News Story

Teachers Union Not Really Against Student Learning And Better Teachers, Right?

Look beyond the label on resolutions defeated at NEA’s annual meeting

The nation’s largest teachers union failed at its recent annual meeting to approve a resolution in favor of student learning and another item that would make "every educator a great educator," moves that puzzle some observers.

The National Education Association voted on a number of resolutions, called “business items,” at the meeting. One question called on the union to “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”

A second item that delegates failed to ratify resolved the union work “towards the goal of making every educator a great educator” by adopting principles of National Board Certification, a recognition given by a separate organization.

Some free-market organizations and opponents of compulsory unionization observed that the teachers union appears to have “voted down student learning.”

Tammy Smith, the NEA’s state director in Alaska, proposed both business items at the NEA conference. She didn’t respond to an email seeking an explanation for why the union wouldn’t pass such business items.

Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, is a frequent critic of the NEA. Sand mentioned in an article on his organization’s website that the NEA failed to pass a business item on “putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”

“You would think that they would vote yes, if for no other reason than to pretend they really give a flip about kids. Really stupid IMO,” Sand said.

Sand wasn’t sure why the NEA wouldn’t pass the business item with the goal of “making every educator a great educator.”

“It is so vague and would make them look like teaching was actually important to them. Can’t fathom a reason why they nixed it,” Sand said.

Ben DeGrow, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s director of education policy, said it might be revealing to know why delegates at the NEA meeting voted down both items.

“The NEA doesn’t necessarily oppose student learning, but voted against making it a priority,” DeGrow said.

DeGrow also pointed to a statement a top NEA official made in 2009.

Then, NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin received a standing ovation for telling conference attendees, “This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like, are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not, and must not, be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

Jim Perialas is a teacher and the president of a local teachers union that is unaffiliated with the NEA, or the Michigan Education Association. Perialas heads the Roscommon Teachers Association at Roscommon Area Public Schools, which was started when teachers there decided to leave the MEA and NEA in 2012.

Perialas said he doesn’t have direct knowledge of why the NEA would vote down resolutions on improving students and teachers, but he said there could be a concern in how to reach those goals.

In regards to the NEA business item that asked the union to “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education,” Perialas said standardized testing could have been the issue.

Teachers are “sick and tired of the sheer amount of standardized testing,” Perialas said. He also said the NEA could be concerned that the process could be hijacked by people who are not in the education field and would then set the standards of measurement.

Perialas also said there could be many reasons why the resolution to “make every educator a great educator” was not adopted. He said its language potentially endorses the idea of requiring all teachers to obtain a national certification. He does not have that certification, and he doesn’t think many teachers in the state of Michigan have obtained it, either.

He said passing that business item could be a step toward certification, with more out-of-pocket costs for teachers, as well as having to spend more time out of the classroom.

“Michigan teachers will say we already have professional development overload,” Perialas said. “Here I am a 27-year teacher and I’m doing things on an annual basis to keep my certification.”

Perialas also said with some states experiencing a teacher shortage, the NEA may not want to raise barriers to entry that prevent qualified individuals from entering the profession.