One NEA Message, Wrapped in Many Disguises

April 4, 2016

One NEA Message, Wrapped in Many Disguises. You would think by now the National Education Association would know that putting something like this at the start of a PowerPoint presentation…


…is just catnip to someone like me. But there’s no need for anyone to be alarmed because there isn’t much in this Top Secret training you haven’t seen in the EIA Communiqué before.

It is part of a workshop presented at NEA’s National Leadership Summit in Dallas at the end of February by senior communications specialist René Carter, designed to “help us to reach, teach and inspire the public and parents to support public education and our association.” It is titled, “Many Voices, One NEA Message.” I posted the entire PowerPoint presentation on the EIA web site and you can access it as well through the EIA Declassified page.

Here are a few of NEA’s tactics and not-so-secret secrets:

* “The question isn’t so much about what you want to say to them… rather, ask what do you want them to do? What do you want them to believe?”

* An acknowledgment that it has messages for internal audiences and external audiences, something I explored in an Education Next article in Winter 2015.

* The NEA “message triangle,” which made its appearance in a March 17, 2015 Intercepts post.

* The words “zip code” appear 8 times in a mere 21 PowerPoint slides, the use of which we discussed in a March 2, 2016 Intercepts post. It is strange that a workshop on communications strategy for the union should include a message frame with which the staunchest school choice supporter could agree: “The chances your child has for success should not depend on winning a charter lottery, affording private school, or living in the right zip code.”

* The “How to frame the conversation” slide defines “the problem” as too much testing, large class sizes and lack of funding. The next few slides show there isn’t much doubt about where the emphasis lies. Activists should introduce themselves to “pursuable allies to support more school funding.” Then the union’s issues are categorized within the three sides of the message triangle. The first side includes “resources,” the second side includes “salary and benefits” and the third side includes “salary.” The next slide explains how to talk about school funding.

* There is something new here: “Let’s exorcise NEA of ineffective language!” One example given of ineffective language is the term “toxic testing,” which was being used non-stop by NEA’s officers since its introduction at the 2014 convention. The new preferred formulation is “Testing takes students’ valuable time for learning.” Maybe NEA shouldn’t be keeping its communication strategy so secret. The Connecticut Education Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association still feature “toxic testing” prominently on their home pages.

* Finally, the presentation reiterates the findings of Celinda Lake’s “cognitive linguistic analysis” of NEA’s messaging, first uncovered by The Daily Beastin which phrases like “providing basic skills” are to be replaced with “inspiring natural curiosity.”

I don’t know how valuable this is to NEA’s opponents, but NEA thinks it is important. That means one of two things: 1) I’m missing its significance; or 2) there are people at NEA headquarters who ought to think a little more about how to listen to messages, rather than how to deliver them.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 29-April 4:

* West Virginia Support Employees Leave AFT. And then the raids came.

Meeting on Madeloni’s Job Status Called Off. I’ll have more on this soon.

* Nine Words. But only eight Justices.

New Jersey Education Association’s Finances. Staff post-retirement liabilities a constant worry.

NEA New Mexico’s Finances. Flush, as long as those national NEA checks keep coming.

Corporate Profit Margin Quote of the Week. “A good rule of thumb for evaluating whether an investment is a bad one is whether the person selling it will receive credit for the transaction in a sales contest. For example, consider the compensation section of the prospectus for the National Education Association Valuebuilder, a 403(b) structured as a variable annuity. In addition to ordinary commissions and noncash compensation, broker-dealers selling this product can be compensated with trail commissions or persistency payments, preferred status fees that pay ‘to obtain preferred treatment’ in the broker-dealers’ marketing programs, one-time bonus payments for participation in sales promotions, periodic bonus payments based on average 403(b) contract value for the year, reimbursement for attending sale conferences and for offering sales seminars or ‘similar prospecting activities.’ Nowhere in that agreement is there compensation for providing service or advice, getting to know a client’s goals or risk tolerance.” – Gary Brooks, registered investment adviser. (April 3 Tacoma News Tribune)