The Representative Assembly of the National Education Association, 7,500 delegates meeting in Boston, adopted a new policy statement laying out the union’s view towards charter schools.
The last time the union adopted a policy statement on charter schools was at the 2001 Representative Assembly that I attended. George Bush (2) was president, the twin towers were still standing and No Child Left Behind was not yet official Department of Education language.
In 2001, charter schools were still few in number.
That has changed.
The NEA moves slowly on their turn around response time.
If the language of the new policy statement sounds familiar, it is.
It is basically the view that the Bernie Sanders delegates forced the Democrats to include in their platform on education, to the dismay of the Clinton delegates.
The Sanders language on charters that was adopted as the 2016 Democratic Party platform:
Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.
From the NEA 2017 policy statement:
As educators we believe that “public education is the cornerstone of our social, economic, and political structure,” NEA Resolution A-1, the very “foundation of good citizenship,” and the fundamental prerequisite to every child’s future success. Brown v. Bd. of Ed. of Topeka, Shawnee Cty., Kan., 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954). The growth of separate and unequal systems of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools threatens our students and our public education system. The purpose of this policy statement is to make plain NEA’s opposition to the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools while clarifying NEA’s continued support for those public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by local democratically elected school boards or their equivalent.
That the position of the Sanders delegates and the Democratic Party 2016 platform is now the position of the NEA is ironic given leadership’s successful push for an early Clinton endorsement in the Democratic primaries.
Pro-charter centrist Democrats and corporate charter folks are not happy with the NEA’s new policy statement.
“The NEA seems to be saying that they are not against charter schools as long as they operate just like district schools,” right down to union contracts and same school board politics, said Greg Richmond, the president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. “What’s the point?”
Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have made it more difficult to take a middle road on school reform. When American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten went touring public schools with the Secretary of Education there was a huge blow back from rank and file teachers.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia pointedly announced at the RA that she would have “no photo-ops” with Betsy.
I assume this was directed at Randi.
Even Weingarten has seemed to stop those joint appearances.
But like most things that take place each year at the NEA Representative Assembly, nuance and subtlety are mainly for the folks in the hall.
More important than policy statements is how the NEA’s opposition to charters and vouchers (Surprisingly, vouchers were not as big a target at this week’s meeting) will be perceived and manifested.
What resources will be put into bringing charter teachers into the union?
Will the NEA play a role in any fight to remake the Democratic Party?
How will the NEA and AFT respond when the Supreme Court rules, as expected, against them in the Janus case?
Members will need more than policy statements. And they can’t wait sixteen years to have answers for those questions.