Forward Thinking V. Backward Walking? CAP’s Inadvertently Useful Look At Compensation Reform

Last week an analyst at the Center for American Progress penned an interesting take on remarks (pdf via cache) by National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel at an EWA conference.  His remarks hadn’t received a lot of attention so it was a good catch.  Good enough that I returned the next day to send the link to a colleague. Except it was gone, replaced by a sad 404 message.  Later, a new version without any mention of the revisions appeared.  You can read that version here.

From where I sit the new version doesn’t undo the old one, but after a few omissions and commissions it’s definitely a great deal more NEA-friendly.  Paired with the first version it’s also a lot more revealing. CAP’s done some great work on the issue of compensation reform and their editorial process is theirs to decide, obviously, but the switcharoo points up some interesting issues.

First, an old one. The changes are a good example of how teachers union leaders frequently use different language in front of different audiences. Davis Guggenheim famously caught AFT President Randi Weingarten doing this in “Waiting for Superman” and for those who move among public and private settings, examples abound.  In this case, “forward thinking,” in the words of the first version, and the positioning the piece implied doesn’t play well with every audience, especially key internal ones. And the problem with published pieces as opposed to non-recorded remarks is that they become visible to multiple audiences as they travel around, not just the one you aimed for.

Second, NEA’s leadership may be trying to find a way to move away from “steps and lanes” salary schedules because while pitching them as an idea intended to keep salaries low is historically inaccurate, it is a politically smart way into a hard conversation about fixing what is generally regarded as a broken approach to compensation.  That’s an old story, too, think Bob Chase and new unionism. But, as stories and narratives go, in this context it’s an interesting and possibly smart  one.

As for what version is “better?” Neither. But together they tell an important story about where the nation’s largest teachers union is on an important and evolving issue.

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