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April 8, 2002
1) NEA Portal Stalled Until Fall. OWL.org, the NEA portal originally slated for a Fall 2001 launch, has been delayed until Fall 2002. Even this unveiling is being described as "limited," though the union continues to sign on content providers.

NEAís forays into cyberspace are described in great detail in the April 2002 Journal of Labor Research. In an article titled "The school of hard cyber knocks: NEAís experience," authors Sam Pizzigati, Barbara Yentzer and Ronald D. Henderson, all NEA staffers, tell us that the "technology choices the Association makes, many NEA leaders and staff have indeed come to believe, will determine NEAís future." They believe that cyberspace interaction can "help a union deepen and broaden contact with members and the public, increase the value members perceive in membership, and realize important organization efficiencies."

Those are hardly controversial conclusions, but itís clear that even now NEA fails to grasp the power of the Internet and what it will mean to the unionís future. Pizzigati, Yentzer and Henderson do seem to understand the interactive nature of cyberspace, as they encourage unions to allow members to create content and engage in lateral communication, as NEA does with its successful Works4Me listserv. But unions that want to effectively utilize the medium have an inherent dilemma -- one which the authors come so close to articulating but just miss.

"To become indispensable to membersí daily lives, the Association had to speak to members as individuals," they write. "Unions traditionally see information as something that is generated by the union and then distributed to members," they add. Even more to the point, Pizzigati, Yentzer and Henderson conclude: "With modern cyber software, in short, content creation can be decentralized and democratized. Members can be empowered. But first, of course, members need to be trusted. A top-down union, comfortable with command-and-control internal information-sharing processes, might be unnerved by this prospect. A top-down union, uncomfortable with anything but command-and-control, will likely never succeed in cyberspace." They even credit cyberspace for energizing the anti-merger forces in 1998.

As they totter on the precipice of a real epiphany, the authors falter. The obvious next step is to ask what will happen to the union when members are treated like individuals, and when information is decentralized and democratized. The authors, wildly optimistic about cyberspace, can come up with no better application of the mediumís potential than to gather personal information from members, mobilize them for political action, and "potentially turbocharge the New Unionism."

Sigh. All NEA can think about is how cyberspace will help it get members to do something. Completely unexamined (perhaps even unimagined) is what if cyberspace helps members to get NEA to do something? What if members share internal information not previously filtered through the communications staff? What if they decide to support or reject legislation not included in the unionís legislative program? What if they become unhappy meeting once a year in a group of 9,000 and would prefer a different arrangement? A membership truly engaged in NEAís workings might make it a stronger union, but it would be a fundamentally different union than the one that exists now, and in ways utterly unpredictable to those who hope to harness that power.

Will the NEA portal revolutionize the union? Pizzigati, Yentzer and Henderson recount the unionís cyberspace history and the signs are not hopeful. The original NEA bulletin board service cost the union lots of money for little organizational return. NEA then moved on to NEA Online, a partnership with the then-fledgling America OnLine, which cost the union lots of money with little organizational return. Next came the NEA web-site which, according to a March 2000 survey, only 21 percent of members have ever visited, usually just once or twice. State affiliates showed similar results with their sites.

NEA has invested heavily in the portal, and is investing heavily in other cyber-ventures, such as its new partnership with Teachscape. But its focus, as EIA described in its July 1999 report Strange Places: Inside the 1999 National Education Association Representative Assembly, "will be to use state-of-the-art technology in pursuit of old-fashioned objectives."

2) NEA Releases Annual Ranking and Estimates. Each year, NEA publishes its rankings of the states in various statistical categories, most prominently average teacher salaries. You will read a lot of conventional analysis of these numbers and heaven knows EIA never wants to be conventional. The NEA spin on its numbers is that teacher salaries are "stagnant" and have been for 10 years, "barely keeping up with inflation." Fine, theyíre entitled to highlight whatever findings they have. What they wonít tell you, however, is why the average teacher salary will remain stagnant for a while yet -- and it isnít due to taxpayer stinginess.

The first and most important factor that will depress the average teacher salary is the average teacher. As a larger and larger percentage of current teachers retire, they will be replaced by new, younger teachers. New teachers make less than older teachers, a tradition cemented into place by the traditional salary schedule, staunchly defended by the NEA. The average teacher of this decade will have less experience than the average teacher of the 1990s, and thus will have a lower average salary, all other factors being equal.

The second, more indirect factor is the trend in teacher hiring. Last August, upon the release of the U.S. Department of Educationís Projections of Education Statistics to 2011, EIA noted the rather curious prediction that by 2011 we will have about 100,000 more students in K-12 schools than we do now -- but we will have 350,000 more K-12 teachers. Some of this is due to class-size reduction, another aspect of public education staunchly defended by NEA, and some is due to districts trying to get in front of a looming teacher shortage, yet another theme defended by NEA.

NEAís own numbers show student enrollment growing at 0.7 percent for 2000, and an estimated 1.0 percent for 2001 (enrollment is down in 23 states and DC). Indeed, student enrollment has grown by a total of 14 percent over the last 10 years, yet the number of classroom teachers has grown by 22.8 percent over that same period. According to NEA, the number of classroom teachers will grow by 2.1 percent in 2001. Hiring additional teachers at the low end of the salary scale further depresses the average teacher salary.

Finally, states with lots of teachers tend to have higher salaries. Five of the top 10 states in the number of teachers are also in the top 10 in salaries. Two more are in the top 20. This explains why only 13 states have teacher salaries above the national average.

3) Opposition to AB 2160 Gets Organized. The commentary in opposition to AB 2160, the bill dreamed up by Wayne Johnson and the California Teachers Association to expand the scope of collective bargaining, keeps coming in waves. But now, for the first time, we are seeing the extent of the organized opposition.

Californians for Public School Accountability, a coalition of taxpayer, business, school administration and school superintendent groups, has established a web-site (http://www.AccountabilityNow.org) to battle the CTA legislation. There have been ad hoc coalitions formed in the past to fight legislation -- to unionize charter schools, for example -- but this is the first time a formal organization has been built to defeat a single bill.

The Long Beach Press Telegram and the Stockton Record joined the long parade of newspapers opposed to the bill. Such unanimity is rare in California, but absolutely unique is the number of newspapers running second and third editorials in opposition to the bill, which is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, April 17 in the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security Committee.

Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee interviewed all five Democrats on the seven-member committee. One, Virginia Strom-Martin, is the billís co-author. The other four seemed jittery about it. Even the very liberal Carole Migden of San Francisco called the bill an "aggressive act" and "incendiary." But she might vote for it anyway.

Yesterday, the San Diego Union-Tribune called the bill "a turbocharged monstrosity," "an attempted coup" and "one of the most pernicious education proposals ever concocted by the California Teachers Association." Such language is not limited to the California papers. The bill is now starting to get national attention. Todayís Wall Street Journal called it "a grubby union power play masquerading as concern for academics." But the best line went to Michael Lynch of Reason magazine, who wrote: "The proposal seems so over the top that it has the whiff of a hoax." Sorry, Michael, in Wayneís World all things are possible.

4) Merger Lessons Failed to Cross Atlantic. The following is excerpted from the April 4 issue of The Guardian of London:

"The second largest classroom teaching union was yesterday forced back to the drawing board over its merger plans, after its new general secretary was strongly criticised by members for failing to consult them properly over the proposals.

"In a humiliating rebuke to the leadership of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, an emergency motion debated in private session at its annual conference in Scarborough was overwhelmingly passed, effectively putting the plans on hold.

"The motion deplored the way the unionís national executive appeared to be rushing through the proposals without proper consultation with the wider membership or debate at conference.... The motion was brought by teachers David Jones of Walsall and Carole Dellaway of Thanet, who said they were not opposed to the merger itself, but to the way the proposals were being Ďrailroadedí through without debate."

5) Other Officers Declare for NEA Secretary-Treasurer Race. Three other candidates have joined NEA Executive Committee member Lily Eskelsen of Utah in declaring for the soon-to-be-open office of NEA Secretary-Treasurer. Current Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Van Roekel is running unopposed for NEA vice president. Current NEA Executive Committee member Dan Sakota of Idaho, former NEA Executive Committee member Roger Sharp of Indiana, and former Washington Education Association President Lee Ann Prielipp will contend for the seat, which will be worth just under $300,000 annually in salary, allowances and benefits.

6) Quotes of the Week. "Ok as if right now i am a sophmore in high school. I attened the high school that this book was written about and i know alot of the people mentioned and others who graduated that year. I think that alothough the book focused on the certain kids to much and some of the teachers too much its basically a good true to life diary of what went on. She was trust worthy so most students felt like they could talkto her so she knew what was going on. Kids really do drugs, get pregent, get aressted, fight with parents and each other and and talk about our teachers and i donít think that should shock any one. Though when it came out in my town people freaked. So of course with all the adults mad about it every teen went out to buy the book. What i read was noithing surpring or out rageouse (and i was disspapointed with all the uproar about it i figured it must be scandilouse.) in fact i though she went easy on letting a lot of the stuff that goes on be left out of the book. All in all if your not toatlly out of touch with teenagers today this book wonít be anything surpring about teens. And if you live in our around pl is a funny read!"

"While this book talked about, and delt with reaserch regarding a very serious topic, the reserch was done very atrociously. For some one that is a so called jourelist, she did not only not dig deeper to find the facts, but told bold face lies about individuals. If the book was to be a work of fiction, and called as such, than it should not include real people with the story. There are many people with in this book who could not only have there lifes ruined by lies (or mis-interpritation, telling what Mrs. Burkett wanted to tell, not what was the truth) but who could also sue the author for libel, slander, and nemerous other Ďcrimes.í I would only hope that on the aftermath none of the individuals written with in the book, nor the writer, were to have to suffer any negative consiquenses as a result of horrible journalism. It would be best if the rest of the world, including those written in the book, would just ignore it and forget about it." -- two of what I sincerely hope are hoax reviews by Prior Lake High School students of Another Planet by Elinor Burkett, posted on the Amazon.com web-site.

   

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