From the Vault: March 22, 2003

NEA: No Position on War. The National Education Association told its officers and staff to make it clear that the union has no position on the war in Iraq.

Treading lightly after a public relations fiasco with its 9/11 anniversary web site last year (see the August 26, 2002 EIA Communiqué), NEA’s talking points for the war indicate the union will “fully support our brave men and women who serve in our armed forces,” and emphasize the special position of NEA’s teachers in Department of Defense schools. NEA also suggests classroom discussions of the war “should be age-appropriate and related to the curriculum content of the class,” and calls on teachers to “maintain a respectful classroom atmosphere” for all views.

EIA expects that this will remain in effect at least until the NEA Representative Assembly in July, where there will certainly be efforts made to put the union on record against the war (or, more likely by then, U.S. occupation of Iraq). The introduction of such new business items will definitely occur. Their ultimate success or failure will be predicated on the mood of the country at the time.

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From the Vault: February 18, 2003

EIA Invites Illinois Members to Eliminate the Middleman. Someone thought I would find the February 14 issue of the IEA Insider interesting, and indeed, I did.

The Insider is a weekly, members-only publication of the Illinois Education Association “dedicated to keeping you informed about what your Association is doing for you, legislative news and to provide helpful teaching and job information.” It is beautifully laid-out by the union’s Department of Communications, and the Insider boasts of having been named one of the four best electronic newsletters in the country by the Association of Educational Publishers.

The February 14 issue contains information on pension bills pending in the Illinois General Assembly, hyperlinks for Black History Month, requests for donations of slightly used teaching materials, and other similar news items. It also contains a story headlined, “Your NEA RA Delegates Will Vote On This in July.” The story reads, in full:

“Each year, between 80 and 110 new business items (NBIs) make it onto the agenda of the NEA Representative Assembly and each one must be addressed, usually involving a debate and a vote. The placing of a new business item on the agenda currently requires only 50 signatures. However, since it is common for the last day of the four-day convention to extend into the wee hours so that all items might be voted on, it has been suggested that the number of NBIs might be limited if 200 signatures were required. Another idea proposed is to limit debates. Both ideas have met with limited success. NEA officials feel that the situation is becoming so untenable that this year they will offer a rules amendment giving the board of directors the power to determine procedures to limit the number of NBIs. The amendment will be placed before the convention delegates this July, and if approved, would require no further authorization — the board’s decision would be final. Let your delegates know your position on this matter.”

A news item like this would normally lead to coverage in the EIA Communiqué – except the topic had already been covered in the February 10 EIA Communiqué, in an item headlined “Fireworks in Store as NEA Tries to Limit NBIs.” The relevant portion of that item read:

“Each year, between 80 and 110 NBIs make it onto the agenda, and each one must be addressed, usually involving a debate and a vote. NBI debates eat up a lot of the four days, and it is common for the last day of the convention to extend into the wee hours in order to complete voting on all items. Attempts to limit debate meet with mixed success, and efforts to alter NEA’s standing rules to raise the threshold for submitting an NBI to 200 signatures failed overwhelmingly. However, NEA officials feel that the situation is becoming so untenable that this year they will offer a rules amendment giving the board of directors the power to determine procedures to limit the number of NBIs. The amendment will be placed before the convention delegates this July, but if approved as currently written, would require no further authorization of the details – the board’s word would be final.”

EIA is sending this communiqué to several hundred IEA members, inviting them to subscribe. When you can, it’s best to get your vegetables straight from the garden.

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From the Vault: January 27, 2003

AFT Executive Council Supports U.S. Action to Disarm Iraq. In a noteworthy display of contrariness, the American Federation of Teachers Executive Council passed a resolution supporting U.S. and international efforts to disarm Iraq. The AFT resolution came as something of a surprise, since there is a concerted effort among activists nationwide to promote anti-war resolutions among the public education establishment. AFT reported that the resolution passed “by an overwhelming margin,” but since most Executive Council resolutions pass unanimously, it is clear that the resolution faced some strong opposition. This most probably came from the California Federation of Teachers, which already has its own resolution in place condemning any contemplated action against Iraq and denouncing the “so-called war on terrorism.”

The AFT resolution takes several swipes at the Bush administration, but it places the onus of possible military action squarely on Iraq itself. “Through its actions and ambitions,” the resolution states, “this regime has demonstrated that it poses a unique threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East, to the peaceful world order promoted by the ideals of the United Nations and, therefore, to the national security interests of the United States.”

The resolution also notes that AFT, “along with the AFL-CIO, recognizes that the U.S. may at times have to act unilaterally in defense of its national security.” The resolution similarly concludes, “For its part, the AFT believes there can be no equivocation. The Iraqi regime must disarm. It must comply fully and completely with appropriate United Nations resolutions or face military action.”

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Stats For Your Back Pocket

The National Center for Education Statistics released Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results From the 2015-16 National Teacher and Principal Survey, which is a long title for a relatively short report filled with useful stats on school staffing. Here are just a few:

* There were 3.6 million teachers in traditional public schools and 218,500 in charters. Almost 81 percent of traditional school teachers are white; about 71 percent of charter school teachers are white.

* In schools with less than 35 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 88.4 percent of the teachers are white. In schools with more than 75 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, only 66 percent of the teachers are white.

* The average class size of elementary, multi-subject teachers was 21 students.

* Only 64 percent of teachers received any training in serving students from diverse economic backgrounds. Only 53 percent were trained on using student performance data to inform instruction.

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On Segregation, Sacrifice and Scolding Both Sides

Rachel M. Cohen has written a piece in The American Prospect titled “Under Trump, Liberals Rediscover School Segregation” that almost seems designed to rile both sides of the education policy debate.

These kinds of articles always get my attention, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to tell people exactly what they want to hear. The next easiest thing is to tell your opponents what they don’t want to hear.

Telling your allies what they don’t want to hear gets really awkward, at best.

Cohen applauds the newfound focus on school segregation, but thinks “the timing sometimes seems politically convenient.” She notes a previous lack of liberal interest in the segregation found not only in traditional schools, but in charters when supported by a charter-friendly Obama Administration.

Charter advocates aren’t going to love the notion that they, as well as voucher advocates, are contributing to segregation. But unions aren’t going to love Cohen’s implication that they tend to fight segregation only when they don’t have to sacrifice anything:

But while unions backed efforts to integrate and equalize public schools, they generally opposed initiatives that would have required transferring educators into schools they didn’t want to work in. Focused on the unequal work environments between black and white schools, unions argued that to transfer teachers against their will would represent yet another example of teachers’ lack of agency over their professional lives.

Put differently, the AFT and its affiliates played an important role pushing for integration, but when teachers were asked to make the same sacrifices as bused students, unions pushed back, firmly asserting that working conditions in black schools would have to be improved first.

I tried – less effectively – to address this very issue back when NEA decided to mount its crusade against institutional racism:

It’s easy to oppose institutional racism as long as it doesn’t require individual sacrifice. Hire more minority teachers? I’m in favor – until they get the job I applied for. Highly qualified and performing staff in low-income schools? Great – just as long as they aren’t placed higher on the district salary scale or interfere with my transfer or bumping rights. Better teachers in high-minority schools? Hear, hear! – but if they are lower on the seniority list than a so-so teacher, they have to be laid off first.

This applies to all of us, not just schools or unions. Economics has the concept of opportunity cost – that is, a benefit a person could have received, but gave up, in order to take another course of action. Ending segregation isn’t a matter of workshops, rallies or even political lobbying. It’s deciding to value integration enough to pay its opportunity cost.

We all fall short of opening our figurative wallets, so using segregation to advance other political goals is a bad investment for everyone.

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