NEA loses members, dues

With membership — and dues — falling, the National Education Association is trying to reinvent itself, reports Ed Week.

Since 2010, the teachers’ union estimates, the NEA has lost the equivalent of 100,000 full-time members, bringing its overall numbers to approximately 3 million educators. By the end of its 2013-14 budget cycle, the union expects it will have lost 308,000 full-time members and experienced a decline in dues revenue projected at some $65 million in all.

“The public-sector unions are in panic mode,” said John I. Wilson, a former NEA executive director. They need to ” make new friends to move an education agenda that is of service to the country.”

Teachers’ unions donate to a broad range of groups, reports the Wall Street Journal.

What do the American Ireland Fund, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network have in common?

All have received some of the more than $330 million that America’s two largest teachers unions spent in the past five years on outside causes, political campaigns, lobbying and issue education.

. . . The two unions typically give to advocacy groups that have been involved in various civil-rights struggles and that they think will turn out at the polls. Donations went to the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Italian American Foundation, the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil-rights group and the World Outgames, a sporting event hosted by the gay community.

A gift of $7,250 from the AFT to the Bnai Zion Foundation in 2011 went to support a school for abused children in Israel. A $10,000 gift to a Palestinian educator in 2007 went to teachers in the Palestinian territories whose salaries hadn’t been paid in months, the AFT said.

Some union members have protested the use of their dues to fund gay rights and abortion rights groups.

NEA spent $133 million to lobby, aid allies

The National Education Association spent $133 million on lobbying and supporting allies, reports Dropout Nation.

Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality collected $318,848 from the union; the progressive Economic Policy Institute got $255,000 and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (“a leading advocate for the charter schools the NEA opposes so virulently,” notes DN) received $40,000.

The usual suspects are also on the list: Communities for Quality Education, which has long been subsidized by the NEA, collected $1 million in 2010-2011. Anti-testing group FairTest picked up $35,000 this time around. . . .  Meanwhile the NEA directly poured $43,000 into the Save Our Schools rally held this past July; this doesn’t include dollars poured in by state and local affiliates.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel made $460,060, a 16 percent increase over the previous year; Lily Eskelson, was paid $371,904, a 14 percent increase.

The NEA collected $399 million in dues and other revenues in 2010-2011, nearly the same as the previous year, despite a 4 percent decline in membership.

Teachers’ unions are likely to lose members and dues in states that have passed anti-union measures. In Tennessee, which limited the union’s bargaining power, teachers are leaving the union.  Wisconsin’s teachers’ union was forced to lay off 40 percent of its staff.

NEA likes GOP bill to revise NCLB

How’s the ice skating in hell? The nation’s largest teachers’ union likes the Senate Republicans’ No Child Left Behind overhaul, reports Politics K-12.

The National Education Association sent a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander supporting his NCLB revision bill.

In particular, the union is in favor of the accountability provisions in the bill, which would largely leave decisions about how to fix all but the bottom 5 percent of schools to states. The Alexander bill would also offer additional options for states seeking to turn around struggling schools. (NEA isn’t such a fan of the current menu put forth by the Obama administration.)

. . . The union also likes the fact that the bill would maintain disagreggated data (breaking out student performance by subgroup), and allow for multiple measures to demonstrate student achievement.

The union even likes the bill’s teacher-quality provisions, which provide merit pay incentives but don’t require districts to pay extra for performance.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin is negotiating with Republican Sen. Michael Enzi on another NCLB rewrite. A draft could be released next week, predicts Politics K-12.

Like the waiver package and the Alexander bill, many of the proposals under discussion represent a signficant departure from current law. They would put most of the federal focus on schools that are struggling the most, leaving states to decide what happens when it comes to student achievement in the vast majority of schools, including for particular subgroups of students.

The drafts now circulating don’t set achievement targets as long as students are improving. States wouldn’t need federal approval of their college-and-career-ready standards.


Dastardly philanthropists

“Corporate foundation” and “corporate” were used as a catch-all insult at the Save Our Schools rally, writes Kevin Carey. For opponents of school reform “corporate” appears to be a synonym for “dastardly” or “scum-sucking.”

A “corporate foundation” is accountable to owners and shareholders, he points out. ExxonMobil Foundation justifies its underwriting of  “Masterpiece Theatre” by the public relations benefits that “help mitigate some of the less popular aspects of being a gigantic energy conglomerate.”

By contrast, the Carnegie Corporation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Century Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and many others are independent non-profit foundations that got their money from rich people who founded large corporations. There’s a difference. The politics of Henry Ford and the interests of the Ford Motor Company are by no means aligned with the strategies put forth by the Ford Foundation.

Education reform’s enemies are “corporate” in nature, argues RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The two teachers’ unions are “billion-dollar organizations” with well-paid staffs and CEOs.  The AFT’s Randi earned $428,284 in 2010,while the NEA’s DennisVan Roekel was paid $397,721.

Like their peers in the corporate world, the two unions devote countless hours developing strategies aimed at maximizing their core mission — serving their shareholders and customers, who, given that they are teachers, are one and the same.

Like their corporate peers, the unions use marketing, branding, public relations, lobbying and political contributions, Biddle writes.

Billionaire philanthropists should build new institutions and stop trying to fix old ones, advises Jay Greene. “In general, existing institutions don’t want to be fixed.”


NEA OKs value-added — only in theory

The National Education Association has approved the use of test scores to evaluate teacher performance — “but the union’s leaders underscored that no existing standardized tests currently meet the criteria for inclusion spelled out in the policy,” reports Teacher Beat, which is covering the NEA convention.

NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle said the union will work to create a “truly high-quality evaluation and accountability system that honors our profession.”

Delegates added more qualifications:

• Objective evaluators must now “be agreed to by the local affiliate,” which would, for example, not permit evaluators like the district-hired “master educators” used by the District of Columbia’s IMPACT teacher-evaluation system.

• On tenure-granting (or as the union calls it “career status”), the original proposal said that teachers after receiving two “meets” or “exceeds” ratings on evaluations should earn tenure. But the final version says tenure should be granted for a good evaluation “at the end of their probationary period.”

• On top of all the other requirements, standardized tests used in evaluations would now have to be “developmentally appropriate,” too.

Delegates also voted to endorse President Obama’s re-election, despite an earlier resolution titled “13 Things We Hate about Arne Duncan.”

After Superman, what?

Done Waiting hopes to use Waiting for Superman as a catalyst for a grassroots education reform movement.

Education Reform Now is managing the coalition, which will advocate for “greater access to excellent public school options, like high-performing charter schools, for all families; putting a highly-effective teacher in every classroom and treating them as a valued professional; and, above all else, placing the best interests of children ahead of those of politicians and special interest groups.”

These are pie-in-the-sky goals: How should we give all kids access to excellent schools or find an excellent teacher for every class? What does it mean to put children first?

Rick Hess is dubious about the “Take Action” page on Superman‘s site, which is mostly devoted to promoting the movie and a companion book.

The page on “what parents can do” offers five items: “get local school ratings and parent reviews on,” “demand world-class standards for all students,” “talk to your teachers,” “do what’s best for kids, not adults,” and “make a teacher’s job easier.” The page on what “you” can do adds: “help students succeed” by supporting “,” which amazingly “helps ensure every child graduates from high school prepared for college and for life;” “pledge to see the film;” “help your local school;” and “attend a school board meeting.”

This is “vague, tepid, and remarkably inconsistent with their revolutionary declarations,” Hess writes. Those trying to leverage Superman‘s impact should “focus on the concrete and actionable,” he suggests.

GOOD: Getting e-mails of departing viewers who will put up yard signs for reform-minded school board candidates, encouraging supporters to work the phones, their neighbors, and their e-mails to push their state legislators to take the lead on specific changes in statute.

BAD: Pledges to care more, to be “engaged,” or to write letters on behalf of “reform.”

Instead of trying to get everyone to care more, focus on lobbying key decision makers, such as legislators who might vote for “mayoral control of troubled inner-city schools” or stripping down “licensure requirements and tenure protections.”

Voting for reform-minded politicians is all very well, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. But educated, middle-class parents can make a direct impact on the system: Choose a diverse public school for your own children.

In schools with a critical mass of middle-class children, everyone does better. If Davis Guggenheim and his friends all sent their kids to urban schools, those schools “would improve overnight.”

. . . all around the country, affluent families are choosing to send their children to racially and socio-economically integrated schools, in places like Cambridge and Berkeley, but also in less likely spots such as Alexandria, Virginia; Stapleton, Colorado; and Miraloma Park, California.

This is no easy decision, to be sure. I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, a very diverse suburb of DC, and my wife and I are agonizing about whether to stay or go, mostly because of the schools. (Our oldest son is only three, so we have some time.)

As long as reform means fixing the schools of “other people’s children,” it’s not going to get very far, he argues.

It’s a lot easier for middle-class people to buy a Prius than it is to send little Emma and Aidan to a school with a lot of poor kids.

Not everyone predicts a Superman-inspired movement. The NEA decided against $3.5 million campaign to counter “the media propaganda of this summer’s series of anti-teacher union documentaries,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

In the end, union officials decided it wasn’t worth it, said John Wilson, executive director.

“I think the films are a blip. They will come and go, but the union will still be there, our members will still be in these schools,” he said.

Tom Lehrer warned that caring isn’t enough.

Update: “You don’t send your child to a school to improve the school,” writes Checker Finn in response to his colleague, Petrilli. “You send your child to a school that will improve him (or her).”

You should drive past bad schools in search of a better one for your kids — and the great dual crime of American education policy is (1)  there are far too few truly better schools and (2) far too many families lack the means (or, in many places, the right) to opt into those schools.

Improving bad schools and starting great new ones is hard work for educators, policy makers, political leaders and advocates, he writes. Parents’ first job is to do what’s best for their own children.

NEA: 'no confidence' in Race to the Top

By a slim margin, National Education Association delegates voted “no confidence” in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top, reports Stephen Sawchuk in Ed Week’s Teacher Beat.  Delegates also opposed using competitive grants in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind).

It was a symbolic slam on the Obama administration. But as with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s keynote speech, it stopped short of actually calling out the U.S. president, a supporter of the program. And the debate over the item provided the clearest picture yet of both the internal and external difficulties the NEA faces pushing against an education agenda promoted by a Democratic administration, rather than a Republican one.

The union isn’t willing to say that it opposes the education policies of President Barack Obama, Sawchuk notes.

For the NEA, Barack Obama is quickly becoming the equivalent of Voldemort: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

While some state and local affiliates have signed on to Race to the Top, opponents are very angry.  One “no confidence” backer said:  “The Race to the Top is a gun with bullets in it to take out teachers, public education, and the union itself.”

Teachers’ unions shun Duncan

Guess who’s not coming to speak at the National Education Association’s convention in New Orleans? President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, once welcome at the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers conventions, aren’t on the guest list this year “partly because union officials feared that administration speakers would face heckling,” reports the New York Times.

The largest union’s meeting opened here on Saturday to a drumbeat of heated rhetoric, with several speakers calling for Mr. Duncan’s resignation, hooting delegates voting for a resolution criticizing federal programs for “undermining public education,” and the union’s president summing up 18 months of Obama education policies by saying, “This is not the change I hoped for.”

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the union, the National Education Association, told thousands of members gathered at the convention center here.

Many teachers feel they are being blamed for problems that are beyond their control. Union leaders are angry that Obama and Duncan aren’t willing to cut Race to the Top reforms to fund a $10 billion education jobs bill.

The  NEA spent $50 million in 2008 to help elect Democrats; the AFT spent millions more.

“If the teachers sit on their hands this fall, it would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has studied the teachers’ unions.

Duncan is trying to avoid confrontation. “Some state and local unions are very thoughtful and progressive and are embracing innovation,” Duncan told the Times. “Others are more entrenched in the status quo.”

Teacher pay: Up or down?

Over the last decade, teacher pay declined after inflation in every state, claims the National Education Association.

Not so. Teacher pay rose in 36 states after inflation, responds Jay P. Greene, looking at the NEA’s own data.

. . . we see that salaries increased by 3.4% nationwide over the last decade after adjusting for inflation.  The increase in average salary outpaced inflation in 36 states

. . .  total compensation for public school teachers has risen much more rapidly than just salary because of the rising value of benefits.  In addition, the numbers the NEA provides are the increase in the average salary, not the increase for the average teacher.  The huge increase in new teachers over the last decade who begin with lower starting salaries makes the rise in average salary smaller than the average raise that each individual teacher has received.

According to the NEA, the average teacher in 2008-09 was paid $54,319, excluding benefits, Greene notes.  The average school revenue per pupil was $11,681, up from the previous year.

Update:  The NEA has revised its press release to say teachers have lost ground in “many states.”

Bipartisan bastards for education reform

We’re All Right-Wing Bastards Now, writes teacher Larry Sand of the anti-union California Teachers Empowerment Network in City Journal.  Sand is responding to a speech by Bob Chanin, the outgoing general counsel of the National Education Association, who called critics of the union “conservative and right-wing bastards” who oppose public education.

People of all political stripes—not just right-wing “bastards”—are starting to realize that the single biggest impediment to education reform is the NEA itself.

. . . Just two days before Chanin’s speech, the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights released a report, National Teachers’ Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform, maintaining that the teachers’ unions consistently blocked meaningful education reform and accusing the NEA of trying to end enforcement of the No Child Left Behind act. The unions “almost uniformly call for the spending of more money and the creation of more teaching positions which, of course, result in an increase in union membership, union income and union power,” wrote one of the authors, David Kilpatrick. . . . Kilpatrick spent 12 years as a top union officer, while the study’s other authors include former senators Bill Bradley and Birch Bayh, D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and civil rights leader Roger Wilkins—all liberals.

“People of goodwill across the political spectrum” are fighting for “real education reform,” Sand writes. I think that’s right.