In yesterday’s WSJ ($) Daniel Golden reports on one of the five (plus two) underreported education stories, discussing the NEA’s membership woes:
The rise of nonunion teacher associations is helping erode the longstanding clout of the NEA, the nation’s biggest union, with 2.7 million members. Rival nonunion groups have amassed at least 250,000 predominantly rural and suburban members in 18 states — including recent start-ups in Washington state, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia — by offering lower dues, a less-confrontational attitude toward school boards and fewer social pronouncements than the NEA. Now, after years of growth, NEA membership and revenue are leveling off, and younger teachers are less inclined than older teachers to agree with union positions.
The NEA’s travails have broad significance for education in the U.S. The union has used its clout to increase education spending and shrink class sizes. But it has also defended the status quo, fighting measures to hold teachers accountable for student test scores and to offer parents more choices in their children’s schooling.
Any weakness in the union would also have big political ripples. One of the Democratic Party’s staunchest allies, the NEA has a substantial presence at this week’s Democratic Convention. About 6% of delegates and alternates are NEA members.
NEA membership growth started to flatten three years ago. In 2002-03, membership declined from the prior year in 20 states. Nationwide, membership among teachers and other school personnel — excluding members such as students and retirees, who pay much less in dues — increased 9,262, or 0.4%. For 2003-2004, the union again anticipates growth of less than 1%.
Golden, however, notes that some of the alternative unions are no longer eschewing political involvement which seems sure to create problems for them.
Also in yesterday’s WSJ, June Kronholz looks at Senator John Kerry’s relationship with the NEA:
But the unions are wrapping their support for Mr. Kerry around opposition to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education program. “Today many of our public schools are straining under the so-called No Child Left Behind law,” Mr. Weaver declared to the Democratic convention last night. “This law is underfunded and threatens to leave even more children behind.” The unions are demanding changes to an initiative that many Democrats voted for and still generally support.
That could be a price that Mr. Kerry may be unable, or unwilling, to pay. The Massachusetts senator has generally endorsed the NEA’s “fix it and fund it” mantra for No Child Left Behind. He promises more money to implement the law. He opposes judging schools by test scores alone, and proposes adding graduation rates and teacher and student attendance as other measures of school quality required by statute.
But Mr. Kerry hasn’t promised big changes unions want, such as scrapping the “adequate yearly progress” measure that determines how schools are performing. And some of his proposals make teachers see red. In exchange for money to recruit, train and pay raises to teachers, he wants to make it easier for schools to fire those who are incompetent. Mr. Kerry calls for tougher teacher-certification tests — someone with about a 10th-grade education could pass them now — and for “rewards” for teachers who show “more skill or better results.”
That has unions worried. Paying different salaries to different teachers based on their performance or the subject they teach “strikes at the heart of unionism,” says Diane Shust, the NEA’s chief lobbyist. But such ideas play well with voters, though, and give Mr. Kerry the added protection of not appearing beholden to the unions.
Incidentally, from the same article:
Democratic pollster Peter Hart warns that “you lose” by arguing for more money for the schools without demanding something in return.
If these are not must-reads then no such animal exists!
Meanwhile, some schools are looking into Atkins style menus. We need weighted student formulas!