Facing the reality of Republican hatred of unions and teachers, the National Education Association Representative Authority voted July 4th to endorse Barack Obama for reelection, 5,414 to 2,102.
In the past, the NEA made its presidential endorsement the year of the election, but this time felt compelled to call for an endorsement a year early.
What was in it for the largest teachers union in the nation? It’s not as if Obama has been a strong ally and supporter of teachers and their unions since becoming president. “President Obama voiced support Monday for the mass firings of educators at a failing Rhode Island school” where the school superintendent fired all 93 teachers and other staff in the small Central Fall district, the poorest district in the state. “”If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability,” he said.” (ibid) Instead of looking at the validity of the tests, the methods of teaching, the poverty level of the area, and other factors, Obama just outright supports the superintendent over the teachers. Obama’s unwillingness to get the facts about education and testing is a hallmark for his policies such as Race to the Top.
President Obama also supports merit based pay, a system that has been found flawed on many levels. It pits teacher against teacher and limits education funds. Merit based pay ignores the reality of schools and that every year is a new challenge for every teacher and every student. It is a way to bust unions and takes the power away from the teachers and gives it to superintendents and lawmakers.
Merit based pay also rewards teachers that can fake test scores and teach to the test. It rewards prevarication. Is this really the type of teaching we want? Race to the Top for “Obama and his Education Secretary Arnie Duncan means more testing, more uniformity, more charter schools and more punishment for creative teachers that try to help students love learning as autonomous human beings.” (link)
In total, Obama supports summary firings of teachers, merit based pay, a high stakes testing regime that punishes teachers and takes them away from actual teaching, charter schools where teachers will be less accountability to city and state standards and not have to join a union (in essence union busting), and a competitive funding model that rewards schools for following a national dictum thus crushing local autonomy. These dictums include testing and charter schools and other union busting policies.
“IN ADDITION to these backwards priorities, Obama has presided over some of the harshest attacks on public education in decades. As education scholar Diane Ravitch has pointed out, when it comes to education, Obama’s presidency has been like Bush’s third term.” (link)
So why did the NEA endorse Obama, and why did they support him so early instead of waiting for next year? Teachers are rightfully fearful of their future under a Republican regime. They might have also learned their caving technique from the example Obama has laid forth in his capitulation to the Republicans on the budget, taxes and other issues.
So instead of holding out for something better from Obama, they reacted out of fear of a Republican nation and endorsed him early. The NEA also sees that they have flagging support amongst many Democrats (see Cuomo in New York) and wanted to get on board early to boost their national stature. (link)
So, what is in it for Obama? President Obama doesn’t need the money from the teachers. He will already be getting millions from corporations and individuals. Reuters reports that the President might surpass $1 billion this election and already has the record of over $750 million dollars for his 2008 campaign. (link) Obama doesn’t really need the teachers’ money. So what does the NEA endorsement give him?
What the endorsement does is give political cover to a president whose policies amount to union busting. Generally, teachers’ unions are liberal and many people rely on endorsements to inform their voting. “Well, if the teachers endorse him, then he’s okay with me.” It also ensures that some union members will work for his campaign, and they can be tireless workers.
However, as one teacher/delegate put it, not all were pleased by the early endorsement, “I am a building rep for the NEA. I actually spoke personally with about 2/3 of my unionized teachers when the early endorsement – the first such in NEA history – was proposed. Out of the more than 80 teachers with whom I spoke only one supported the early endorsement. Many did not like giving up what little leverage the union had with the administration.” (link)
Teachers deserve better treatment than President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Congress and state governments have been rendering. Until they realize this, they will continue to act like abused children who keep expecting one parent to stand up for them against the abusive alcoholic parent. This doesn’t mean that teachers should stop voting for and supporting Democrats, it means that they need to stop working for Democrats and others that want to take away their power, pay, autonomy and careers. It means not giving an early endorsing to a President who is not an ally.
A good class based criticism of the NEA endorsement to be found at Counterpunch.