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By Anthony Cody.

In May of 2011, as the NEA and AFT participated in planning a major protest of the Obama administration’s education policies, the NEA leadership announced they were endorsing President Obama for re-election, more than a year prior to the election in November, 2012. It was never revealed what union leadership was offered in exchange for this early endorsement, but what we got was four more years of Arne Duncan, more Race to the Top, more Common Core, and more federal demands that test scores be included in teacher evaluations. It appears that NEA leadership may be preparing to make the same mistake by making an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton as soon as October 2nd.

I am not suggesting that NEA endorse Bernie Sanders instead. I think that while Senator Sanders’ campaign has offered much more substance on economic issues, his platform is very weak on K12 education. He should be pressed, as should Hillary Clinton and any other candidate, to take a public stand on the key issues we face regarding public education. I offered some key issues several months ago –– which remain largely missing from the campaigns.

For either candidate to get real grassroots support from NEA members, an endorsement ought to be the result of an extended dialogue with members. Hillary Clinton has engaged in a few phone calls with NEA leaders, but the membership has been left out. We need far more information about how the next president plans to approach federal intervention in public schools. Clinton has already declared her support for the Common Core, and her belief that it “helps organize your education system.”  Will the Department of Education continue to demand that states close schools with low test scores — even though these closures are destructive and concentrated in low income African American and Latino neighborhoods? Will Common Core tests continue to receive federal support? Will charter schools continue to be boosted by federal policy? Will the Department of Education continue to promote the use of test scores in teacher evaluation? Or could we expect a healthier focus of federal dollars on relieving, rather than deepening, inequities in education?

We are not in the same place we were in May, 2011. Then, the movement for real change in our schools was just beginning to coalesce. Today, people are far more well-informed and involved — especially NEA members. NEA members can play a very important role in the next presidential election. Teachers are among the most trusted members of communities across the country. When teachers speak, their communities listen. The three million members of NEA are a powerful force for change, if they are activated and enthused. The best way to unleash that enthusiasm and participation is to engage members in the discussion of who the organization ought to endorse. If that decision is made by a handful of leaders, it will send a message to members that their voices do not count. This will make it difficult for NEA to then activate their members.

NEA members will be active regardless. If NEA endorses Clinton or any other candidate without an adequate process that actively involves and engages their membership, and without clear answers to the vital questions we have regarding the Department of Education and Democratic party support of corporate reform, then teacher activism will take place outside of the NEA. That will leave the organization weakened, and make the endorsement far less powerful than it could be. An endorsement that is the product of real member participation will then unleash that energy into a grassroots campaign in support of the chosen candidate. A top down endorsement will yield some millions of member dollars, and some union leaders on the podium for photos, but much less in terms of on the ground support. If the NEA is to activate its members in the election, it ought to engage them in making this vital decision.

What do you think? Should NEA leadership move forward with an endorsement of Hillary Clinton? 

(note: I was a dues-paying member of the NEA for 24 years.)

Author

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

Comments

  1. Kimberly Kunst Domangue    

    Thank you, Mr Cody, for bringing this urgent issue to the fore. I was present at this year’s NEA RA and voted AGAINST early endorsement so as to remove any unfair advantage within our national primaries respective of party affiliation. It is with great concern I read social media postings of leaders within my professional organization promising to end their respective memberships if the NEA begins to act against the wishes of its body: A body that spoke quite CLEARLY on this matter in July. My heart is ever so heavy at the thought of such dissension among my union brothers and sisters. If someone’s campaign is solely dependent upon one organization’s endorsement, then one must wonder if the candidate in question truly has sufficient support of the American people.

  2. TeacherMom    

    I am a strong NEA member and education/political activist, and there are no circumstances under which I would vote for Hillary. I will be working actively for her defeat no matter what. I have become a one-issue voter (education) and will vote for a third party before I will participate again in my own oppression, and the oppression of urban and poor people by the Duncan/Obama/Clinton triumvirate.

  3. Ann Policelli Cronin    

    The NEA should not grant an endorsement at this time. Hillary and other candidates need to be informed about education. This is the time to do it. If NEA endorses her now and she wins, we are guaranteed four more years of disastrous education policy. It will be a continuation of what we have now. Hillary does not yet get the problems with existing policy and does not understand the need for change.

  4. rbeckley58    

    Like you said, now more teachers are awake to the issues and therefore expect to be involved in decision making. The NEA must first demand a substantive and public discussion with the candidates, and then a vote by our representatives.

    Call or write the NEA!

  5. Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D.    

    Unless we have some assurance that the next Secretary of Education in 2016 will not be another Arne Duncan type of leader. the NEA’s endorsement will be wasted and utterly useless. Hence, the NEA needs to have some input of this crucial appointment or we will see the continuing erosion of public education in the nation. My op-ed on this topic: (http://ct.gov/dmv/cwp/view.asp?a=814&q=245284) Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D.

  6. LT    

    I was reminded recently as I was filling out paperwork at a new job how much MONEY we pay into the NEA. My local union is weak and ineffective (they don’t even have a written contract that teachers are allowed to see). I love the state-level union, but if we lose the PARCC battle with our terrible Ed department, I’m not sure they’re particularly effective, either. If I also lose the national union, I’m not sure I’m willing to pay $80+ per month to support these structures that don’t actually do anything to address causes I see as important.

  7. Bob Gross    

    Today, 190 people, without consulting the membership of our so-called “union”, decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for President WITHOUT THE INPUT OR VOTES OF THE 3 MILLION PLUS MEMBERS. They have proven to me what I have feared was true for a long time…..our union is no longer a union, but just another dictatorship, bought out by dirty money. If their (leadership) goal was to divide us, they have succeeded. If they really think that we are going to rally around Hillary because of this “backroom deal”, think again. I am going to vote for Sanders. i will rally for Sanders. I highly suggest that leadership watch the debate, because their “phony liar” of a candidate is likely to have a rough night. Also, if leadership believes that members are going to vote for Hillary because of this endorsement, they are more out of touch with the disenchantment than I think. Many teachers are ready to break away or form a new union, as the current one no longer represents us.

  8. rbeckley58    

    One of the goals of so-called education reform is to break up the unions. I’m voting for Bernie, but sticking with the NEA – and protesting the lack of teacher input. DC political and union leaders live in a bubble isolated from the rank and file, yet we still need them.

    1. Kimberly Kunst Domangue    

      Points well-made, R Beckley. There were those at the NEA RA who were… extreme… who passed out fliers outside the delegate hall. They advocated withdrawal from NEA to form yet another oeganization. Truthfully? Those who would like to see the destruction of the NEA, whether for corporate profit or to profit by virtue of obtaining their own fiefdom are not friends of public education… not in THESE times.

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