The National Education Association (NEA) is completely bent out of shape about some of the teacher quality language in the proposed House No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill. Problem is, they were OK with this language when it was part of Rep. George Miller’s smaller TEACH Act. For instance, here is their website touting Miller’s bill (scroll down) as an important NCLB fix. As Joe Williams notes, the American Federation of Teachers did a much better job of covering their bases here. What’s happened for the NEA is that they’ve managed to piss off Miller and Speaker Pelosi in a pretty big way. And, in the process, they’ve forced Miller to harden his position, hardly the outcome they wanted. Hard to know why this unfolded the way it did, but here’s my take: There are a couple of reasons.
First, for a long time the NEA really was the only game in town on education. They’re still very powerful, one of the most powerful organizations on any issue, but they’re no longer the only big fish in the sea. They are understandably having trouble adapting to this new environment. Second, they got out in front of their members on the TEACH Act. Its inclusion in Miller’s draft No Child Left Behind overhaul bill brought that to a head and means they got caught playing both sides against the middle. They didn’t want to oppose TEACH, it’s a Miller – Kennedy bill, but probably should have because they are in a worse place here. Third, a little bit of kabuki on this is good for everyone. Miller gets to burnish his reform creds and the NEA can show its members that it will go to the mat for them.
But it’s hardly all show. I think one of the things that most has Miller’s hackles up is the assertion that he’s somehow not down with organized labor because of proposals in his bill. This is a pretty good illustration of why the teachers’ union habit of calling everyone who disagrees with them anti-union and so forth is short-sighted, alienates people needlessly and has them out of position in today’s environment. George Miller is one of the most pro-union members of Congress at a time when labor needs all the friends it can find. But he shows that one can be pro-labor and also think that poor kids ought to get their fair share of education dollars, that we need accountability for teachers and schools, and that all the problems are not caused by demographics, the kids, or Republicans.