As Mike Antonucci reported yesterday and Politico reports today, the "top brass" of the National Education Association's PAC is planning to push through an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton despite internecine demands for either holding off the endorsement or endorsing Bernie Sanders. Clinton will most likely be endorsed this Friday.
From an email procured by Politico:
After months of interactions with the three candidates who chose to participate in our process [Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders], certain things became clear. Clinton is the best positioned candidate to win both the Democratic primary and general election. She has unmatched organizational strength, ground game, and fundraising ability to defeat the candidate of the Koch brothers.
In other words, NEA leaders are making a pragmatic (if manipulative) decision that despite Sanders' support by members, he can't win and Clinton can. An early endorsement, President Lily Eskelson Garcia explains, positions the union to “play a significant role in the next administration’s conversation and decision-making about public education.”
However, this move makes the union heavies vulnerable to outcries from the Badass Teachers Association, which is now officially a caucus within NEA, and from other disgruntled members like Peter Greene, whom Antonucci quotes: "I know how easily and often union leaders end up in a meeting about how we need the members to make a particular decision, so here’s how we’ll stage manage the meeting so that they decide what we want them to decide.”
Greene adds this in his plea to Garcia,
The most likely motivation would seem to be that Clinton's campaign is sinking, and it is reported that while you admit Sanders is more in line with our interests, you see Clinton as more electable."
Or read Steven Singer, who writes on the BAT blog that if/when NEA endorses Clinton, "the voices of the great majority of members would be silenced," NEA would violate its own rules, and "the move is doubly troubling because of the strong-armed manner in which the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Clinton in July."
I am asking you, as a member-- please don't do this.
It's all about the politics of choice. Do all members get to vote democratically on who the union should endorse and when it should do so, or are the rank and file unreliable in sussing out NEA's best interests? NEA's leaders here take a paternalistic approach: leave it to us, they say; if you don't like it, leave. “Lily said that we just have to allow the people who might leave the organization due to an endorsement, to leave. That it’s always been part of the process that people have been offended at actions of this magnitude and refuse to participate because of it. According to her, our numbers have always fluctuated with elections.” (It's unclear to how they "leave," but that's a different post.)
However, on other matters of choice, both national teacher unions take a different tack. It's interesting to compare NEA and AFT views on choice in different contexts.
The unions are pro-choice on these issues:
Opting out of standardized tests
States' decisions on the Common Core State Standards
States' decisions on tying results of CCSS-aligned tests to teacher evaluations
The unions are anti-choice on these issues:
Parents' rights to choose charter schools over traditional district schools
States' response to supply and demand of choice, i.e., charter school expansion.
Rights of teachers to decline union membership (i.e., Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association,)
Last in, first out seniority tenure protections
There's no lack of inconsistency here and it's hard to avoid cynicism. If evoking "choice" helps maintain traditional structures and undermine new initiatives that feel threatening, then NEA and AFT bring out the banners. But if "choice" is evoked in a way that challenges old-time tenure rules or traditional district monopolies or democratically-determined political endorsements, then NEA and AFT are reluctant to cede control to the minions.
"Choice" in education circles has become a palimpsest, useful under some sets of circumstances, derided in others. In fairness, those who promote systemic change (like me) are sometimes guilty of the same sleight of hand. I guess that's why it's called politics.
Labels: AFT, Clinton, NEA, Sanders, tenure