The Misnamed National Education Association

By Patrick Chisholm csmonitor. com | The Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Misnamed National Education Association


Patrick Chisholm csmonitor. com, The Christian Science Monitor


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.

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.

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