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NEA embraces union status. Et tu, CEA…?

Posted by Jul 7th, 2009.

I like clarifying moments. General counsel Bob Chanin’s farewell address to close this year’s NEA Representative Assembly was one of them. (If you’re ambitious and/or bored, a video of the 25-minute speech is available here.)

Alan’s despairing column about Arne Duncan’s speech to open the Assembly identified the problematic responses of some selected teachers resistant to merit-based pay reforms.

But the problem runs even deeper. Look all the way to the top rungs of the organization in its official pronouncements.

As Mike Antonucci explains, the tone was set by current NEA president Dennis Van Roekel — who “used the words ‘union’ or ‘labor’ 14 times in his speech, which is roughly 13 times more often than any previous NEA president”. Chanin, however, brought it home in clarifying fashion, as Education Week‘s Stephen Sawchuk reports:

In completing his speech, Chanin pointed out that the NEA using collective bargaining and strikes to more effectively represent education employees. And while NEA should continue to advocate policies to close the achievement gap and stop dropouts and promote educational equity, it should not do so at the expense of hard-won rights, such as due process or collective bargaining, he concluded.

“NEA and affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions, and unions first and foremost represent their members,” Chanin said.

A fitting capstone that nicely summed up the flavor of this year’s RA.

There was not a dry eye on the stage. The delegates gave Chanin a five-minute standing ovation. [emphasis added]

Did the Colorado delegation stand and cheer, too? Thank you, CEA.

Antonucci, who follows the national teachers unions more closely and carefully than any other outside observer, noted of the whole Assembly: “NEA finally embraced the labor union label it has downplayed for 25 years.”

Why the embrace? In a larger discourse about ornithological copulation, the Eduwonk opines on the new “union” emphasis:

It’s a smart strategy for the NEA. There is little love for their policies and stances these days* but making themselves invaluable to organized labor ensures some political relevance and toleration.

I don’t know enough to say how much NEA and its affiliates need to latch on to the broader labor coalition to ensure their political relevance, but at least in Colorado it fits the motif of last year’s fight to deny extending teachers’ right-to-work protections to the private sector.

Are the old guard unionists on the rise in the NEA, or was this year’s Assembly just their last hurrah? Because this year’s high-ranking lineup of speakers sure made it sound like the union is dead serious about keeping public education firmly in the mid-20th century while so many others work to move its delivery system, governance, assessment tools, accountability, and data management into the 21st century.

Finally, what do the reform unionists — especially those in Colorado — think of it all? Somebody had to ask.

Popularity: 2% [?]

3 Responses to “NEA embraces union status. Et tu, CEA…?”

  1. Marcia Neal - Colo. State Board of Education says:

    I take this opportunity to tack on to Ben DeGrow’s response to add another perspective. I must take the editor to task for adding, in an otherwise thoughtful and insightful effort, the gratuitous remark about the current NEA and the Republican Party having more in common…. Surely you realize it is the Republican party that has always stood for raising academic standards while the Democrats prattled on about self esteem and the joy of learning? They have voiced their opinions with their feet as they withdrew their children in favor of home schooling, charter schools and vouchers. Surely you realize that Gov. Ritter’s SB 212, his educational plan, was carried by State Senator Josh Penry and supported by the entire (and Republican dominated) State Board of Education? Our task now is to shepard the plan through the process and preserve Colorado’s stake in that process. It may be politically expedient to talk about preparing a “better test” to replace CSAP but the fact is, the current plan is actually stepping up to a higher level. I have two articles in my files, one from Tina Griego, the liberal Denver Post columnist, and one from the Colo. Republican Women. They both say the same thing: It was No Child Left Behind that brought us all to this place, where we agree to teach to standards, assess and report our results. The new standards are almost complete. Two vital tasks are next in line, assessment and teacher quality. Since President Obama and Education Sec. Arne Duncan allowed congress to shut down the Washington, D.C. voucher plan without any real opposition, we eagerly await their backing on the teacher quality issue.
    it is vitally important that we all back Colorado’s current effort to achieve quality education.

  2. Alan Gottlieb says:

    A careful reading of my letter, to which Ms. Neal refers, would reveal that 1) I specifically compare the NEA’s current attitude to that of the NATIONAL GOP, not its Colorado branch. Also, in making that admittedly provocative comparison, I was referring to the GOP’s approach to national legislation and national initiatives, not specifically to education matters.

  3. Kathy Hansen says:

    “(I)t is vitally important that we all back Colorado’s current effort to achieve quality education.”
    Truer words were never….

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