Is the NEA Really a NUT?

Is the NEA really a NUT? By asking, I’m not casting aspersions on the National Education Association’s sanity, just on its choice of name. The NEA’s British counterpart really is a NUT: It is the National Union of Teachers. British educators unapologetically acknowledge that their union is a union, while their American peers cling to a name that belies their organization’s agenda — literally.

Consider the first 10 agenda items from the NEA’s recent national meeting (brought to my attention courtesy of blogger Captain’s Quarters):

  1. [No description] — defeated
  2. Participate in a union-funded anti-Wal-Mart publicity campaign — adopted
  3. Investigate financial firms that support private Social Security accounts — adopted
  4. Add “other” and “multi-ethnic” to all forms asking about ethnicity — adopted
  5. Commemorate a 1966 NEA merger — adopted
  6. Form a coalition to preserve the status quo on Social Security policy — adopted
  7. Inform members about the niceties of different pension plans — adopted
  8. Publish an article on the purported ill effects of perfume — adopted
  9. Provide funds for air quality seminars — adopted
  10. Form a work group on health care issues — adopted

None of these resolutions, it should be noted, pertains to the education of children. In fact, it is not until agenda item No. 15 that such a resolution manages to squeeze its foot in the NEA’s door (it concerns the use of technology funds). Another 14 agenda items roll by before anything related to classroom instruction reappears on the list (in reference to the federal No Child Left Behind Act).

The overwhelming majority of agenda items from the NEA’s meeting concern employee benefits; political lobbying related to employee benefits; efforts to promote political causes unrelated to employee benefits; efforts to boycott or otherwise punish employers outside the field of education who are considered unfriendly to unionization; mundane issues of internal union protocol and paperwork; and, in at least one case, raising barriers to entry into the teaching profession by expanding certification requirements (which, by reducing teacher supply, allows existing teachers to command higher salaries). Overall, fewer than 10 percent of the meeting’s 92 agenda items can be reasonably construed as relating to the education of children in academic subjects.

There is nothing wrong with that.

The NEA is not a citizens action group selflessly dedicated to improving American education by the most effective possible means. It, like the more aptly named NUT, is an employee union of public school workers. As such, it rightly seeks to better the compensation and working conditions of its members, and to protect the existing public school monopoly that ensures them a degree of employment security unparalleled in the private sector.

Why does the distinction matter?

It matters because, in executing its responsibility to protect its members’ interests, the NEA often suggests to the public that its primary motivation is to promote children’s educational welfare. Not only is that goal not at the top of the union’s agenda, it is barely on its agenda at all.

So if you have children or grandchildren of your own, or if you are concerned for the educational welfare of other people’s children, you can, in good conscience, remind yourself of one thing whenever you see the NEA lobbying for or against some public policy: The NEA is a NUT.

# # #

Andrew J. Coulson, an adjunct scholar at the Commonwealth Foundation, is senior fellow in education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.