The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest and oldest employees’ union, committed to the well-being of its members and public education. The organization started in Philadelphia in 1857, and has its headquarters in Washington D.C. The union is very big, and includes at least 2.6 million secondary and elementary school teachers, support professionals, college faculty, school administrators, and students learning to join the teaching profession. The National Education Association has branches in almost all states in the United States of America.
The History of the NEA
The organization originated in 1857 under the name National Teachers Association, with the responsibility of elevating the character of teachers who were members and advancing the interests of the teaching profession. The association was also responsible for promoting the cause of popular education in America (Spring, 2015). The NTA united with two other organizations in 1870 to form the NEA. The NEA was incorporated in Columbia District in 1886 and was chartered by Congress in 1906. In 1907, the charter was adopted at the annual meeting of the association, according to which , it changed its name to the NEA of the United States (Spring, 2015).
NEA moved to Washington D.C in 1917 and in 1920, where it established a permanent headquarters. The new structure of the association increased its ability to gather professional teachers’ association at the local and state level. The main goal of the organization became to unite the teaching profession so that every professor can participate at three levels of the NEA work (Spring, 2015).
During the 1960s, there was a merger between African-American and White educators’ associations due to the dual school systems in South America. The NEA welcomed any person to join its membership regardless of religion and race (Lott & Kenny, 2013). The African-Americans had their independent association, known as the American Teachers Association, which existed until 1966, when its members decided to merge with the NEA. In 1966, the merger of state associations was completed in most of the states. The NEA wanted to unite with the American Federation of Teachers in the late 1990s. The proposal to combine the two associations was voted down by the Representative Assembly in 1998 (Lott & Kenny, 2013).
Membership of the Association
Any individual who is working for a university or college, public school district or any public institution that focuses primarily on education can join the organization. The NEA has special membership categories for educators who are retired and the college students who are learning to join the teaching profession. Membership can sometimes vary depending on local affiliates and state. The organization provides its members with a wide range of services, and, in return, they are required to pay dues. The organization has been pursuing for a very long time the objective of improving the economic state of education professionals and teachers by helping them negotiate employment with the school boards (Lott & Kenny, 2013).
The Governance of the Association
The organization’s constitution contains its policies and structure. Since the association is a democratic institution, the members have the power to change the bylaws and set policies through a representative assembly. The assembly is held in the month of July every year (NEA, 2016). The Representative Assembly is the body that is in charge of policymaking and legislation. The members at the local and state level carry out elections to choose at least nine thousand delegates. The chosen delegates elect the organization’s top officers, who debate issues and design the policies at the assembly.
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The executive committee and the board of directors are in charge of making decisions for the association until the next election. The board of directors comprises of one director from every association that affiliates with the organization and another director from each state for each twenty thousand people who are active members of the organization. Additionally, it contains three directors from the student members and at least six directors from the members who are retired. The board has four meeting every year and an extra one for the Representative Assembly. The committee of executives comprises of nine members. There are three executive officers of the vice president and the president, six members who are elected by delegates to the assembly and a secretary-treasurer.
Policies of the National Education Association
The NEA has priorities that concentrate on teacher quality, the capacity of a school system to support a student’s success, and achievement. The staff department of the organization is assembled based on the three priorities. The first strategic priority of the organization is to improve the achievement of students achieved by making sure all students acquire the required knowledge and skills to function successfully in school. The major focus of the association when prioritizing this strategy is to rebuild the public confidence in education (Sawchuk, 2012). The student achievement department is dedicated to providing a good environment for local affiliates to help them address the issues such as implementing education standards and testing high stakes. The department also helps in advocating for instructional policies that are influential at a local level.
The organization also prioritizes the system capacity of the school to make sure that all the schools in America have the needed resources, staff, and structures students to succeed. The department in charge of this area comes up with a system that is meant to support the high levels of teaching and learning (Govender, 2015). Sawchuk (2012) concludes that the organization tries to increase the financial support for education, improve the learning environment, ensure that schools are safe, promote human equality, and excellence. In addition, the NEA maintains quality staff in schools and helps the stakeholders in education make informed decisions that will assist in managing the schools.
The Political Power of NEA
The NEA is unique because it supplies most of the public school teachers. The organization has increased its political power and has used its public school monopoly to its advantage by acting as a union. It works strategically to eradicate any reform that might limit its control over teacher’s job security, certification, and the educators working environment (Sawchuk, 2012). One of the main objectives of the association is to make sure they reform more expenditure from the public so that the number of teachers will increase but working for fewer hours. The NEA is also pushing for better pay and job security.
The power of the organization begins at the top of the political system (Sawchuk, 2012). The NEA has continuously dominated its nomination process and platform since it joined the Democratic Party. Some of the goals of the union are similar to those of the Democratic Party (Sawchuk, 2012). Both of these groups see the centralization of resources and power at the federal level as the best solution for the social problems in the nation. The organization welcomed President Clinton’s strategy of Goals 2000 because it was a major step to achieving a national certification for teachers and a national curriculum (NEA, 2016). Such action shows the union is interested in political power as a measure of gaining control to protect its members.
The Journey and Effectiveness of the National Education Association Lobbying Efforts Compared to Its Competitors
The NEA and AFT Lobbying Activities
The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers are the leading education unions in the United States. The NEA is larger than the AFT in terms of numbers of members and the number of lobbying activities it has done since it was formed. The two unions compete with each other when it comes to lobbying activities and the NEA has always emerged victorious because of its strong political influence (Kahlenberg, 2016). People have always emphasized the need of the two organizations to work together in order to benefit its members, but their managements have not been willing to take this step. Although both unions are committed to nurturing and improving the education system, the NEA has continuously shown much more success in the projects it has tackled, compared to the AFT. The NEA has carried out many lobbying activities compared to the AFT such as the pushing of improved learning conditions in all public schools (Russo, 2015).
AFT started the campaign to push for the federal government to come up with policies that ensured all public schools received learning materials but the NEA took up the campaign when AFT did not realize the results it wanted from the government (Russo, 2015). The NEA has been developing models that facilitate interaction at all levels as a strategy to defeat its competitors and that is the main reason the AFT has been advocating for a collaboration ant interaction between the two unions. The NEA has used the expertise of its leaders to achieve its set objectives within the project it carries out, but the competitor’s weak leadership skills enable the NEA to prevail over them. The NEA facilitates opportunities for its members to learn about their counterparts and give informed opinions on how to improve its activities to maintain the organization’s competitive edge. The NEA holds conferences on substantive topics and follow up with activities at all levels so as to ensure the discussed activities get implemented (Russo, 2015). The AFT, on the other hand, does not organize conference, which is one of the main reasons the NEA has a competitive advantage. It creates an opportunity for its members to learn and work together.
The Journey of NEA Lobbying
Since the organization’s formation, its voice has always been guided by the teachers’ goal of reforming and expanding the education system. In 1867, the union was able to lobby Congress successfully to create a federal education department. The organization focused on the growing changes that were happening at the time (Kahlenberg, 2016). Kahlenberg (2016) further analyzes how the association allowed the membership of women and supported the idea of rebuilding schools after the destruction during the civil wars. At that time, the union also had actively participated in addressing educational and societal issues by advocating for the termination of child labor and the compelled assimilation and isolation of children who were of American-Indian culture in the reservation schools.
In the 1900s, one of the greatest lobbying efforts by the organization was to increase the teacher’s pensions, tenure, and salaries. Although the roles of teachers continued to grow then, their salaries were very low. Their responsibilities continued to expand due to testing and increased paperwork, as well as larger curriculums. Many teachers were giving up on their professions due to such reasons, so the NEA had to come up with a measure to protect its interests and retain its teachers. Kahlenberg (2016), therefore, notes that the organization continued with its lobbying activities by advocating for equality and integrated schools in the education sector for all students in the whole of the 20th century. The lobbying efforts of the NEA made it become one of the most influential and largest teachers’ organization in USA.
The Effectiveness of the National Education Association Lobbying Efforts
The NEA is the most influential union that continues to play a major role in the education sector by focusing its lobbying efforts and resources on advancing equity (NEA, 2016). Both Democrats or Republicans have been continuously challenged by the idea of ensuring there is true equality in schools over the years. Politicians rarely propose policy measures that receive motivation from equity concerns, like equitable funding in schools and school integrations based on social and economic status (Russo, 2015). Such kind of policies can be extremely helpful at putting schools on an equal foot. The politicians, however, ignore these type of strategies and favor others, that are ineffectual, such as teacher accountability and school choice.
Such action from politicians forced the NEA to stand strong and advocate for equity even more intensively. The organization became the leading advocator and took steps that have yielded great results, compared to its greatest competitor, the American Federation of Teachers, which has tried and failed a couple of times (Russo, 2015). The NEA has been opposing school vouchers for a long time. The association has always advocated against vouchers in schools such as tax entitlements that are diverted from public funds to assist parents with private tuition. The vouchers are not resourceful as they divert cash from systems in public schools. The NEA has been campaigning tirelessly against such programs in the United States (Russo, 2015).
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The organization has been fighting to protect its member’s amendments rights that allow them to advocate for schools and students without facing any form of retaliation. The organization has also been preventing for quite some time political repercussions that threaten its members when they speak out or disagree with the political decisions (Russo, 2015). The association also fought the school district requirements that required teachers to take a loyalty oath on the issue of anti-communism. The union has been committed to political and academic freedom and has continued to provide teachers to speak out when they feel the government is oppressing them. This measure has proved to be a very important protection technique for teachers and students.
Without the job protection, the teachers would be having a hard time, because the administration is only concerned with issues such as school reforms and budget (Russo, 2015). Therefore, it has no time for addressing teacher’s sentiments. The organization gets involved in the needs of students, such as a situation where a poor school is missing an adequate supply of books or other materials necessary for learning (Cowen & Strunk, 2015). The organization’s campaign on priority schools, builds networks that help teachers follow keenly up and make sure that all the students have the necessary classroom equipment. The association’s grievance process allows it to make follow ups and ensure the protection of children.
The schools that are members of NEA form high achievers. The organization has been continuously announcing to the public that producing students with high grades is a guarantee (Cowen & Strunk 2015). The announcement makes sense because the union creates a friendly environment where teachers have better working conditions and receive better salaries. When students pass their exams, the organization retains most of its teachers, and it attracts more students to join schools that are run by the union. All school districts that invest in a decent education policy and are well funded, guarantee great results every year. There has always been a dispute about the NEA protecting bad teachers, but this is not the case because the organization provides opportunities that are invaluable for teacher improvement and development (Cowen & Strunk 2015).
As a matter of fact, the NEA guards against bad teaching by providing teachers with the necessary tools instead of punishing them. The teachers should always have an opportunity to learn, study, and perform educational research. They need to model themselves as learners for their students in order motivate them to study hard. Within the teaching profession, more than 50% of the teachers leave their jobs before the four to five-year mark is over, which is approximately about one thousand teachers every day (Cowen & Strunk 2015). These figures indicate that, as much as the profession is important and inspiring, sometimes it can be very difficult and overwhelming. It is one of the main reasons as to why NEA fights tirelessly to ensure that teachers needs are taken care of, and reduce the problems that might lead to some of them quitting their jobs.
The NEA performs various activities at both state and national level. The organization’s state management affiliates lobby legislators the resources that are required by schools. They also take part in campaigns for improved professional standards for educators and regularly file legal actions to ensure their academic freedom remains safe. Govender (2015) indicates that the activities at a national level include coordinating projects and restructuring the manner in which learning should take place. The association, in hand, also fights any congressional attempts that threaten public education. They include activities at the international level such as providing a link to educators across the world to ensure schools are as effective as possible.
The organization is one of the largest groups that lobbies for education development in America. The National Education Association is extremely influential in politics, starting with the elections of the school boards to the main presidential election. The NEA plays a major role in America’s debates on policies that concern public education. The initiatives passed by the Representative Assembly drive the association’s lobbying endeavors, and usually involve requirements for student testing, needy schools federal funding, and issues related to funding for schools (Govender, 2015). The organization has a committee for overseeing political actions. The committee assists in contributing funds for candidates who decide to run for office provided they uphold the principles of the organization and its affiliates.
The NEA serves as a communication tool for all teachers who are members and public education in the media. The role is usually given to the president of the organization, although sometimes the staff can speak on behalf of its members. Govender (2015) discusses that the NEA produces publications and disseminates them to communicate to the public about its current activities or plans. Other publications include those from student members, higher education members, and retired members. Govender (2015) also adds that the organization has a department that performs research as a way of serving members. The research department has a task of looking into issues that concern public education and teachers. The research document ,produced by the NEA, ranks the statistics of state schools such as expenditures of students, salaries of teachers, and the enrollment of students. The research department thoroughly examines the member’s attitudes regarding their responsibilities and towards the teaching profession.
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Criticism of the National Education Association
The main mission of the NEA is to protect its member’s welfare and ensure that the interest of students and teachers are aligned, but some people say the organization does not practice it all the time. Researchers argue that the union over the time has defended policies that do not improve the education reform. Among such actions was a situation where no junior teacher, no matter how experienced and competent, should be paid a salary that is higher than another teacher, who has been in the teaching profession for a longer period (Antonucci, 2015). Another argument for the criticism is that the organization supports the idea that, no matter how knowledgeable and talented a teacher is, he or she cannot enter a classroom unless he or she has a state certification. In 1997, Bob Chase, an official of the NEA, gave a speech, declaring that the union was going to take action if there were bad teachers who were in schools. The organization acted as if the concession was bold and meaningful (NEA, 2016).
Some researchers such as Hursh and Martina (2016), argue that, although the NEA advocates for all students to access a reputable public school, it does not ideologically support charter schools. The association does not support school vouchers as a means of breaking the monopoly of public schools that have failed, even as the organization fights to increase accountability of teachers to improve the schools. Hursh and Martina (2016), further claim that the organization played a role in president’s Obama election win and that the idea of NEA advocating for liberal policies does not relate to the education realm. A press release that is available on the union’s website announced that it requires political power to have the authority to protect the educational system, which is the main reason it participates in politics (NEA, 2016).
Democrats count on NEA as one of the stalwarts when they decide to look for their liberal base. In 2009, the NEA spent at least $50 million on lobbying and political activities. The union comprises of 16 lobbyists and outsources others to lobbying firms in Washington D.C. The center in charge of responsive politics announced that, from 1990 to 2008, 93% of the organization’s donations went to Democrats (Hursh & Martina, 2016). Corporations criticize the NEA for working with political organizations that participate in opposing conservative policies (Smith, 2013). Examples of such policies are the Alliance for Lesbianism and Gay People and the Sierra Club. There is a press release of 2009 on the NEA’s website that shows it is distancing itself from the association of community organizers because of a scandal involving some people who were caught on tape practicing human trafficking and prostitution. The organization is also accused of condemning the Arizona law of immigration enforcement that was called to support the alien amnesty act (Harness & Yamagata-Lynch, 2016).
The NEA is controversially blamed for getting a pass from media houses, despite its public advocacy of liberals. Only one media house mentioned the organization’s relationship to the Democratic Party out of 16 mentions of the mammoth lobbying group in 2010. Instead of exposing the union’s association with the political party, the media houses introduced it with no description of generalizing it as a national teachers’ union (Clark, 2013). In 2010, CNN reported that the National Education Association said it was disappointed by the proposals made by President Obama on the education reforms. The president proposed a longer school year and more money as part of the solution to the existing problems in the education sector. The coverage of the organization during this time was positive or neutral, but the media did not show the negative side of the story (Clark, 2013).
Some critics have argued that the union puts the teachers’ interest ahead of students’ ones by voting against the processes that might have a negative impact on the teachers experience in the profession and failing to promote the policies that support students’ improvement within the educational system. The organization has opposed measures such as the weakening of the tenure of teachers, school vouchers, and merit pay (Smith, 2013). The modern scrutiny is on teacher misconduct, especially in the cases of sexual abuse, and the association has not attempted to punish the abusive teacher. The NEA argues that, although students should receive protected from any form of sexual abuse, there is also need to protect teachers from any false accusations. Critics argue that the organization fails to follow such cases because of the deals made by school administrators to cover the vice (Smith, 2013).
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The formation has also been criticized for being biased when employing its staff. People are concerned that the NEA prioritizes the individuals who have close family ties with the members of the association. Critics claim that this kind of discrimination shows the unstableness of the organization, since it cannot make unbiased decisions (Clark, 2013). Some people have stated that it is a kind of a family organization where members make decisions that are only favorable to them, without being concerned about the welfare of others. The management of the organization has tried to address such issue in many ways, but people are not satisfied with the excuses the organization gives regarding its system of employment (Clark, 2013).
The NEA is one of the most powerful unions in the United States. Any individual who is working for a university or college, public school district or any public institution that focuses primarily on education can join the organization. The formation is associated with volunteering activities, and a network of staff at a state, national and local level, supports it. Since the time of NEA’s formation, it has tirelessly been advocating for better-working conditions for teachers and a good environment for students. Its powerful political influence has helped it succeed in its lobbying efforts, unlike its competitors. Although there are people and organizations who criticize the functions of the NEA, it has ignored the claims and continued to advocate for better deals for educators.