Conflict of Interest

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

In 2003, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranked the United States 18 out of 24 competing developed countries in educational effectiveness. In the face of such negative results, one would—mistakenly—expect to hear American teachers passionately call for systematic reform of our public schools. After all, education is about the students, right? Apparently not. Four years later, the National Education Association, the professional educator’s largest lobby in Congress, seemed more intent on pursuing partisan agendas en masse at the expense of student performance. The 2007 NEA Convention, held June 30 through July 5 in Philadelphia, PA, highlighted many social and political considerations ranging from gay rights to global warming to amnesty, but opposed school choice or tax credits for home-schooling parents.

This year’s convention resolution B-10 resurrects the specter of affirmation action, arguing that NEA believes “that to achieve or maintain racial diversity, it may be necessary for elementary/secondary schools, colleges, and universities to take race into account in making decisions as to student admissions, assignments, and/or transfers.” (emphasis added). The Courts have already ruled this practice unconstitutional, unless the process is “narrowly tailored”— in other words, taken on a case-by-case basis, not a race-by-race basis.

The NEA took a pro-amnesty approach to immigration this year, listing in its July 2007 publication, “Advancing NEA’s Legislative Program,” that it supports “comprehensive immigration reform that rejects the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and includes a path to permanent residency, citizenship, or asylum.” According to the Education Reporter, the resolutions’ language initially included concerns about national security, but the 2007 version eliminated the wording.

Other organizations have similarly noted the possibility of an NEA conflict of interest, prompting the NEA to emphatically deny these claims. The NEA web article “Setting the Record Straight: Responding To Attacks On the Association” asserts that “NEA is a union and a professional organization. It exists to improve the quality of public schools and the salaries and working conditions of its members. The two purposes are closely related.” (emphasis original). The NEA also accuses “ultra-conservative teacher organizations” of hypocritically opposing NEA unionism while being simultaneously quick to take advantage of union benefits.

However, many of the convention’s resolutions not dealing with gay rights, global warming, or opposing the Iraq war, seemed to emphasize higher wages and increased regulation, rather than higher performance standards. Resolutions A-24 and A-33 oppose school vouchers and parental option plans, and A-15 asserts carte-blanche that “The Association opposes any federal legislation, laws, or regulations that provide funds, goods, or services to sectarian schools.” Resolution B-75 seeks to perpetuate the double charge home-schooling families pay for their education; the NEA unequivocally asserts that “Home schooling be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians.” Otherwise, the government might actually give home-schooling families tax breaks to offset their expenses, and subsequently reduce public school funding.

The NEA doesn’t want federal funding diverted away from its students, but it does want the government to continue to fund teachers, regardless of their performance. Resolution B-64 supports standardized tests, except when “used as the criterion for the reduction or withholding of any educational funding.” Also, competency testing “must not be used as a condition of employment, license retention, evaluation, placement, ranking, or promotion of licensed teachers.” (emphasis added). NEA resolution F-2 also opposes applying market-based criteria to teacher salaries because it might reflect “the race and sex bias in our society.”

Most strikingly, the NEA does not want federal tax dollars spent on public schools to be recycled for private educational institutions—even when the public schools no longer want these resources. Apparently, once money is spent on public education, it must be used for this purpose or thrown away. NEA resolution A-11 opposes the use of closed public schools for private educational purposes, arguing that “closed public school buildings should be sold or leased only to those organizations that do not provide direct educational services to students. . . not in direct competition with public schools.” Such a loose definition of ‘competition’ might even preclude Sylvan Learning Center from using closed school buildings.

The NEA’s website states that the Association “encourages its members to become effective advocates for students by participating in politics,” because “teachers and educational support professionals are front-line soldiers in the battle for quality public education and education reform.” However, one might ask how policies which advocate overburdening of government programs, increase taxes, de-emphasize the illegal activities of ‘undocumented workers,’ and sometimes border on unconstitutionality, benefit American students at large.

Bethany Stotts is an intern with the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

 

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