Which Side Are You On?

July 18, 2016

Which Side Are You On? I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but I can recognize when the seams start to split on the law President Obama proclaimed a bipartisan “Christmas miracle.” The divide isn’t exactly along party lines, but two distinct groups have emerged and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn where the teachers’ unions have landed.

After their experience with the No Child Left Behind Act, it was always the intention of NEA and AFT to help craft a federal education law with few mandates, even fewer sanctions, and as much funding as possible. Their intentions fell in line with Congressional Republicans and state governments, who also wanted less federal interference with public education systems.

That’s all well and good, but there are other groups who know only too well what happens when their interests are left to the discretion of state and local governments – neglect. So they have organized to apply political pressure and get federal regulations that protect the underserved.

Helpfully, the two groups signed competing letters to U.S. Secretary of Education John King. The teacher union side asked King “to refrain from defining terms and aspects of the new law that Congress gave communities the flexibility to determine.” The other group asked King “to issue strong regulations clarifying the means by which school districts must demonstrate their compliance with the ‘supplement, not supplant’ requirement in Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”

Much more interesting than the arguments each offered were the lists of the undersigned to each letter. The “flexibility” team included NEA and AFT, as well as the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of State Boards of Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, National School Boards Association, School Superintendents Association and National Association of Elementary School Principals. Or, categorized in a different way, public school labor and management.

The “strong regulations” side includes The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, American Civil Liberties Union, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Association of University Women, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Children’s Defense Fund, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Easter Seals, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of United Latin American Citizens, NAACP, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Council of La Raza, National Disability Rights Network, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Indian Education Association, National Urban League, National Women’s Law Center, PolicyLink, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, and the United Negro College Fund.

And which education groups signed that letter? Alliance for Excellent Education, Democrats for Education Reform, The Education Trust, New Leaders, Teach Plus, and The New Teacher Project – all of whom coexist uneasily with teacher unions.

NEA has been congratulating itself on all it has done in the past year to combat institutional racism, but when it comes to the union’s self-interest it will stand opposite all these heavy hitters of the civil and disability rights movement and identify entirely with the institution.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered this topic today:

NEA Adds $1.4 Million to Massachusetts Anti-Charter Campaign. Because 12 more charters each year in a state with more than 1,800 public schools would be too many.

Quote of the Week. “Clinton got what she wanted from the NEA: money and good news coverage about being booed by a special interest group that she does not want to appear close to. The question remains, will the NEA get what it wants from Clinton?” – DeeAnn Grove, education consultant. (July 10 Des Moines Register)