect the views of its members.
Perhaps more troublingly, in the political areas where the NEA weighs in on education, it often opposes what’s in the best interests of students and educators alike.
Look at accountability. The NEA has proposed its own alternative to the No Child Left Behind Act, rendering the law’s accountability provisions meaningless by replacing standardized tests with subjective and arbitrary evaluations to gauge a school’s academic performance.
Meanwhile, NEA’s leadership regularly calls for increased school funding at the federal level, without asking schools to show results. Federal education spending has already more than doubled since 2001. And numerous studies have been unable to find a relationship between increased spending and better performance.
In fact, students in the four states that spend the most per pupil have average SAT scores 16 percent lower than in the states that spend the least.
Performance-based pay for teachers is another prime example of the NEA’’ political agenda standing in the way of better education results. In the nation’s inner-city schools, the best teachers often leave for better salaries, nicer neighborhoods, and less stressful work. Merit pay makes it possible for these schools to retain good teachers by paying them more. But the NEA fights such measures, viewing them as a threat to its power.
School choice is another example. Using teachers’ dues, the NEA regularly stands against allowing students who are trapped in underperforming schools to transfer to a better school by using tuition vouchers. Study after study has demonstrated that voucher systems boost student achievement in both public and private schools, regardless of socioeconomic background.
The NEA claims to champion America’s public schools. But in reality, it has the interests of neither students nor teachers at heart. Still, the NEA’s president is right about one thing — there must be accountability.
Perhaps it’s time for rank-and-file members — America’s teachers — to demand some from their leaders.
David White is an adjunct scholar at the Lexington Institute, a public policy research organization based in Arlington, Virginia.
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