Mr. Weaver, Tear Down the NEA Wall

After putting their money on Hillary Clinton early on in the process, it seems the national teachers unions are quickly regrouping, endorsing Barack Obama for the presidency.  The NEA (which never officially married Clinton, but clearly had bought a ring, announced that Reg Weaver is recommending the Assembly endorse Obama at next month’s convention.  (Thanks to Flypaper for pointing out Mike Antonucci’s post on this). 

Of course, the AFT had previously endorsed Clinton, has announced it “will engage in a process to prepare to make an endorsement for this fall’s general election.”  Anyone who has been around the political block knows that the AFT endorsement of Obama isn’t that far behind.  Hopefully, they’ll take the time to talk to McCain’s education team first, though.

Back in the winter, Eduflack asked what, specifically, AFT was supporting when it endorsed Hillary.  And the question is even more valid regarding today’s endorsement (or proposed endorsement) of Obama.  Is Reg Weaver endorsing Obama’s support for merit pay for teachers?  His support for Teach For America style programs?  Backing of charter schools?  Or is he endorsing the recent rhetoric attacking high-stakes testing and NCLB?  (I’ll put my money on the latter.)

I join with Obama in supporting merit pay for teachers and supporting charter schools, particularly in our inner cities.  And I was impressed when he went into the NEA and supported incentive pay, particularly when the union has been so strongly against it.  So does an endorsement of Obama mean the NEA is changing course on performance pay for teachers? 

Unfortunately, we may never know.  If yesterday’s post-primary statement from Weaver is any indication, this isn’t about Obama.  It’s about the NEA supporting the Democrats.  And that’s a cryin’ shame.  Now is the perfect time for NEA to get both candidates to put their education platform together, and let the brothers and sisters of the NEA weigh and measure both.

If we’ve learned anything from the Democratic primary, it is that hope trumps fear.  The positive far outweighs the negative.  And the high ground is far more adventageous than the mud pits.  Unfortunately, Weaver seems to have missed that point.  In calling on his nearly 3 million members to endorse the presumptive Democratic nominee, Weaver says:

“You can go down any list of what public school employees believe they need to truly help every child be successful, and you’ll see that Senator Obama supports that list and that Senator McCain not only opposes it, but has probably already voted against it.”

It’s unfortunate that the NEA can’t support Obama without attacking John McCain.  The NEA has effectively sat itself on the bench for the past eight years on federal education policy, deciding it was easier to shout into the wind than to look for some middle ground with the current Administraton.  If the Bush Administration wasn’t going to use the NEA’s ball, then the NEA just wasn’t going to play.  And it looks like they are drawing the same line again this year.

I’m all for effective rhetoric, and during campaign times, I’ve been accused of being a little vitriolic.  (For the record, I worked, successfully, on behalf for Democratic candidates, and have a keener than keen appreciation for the value of an NEA or AFT endorsement.)  But when the NEA says that McCain has already voted against everything a child needs to be successful, they do the union, its members, and the students they teach a great disservice.

The NEA endorsement will go to the Democrat.  We all know that.  But let’s make it about the hopes, policies, and positions he stands for.  It is an endorsement, and shouldn’t be an endorsement by rejection of the other guy.

No one has ever accused John McCain of being an opponent of education.  If anything, now is the time for McCain to start formulating a real plan on federal education policy and demonstrate his commitment to reform and school improvement.  He may not get the union endorsement, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get the votes of teachers. 

Mr. Weaver, how about letting McCain speak to the collected membership and make an educated choice? 

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