How Not to Make Friends

When Eduflack used to work on Capitol Hill, he was all too knowledgeable about how organizational “score cards” worked.  Cast one vote, and the League of Conservation Voters would give you a perfect score.  Cast another vote, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses would quickly be investing in the district, working to get your opponent elected.

The one constant in all of this — scorecards were based on votes.  The only way to effectively “score” a congressman or senator was the voting record.  Yays and nays.  No points for abstentions or missed votes.  And a quick check of the Congressional Record verified any and all scores.

The National Education Association, though,  has decided to change the dynamic.  For an organization that seemed almost devoted to protecting the status quo, they are charting new territory in the lobbying front.  Earlier this week, it was revealed that NEA is now threatening poor scores on those congressmen who fail to co-sponsor NEA-supported amendments to NCLB reauthorization.  Kudos to DFER (www.dfer.org) for shining some sunlight on this situation.

Believe it or not, Eduflack hates to criticize the NEA.  Too often, we attack the organization, and some see it as an attack on teachers themselves.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve said it many times — teaching is one of the toughest assignments out there.  The stakes couldn’t be higher, and we struggle to bring the profession the respect and recognition it deserves.  And at the end of the day, even the most successful curricular program will fail without a good teacher.  An effective teacher should be untouchable.

Unfortunately, the NEA often acts like a political monolith, and not like the membership organization for millions of public school teachers that it is.  By changing the game, and judging members of Congress based on their co-sponsorships, the NEA is doing a significant disservice to its rank-and-file members.  What is NEA saying?  Issues like family leave, safe workforce conditions, children’s health, equal protections, environmental safety, student loans, and other such policies important to teachers are now taking a backseat to amendments that will never see the light of day.  We don’t even know what NCLB 2.0 will look like, and already NEA is demanding tidings at its altar.

What about those members of the Appropriations Committees, who traditionally do not co-sponsor any bills or legislation?  Guess they are anti-teacher.  Same goes for the leadership, that often stays out of the amendment fray.  They must be against the NEA.  And for those members who have an education LA who failed to get the memo who may miss the deadline, looks like they are destined for the NEA hit list.

Without question, the NEA is, and should be, a major force in the development of K-12 policy and K-12 politics.  The NEA knows it has the organizational ability, the financial resources, and the grassroots power to influence elections.  I, for one, had been most appreciative of the phone banks and volunteer support NEA has provided my bosses in past elections.

NEA’s strong-arming tactics, though, send the wrong message at the wrong time.  Yes, NCLB is an important issue for the NEA.  But it shouldn’t be the only issue.  Instead of scare tactics and threats, NEA should be in the room, with sleeves rolled up, working with Miller and Kennedy and company on how to improve the law.  Those improvements don’t come from the flurry of amendments that will never make it to the floor, nor do they come from state-by-state anti-NCLB lawsuits that will never be adjudicated.  Improvement comes from negotiation.  It comes from partnership.  And it comes from a shared commitment to a common goal.

When NCLB was passed, it was heralded as a law to ensure that every child had an opportunity to succeed, both in school and in life.  Some of us still believe in that goal, and are still committed to that reality.  We should all throw our full efforts into improving opportunity and options for all students.  And it takes hard work, not score cards or lists of signatories, to get us there. 

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