The misnamed National Education Association

By , csmonitor.com

Too bad truth-in-labeling laws don't apply to names of labor unions. If they did apply, the National Education Association would have had to change its name long ago.

Calling itself an education association is like calling the United Auto Workers union a driving association. A more accurate name for the NEA would be something like the National Teachers Association, which would convey that the organization 's overarching mission is not about educating students, but about furthering the financial and occupational interests of teachers.

In fact, the National Teachers Association was the original name of the NEA when it was established in the 1850s. It changed its name to the NEA in 1870. Back then it was more of a professional association devoted to teacher training and educational innovations.

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Well into the 20th century, the NEA was opposed to labor union activities like strikes and collective bargaining. But that changed beginning in the late 1950s. By 1973 the NEA had become a full-blown trade union, deducting union dues from teachers' paychecks and agitating for better pay and benefits through strikes and collective bargaining.

The NEA 's current status as a labor union poses an inherent conflict of interest with the mission of educating children. Following are some reasons why.

1) How can you effectively teach children if you can 't even replace incompetent teachers with good ones? The NEA has imposed collective bargaining contracts and pushed through state laws that make it extremely difficult to fire teachers.

2) Not only do administrators have little control over firing, but also hiring. The union has arranged it so that teacher vacancies are filled not based on who is most qualified, but who has the most seniority.

3) The United States desperately needs better science and math teachers in order to reverse our children's miserable performance in those subjects, as compared with other industrialized countries. To attract top teachers in those fields, they need pay incentives - similar to what universities often do. But different pay for different subjects is anathema to the NEA.

4) Exacerbating the shortage of good science and math teachers is the requirement, championed by the NEA, to take years of education classes before being allowed to teach. For people highly knowledgeable in certain fields, that's a big disincentive from entering the profession.

5) Onerous union work rules harm children's education as well. According to an article by City Journal contributing editor Sol Stern, union contracts stipulate that teachers in New York City should not attend more than one staff meeting per month after school hours, walk children to the school bus, patrol hallways and lunchrooms, cover an extra class in an emergency, attend lunchtime staff meetings, or arrive a few days before the school year starts. It also can be extremely hard to accept volunteer teaching labor at schools, since the union sees this as work that could go to paid union members.

6) Parents have nary a role in the formulation of that which so heavily affects the quality of their children's education: union contracts. They are essentially shut out of the negotiating process.

In addition to the above, the NEA works hard to block many public policies aimed at improving the quality of education. School choice is an example. Nearly everyone agrees that competition incentivizes people to improve the quality of whatever it is they 're doing, be it businesses that compete for customers, nonprofits that compete for donations, or schools that compete for students. Yet the NEA vigorously opposes voucher programs that would increase competition with private schools.

And if the NEA had its way, it would be much harder to compare and contrast public schools when deciding which one to send your child to (or which school district to move to). Standardized tests greatly facilitate this process. But the NEA issued a resolution that it "opposes the use of standardized tests when...results are used to compare students, teachers, programs, schools, communities, and states."

The NEA frequently claims that raising teachers ' salaries and spending more on education improves the quality of education. While this could conceivably be true, money without reform achieves little, or nothing. Case in point: the Washington, D.C. school district, which spends the most amount of money per student in the nation yet has one of the lowest average test scores.

The other major teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, at least has an accurate name. The agendas of it and the NEA are so similar that they often have considered merging. Several state-level affiliates already have merged.

The late Albert Shanker, the AFT's longtime president, famously remarked in 1985, "When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."

That nicely sums up the NEA as well.

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