The Sad Triviality of the National Education Association’s Annual Conference

July 12, 2017

The Sad Triviality of the National Education Association’s Annual Conference. The National Education Association held its annual Representative Assembly in Boston last week. NEA boasts that the RA is the union’s “highest decision-making body” and “the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.” Most of the four-day convention was consumed by debate and votes on New Business Items (NBIs).

According to the union’s standing rules, NBIs are action items that “shall be specific in nature and terminal in application.” This distinguishes them from NEA’s resolutions, which are statements of belief rather than tasks to be accomplished.

There are a number of ways to get an NBI on the floor for debate, but the most common is simply to gather the signatures of 50 delegates. With 7,000 delegates at the RA, it is a low bar to clear.

NBIs cover a wide range of topics, some not even tangentially related to education or labor. This year the delegates submitted 159 NBIs, which may have been the most ever. But rather than examine the issues they addressed, let’s look at how the delegates disposed of them, and what specific actions they directed NEA’s officers and staff to perform.

By my count, the delegates approved 79 items and referred an additional 46 to committee without a recommendation up or down. I have itemized the actions the delegates directed NEA to take (some asked for more than one action):

  • 35 NBIs called for NEA to share information with members through existing communications channels;
  • 21 NBIs required substantive actions, such as mounting a media campaign, drafting model legislation, developing a toolkit, establishing a partnership, or expanding training;
  • 15 NBIs directed NEA to publish an article or write a letter;
  • 12 NBIs asked NEA to conduct a review of research or make a list;
  • 9 NBIs concerned the process of conducting the convention itself or other rudimentary internal union operation matters; and
  • 2 NBIs directed NEA to get U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to respond to a letter.

Each year NEA publishes a report on how it implemented the previous year’s NBIs. It is not surprising to see that it mainly consists of links to articles or editorials the union posted on its various internet outlets.

The world’s largest democratic deliberative body is essentially the world’s largest editorial staff meeting.

A precious few NBIs dealt with NEA’s internal policymaking practices, such as the procedures for endorsing U.S. presidential candidates. These were all referred to committees — specifically the committees the NBIs were seeking to reform in some way.

No NBIs addressed the implications of the possible loss of agency fees. None asked for a review of NEA’s campaign strategy or expenditures in the 2016 elections. And because the NBI debates went on for so long, there was no floor debate on NEA’s $367 million budget.

NEA will not be sitting on its hands during the 2017–18 school year. But its most consequential actions will be taken by the 12 union officers on the NEA Executive Committee, and not at the behest of its “highest decision-making body.”

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics June 30-July 11:

*  NEA’s New Charter School Policy Isn’t New. Not much has changed since 1992.

*  It’s Popcorn Time in Vegas. “We want a divorce.”

*  NEA Policy Statement on Charter Schools – Final Version. Threat of moratorium added from the floor.

*  Could This Resolution Put NEA Out of Business? “Private interests.”

*  Fingers in Ears, Shouting “La, La, La, I Can’t Hear You!” Delegates mostly punt on how to deal with opposing views.

*  NEA Convention 2017: New Business Items on Charters, Political Endorsements & DeVos. Why won’t Secretary DeVos answer our loaded questions?

*  NEA Friend of Education on the Best Education Available. LeVar Burton’s mom was a teacher. Where did she send him to school?

*  Offered Without Comment. “The Role of the Press in a Democracy.”

*  California Union Staff to Hold Informational Picket at NEA Convention. Pension funding top issue.

*  What’s $2.8 Million Among Friends? What’s the point of a Q&A on the budget if no one asks questions?

*  Almost Done In – West Virginia. The West Virginia Education Association is “broken,” says its president.

*  The 2017 NEA Convention Is Over; Let’s Get Ready For 2018! Proposed change to U.S. Presidential endorsement procedures.

Quote of the Week. “This change would hamper labor’s ability to pool resources and share information to engage in independent expenditures from coalition committees.” – Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association, commenting on a bill dubbed The Disclose Act that would require campaign ads to list the original source of the money that paid for them. (July 4 San Francisco Chronicle)