Article published in The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
As a new school year opens, students, parents and teachers hoping for quality education face an ironic opponent: the National Education Association, America’s premier teachers union. When it comes to opposing common sense education reforms, the 3.2 million-member NEA is the biggest, baddest bully in the playground. Sadly, students who want to learn and teachers who want to teach suffer most from the union’s misplaced policies and politics.
When parents and kids shop together for school clothes, supplies and extra-curricular needs, they enjoy a bevy of choices in stores and manufacturers. That means they can shop around for the right products at the best prices. Makers of shoddy goods and retailers with lousy service will be forced to improve or lose business to better product providers. That’s how competition keeps quality and prices in line with customers’ needs and expectations.
But kids who go off to school with good, inexpensive clothes and supplies may receive education that’s just the opposite — overpriced and underperforming. That’s because the National Education Association fights every effort to let that same accountability and competition improve the product its teachers work hard to provide — the education of America’s public school children.
The NEA’s politicized leadership is fond of claiming that its efforts are in the best interests of students, but this is far from the case. Nowhere is this more clear than in its relentless mission to sabotage the accountability for results in the No Child Left Behind Act. While many groups have advocated ways to improve or change the law, NEA leadership has systematically worked to torpedo its reliance on academic standards and testing. Instead, it proposes a meaningless jumble of apples-to-oranges comparisons and “portfolio assessments” that would make it nearly impossible to evaluate the progress a school or its teachers are making in teaching our children.
The NEA’s leadership also stands in firm opposition to any plan to shift its teachers to performance-based pay determined by the achievement of their students. Blocking efforts to compensate good teachers more than bad ones, the union insists on determining pay raises strictly by seniority. It rejects paying teachers based on their area of expertise — thereby maintaining America’s shortage of good math and science teachers. And it stops retired folks or others who want to contribute their expertise from volunteering as teachers.
The NEA consistently opposes giving parents and students freedom of choice among public schools — so kids in districts with poorly performing schools can’t seek better education in nearby neighborhoods.
On the other hand, the union protects teachers who clearly threaten students’ best chances for a quality education. The tenure system makes it difficult to fire bad teachers; it can cost taxpayers nearly $200,000 to discharge a poorly performing educator.
The NEA shows no reservations about taking teachers’ union dues and spending them to spread a radical political agenda. Annual NEA dues can reach as high as $500. A little of it goes toward core union activities, like collective bargaining for contracts that keep members from having to attend after-school meetings or teach another’s class in an emergency. Some goes toward the hefty paychecks of NEA staffers, thousands of whom rake in six-figure annual salaries, far more than the teachers who pay them.
And a lot — as much as half, by some estimates — goes toward politicking. The NEA doesn’t restrict itself to lobbying on issues that directly affect education, like the No Child Left Behind Act. It doesn’t even restrict itself to weighing in on issues that indirectly affect education, like tax reform, which it sees as a threat to its own cash flow. The union lobbies on a host of unrelated issues, like statehood for the District of Columbia , even though many of its dues-payers don’t want it to.
Fortunately, teachers do have some recourse. In right-to-work states, they don’t have to pay union dues at all. And in others, while they can be required to pay dues for core union activities, they cannot be forced to pay for politicking, public relations or other non-essential union activities.
The NEA has done a solid job of stacking the deck against students, parents and teachers who want good schools. But that can change, if everyone interested in quality education stands up — and stops turning money over — to the NEA-borhood bully.
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