Cracking the Zip Code

Super Tuesday was a great victory for the National Education Association. Not just because its chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the most primaries, but because in her victory speech, she included this sentence:

Every child in America should have a great school and a great teacher no matter what zip code they live in.

This may seem like a generic sentiment, but the use of “zip code” is a thinly veiled shout-out to NEA.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but NEA didn’t miss it. The union’s press release touting Clinton’s wins ends with: “As the campaign moves forward, educators across the country will continue to make their presence known because we know that Hillary will fight for every student to succeed, regardless of her or his ZIP code.”

The zip code line, in one form or another, appears in scores of NEA’s press releases and public statements on a multitude of topics, from ESSA to a commemoration of Martin Luther King Day.

The first use of it I can find by an NEA officer came from former president Dennis Van Roekel in 2013, but it didn’t become an NEA staple until after a communications analysis was done for the union by Celinda Lake.

Using “cognitive linguistic analysis,” she advised NEA to use “living in the right zip code” instead of “inequality,” and “get serious about what works” instead of “accountability.”

What wasn’t mentioned was the desire to co-opt the language of the school choice movement. Choice supporters have often used “zip code” phrases.

I’m sure it goes back further than this, but in January 2011 we find none other than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announcing the approval of new charter schools with “I want every child, regardless of zip code, to have the chance to have the education that they and their parents want them to have.”

Both Condoleeza Rice and Jeb Bush used forms of the zip code line in speeches before the 2012 Republican National Convention. And Republicans haven’t dropped their use of it since NEA appropriated it. Ted Cruz used it for National School Choice Week.

I suppose “zip code” is simply more palatable than “school district boundaries,” but it still seems to be an odd point to emphasize when many school districts have constructed border defenses that would impress Donald Trump.