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Is NEA Ahead of CTA on Race to the Top, NCLB?

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At first, I thought Mike Antonucci was reading a bit too far into this recent speech by David Sanchez, the president of the California Teachers' Association:

"California law also doesn’t prohibit the use of student assessments in evaluating teachers, but if and how that is done is bargained at the local level.

The CTA Board of Directors has already appointed a member and staff workgroup to guide our efforts throughout the reauthorization. CTA will also be making sure [the National Education Association] holds strong and does what’s right around [No Child Left Behind]."

Antonucci sees this as pointed warning to the NEA not to get too far out ahead of the membership on issues like NCLB and the Race to the Top Act. My first thought was that it was merely a rhetorical flourish.

But then I remembered back to a 2007 hearing on NCLB which is now famous for featuring the Great Performance-Pay Smackdown between Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Reg Weaver, then-president of the National Education Association. (Sorry, I can't find a link for you, but you can read a bit more in this old blog entry.)

During the hearing, several top CTA officials showed up with about 25 members in tow, more than pretty much any other group that attended (and believe me, everyone in Washington's acronym soup was there). CTA even nicknamed the staff draft then under discussion the "Miller-Pelosi" bill, conveniently forgetting that then-ranking Republican on the House education committee, Buck McKeon, had his name on every page of the draft.

Then this past year, a good third of the new business items at the NEA's Representative Assembly were sponsored by the California delegation.

Stuff like that definitely makes CTA hard to ignore.

Sometimes policy officials and, yes, journalists, have a tendency to think of "the unions" as a sort of monolithic category, an image that serves them well from a lobbying point of view. But in reality, they are complicated, messy bodies with constituencies, differences of opinions, and disagreements.

How will the CTA/NEA dynamic play out during the next iteration of NCLB and the wrangling over the Race to the Top program?

It will be interesting to watch.

2 Comments

We do tend to forget that unions are not monolithic organizations but democratic institutions in which heated debate sometimes resembles Prime Minister's Hour that is a joy to watch on CSPAN. Locals do have a fair degree of liberty to make their own decisions. Witness the NEA affiliate in Denver that voted to approve ProComp. It is policy that was approved by union membership 59 to 41%. Bully for informed democracy!

Or, it is a calculated effort to make the national NEA look more measured...

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