Based in Washington, DC, the 3.1 million-member National Education Association (NEA) is the largest labor union in the United States. It represents public school teachers and support personnel; faculty and staffers in colleges and universities; retired educators; and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA’s mission is “to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world.”
The NEA pursues these goals through its 14,000+ local affiliate organizations (which are active in fundraising, conducting professional workshops, and negotiating teacher contracts); its 51 state affiliates (which “lobby legislators for the resources schools need”); and its Washington, DC-based national headquarters (which “lobbies Congress and federal agencies on behalf of its members and public schools, supports and coordinates innovative projects, works with other education organizations and friends of public education, [and] provides training and assistance to its affiliates”).
The NEA was founded in 1850 as the National Teachers Association, and adopted its present name in 1857. Promoting government-owned public schools and “modern” pedagogical ideas, this union permitted no private school teachers to join its ranks. These government-owned-and-run schools were modeled on statist European education in Prussia, and attracted socialist activist teachers who saw public school students as perfect subjects for re-engineering society. That remolding began with the anti-Catholic objectives of Horace Mann (1796-1859) and expanded to the anti-religious humanism of John Dewey (1859-1952).
In a 1935 report presented at the 72nd annual NEA convention, the union's future Executive Secretary Willard Givens wrote: “A dying laissez-faire must be completely destroyed and all of us … must be subjected to a large degree of social control…. The major function of the school is the social orientation of the individual. It must seek to give him understanding of the transition to a new social order.”
In a 2003 article titled “NEA Hastens Death of American Education,” veteran journalist Ralph de Toledano wrote that in 1938 “the Institute for Social Research, founded by the Comintern, appeared on the Columbia University campus, taking over the Teachers College, the country’s most influential school of education.” “Better known as the Frankfurt School,” de Toledano continued, “… [the Institute] eschewed the economic aspects of Marxism and promulgated a substitute based on Marx’s 1843 preachments. Later labeled neo-Marxism, the program called for the destruction of religion, the family, education and all moral values, along with the capture of the intellectuals and the instruments of mass communication such as the press, radio and films. To this it appended a new Freudianism, which reduced human relationships to rampant sexuality and the grossest pleasure principles -- a program its secret founder boasted ‘will make America stink.’”
Added de Tolenado: “The Frankfurt School’s program, implemented by the NEA, made the goal of education not to educate the young but to give them an anarchic ‘self-esteem’ and deprive them of any sense of what’s wrong or right ... [a]nd it preached the alienation of children from parental guidance, urging them to ‘inform’ on their families, as in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.”
The NEA’s explicitly stated quest to “foster positive self-esteem” in schoolchildren continues to this day. In his book Inside American Education, Thomas Sowell observes: “Perhaps nothing so captures what is wrong with American schools as the results of an international study of 13-year-olds which found that Koreans ranked first in mathematics and Americans last. When asked if they thought they were ‘good at mathematics,’ only 23 percent of Korean youngsters said ‘yes’ -- compared to 68 percent of American 13-year-olds. The American educational dogma that students should ‘feel good about themselves’ was a success in its own terms -- though not in any other terms.”
As of 1957, the NEA had more than 700,000 members. (By way of comparison, in 1907 the union's membership had stood at 5,044; in 1917 it was fewer than 9,000; and by the World War II era it was just over 200,000.)
In 1966 the NEA merged with the historically black American Teachers Association (ATA), which was originally founded as the National Association of Colored Teachers. The NEA and ATA had long enjoyed a close working relationship prior to the merger.
In the 1960s and 1970s, teachers were becoming unionized at a faster pace than ever before. Precisely at this time, minority student SAT scores, a popular and objective achievement barometer, deteriorated dramatically. Confronted by this embarrassing fact, the NEA responded by calling for the abolition of standardized testing of students.
At the 1976 NEA Annual Conference, NEA president Catherine Barrett delivered a speech in which she made the following comments regarding what she viewed as the changing role of the teacher:
"[D]ramatic changes in the way we raise our children in the year 2000 are indicated particularly in terms of schooling, and ... these changes will require new ways of thinking...
"We will need to recognize that the so-called 'basic skills,' which currently represent nearly the total effort in elementary schools, will be taught in one quarter of the present school day. The remaining time will be devoted to what is truly fundamental and basic—time for academic inquiry, time for students to develop their own interests, time for a dialogue between students and teachers. When this happens—and it is near—the teacher can rise to his true calling. More than a dispenser of information, the teacher will be a conveyor of values, a philosopher. Students will learn to write love letters and lab notes. We will help each child build his own rocket to his own moon....
"Finally, if our children are to be human beings who think clearly, feel deeply, and act wisely, we will answer definitely the question 'Who should make what decisions?' Teachers no longer will be victims of change; we will be the agents of change."
In recent decades the NEA has been outspoken about its positions vis a vis a host of social and political topics, including abortion, sex education, teen pregnancy, school prayer, socialized medicine, affordable housing, drug testing, prisoner rights, and bilingual education. In July 1997 the union formally adopted a series of resolutions that called for:
The NEA also specifically advocated:
Nine years later, at its 2006 national convention, the NEA proposed that all public schools should unequivocally support homosexual marriage and other forms of marriage (polygamy, etc.). In the NEA’s view, this perspective should be transmitted -- via classroom instruction and textbooks alike -- to all children at all age levels, without any requirement for the permission or knowledge of parents.
At its 2007 national convention in Philadelphia, the NEA passed a number of additional resolutions -- some founded on the axiom that American society is inherently discriminatory and unjust, and others advocating massive increases in taxpayer funding of school programs and extra-curricular activities. For example, the NEA stated that:
In addition to the foregoing resolutions, the NEA supports “the movement toward self-determination by American Indians/Alaska natives” and believes that these groups should control their own education. It further holds that all schools should designate separate months to celebrate Black History, Hispanic Heritage, Native American Indian Heritage, Asian/Pacific Heritage, Women’s History, and Lesbian and Gay History. This proposal is founded on the premise that members of these demographics are victimized by persistent, widespread discrimination.
In the NEA's estimation, America's alleged inequities are by no means limited to the domestic sphere but extend also to U.S. foreign policy. After 9/11, for instance, the union's position was that America had long mistreated and exploited the peoples of other nations, and thus essentially had sown the seeds of the rage that ultimately found its expression in the 9/11 attacks.
Immediately after 9/11, the NEA issued guidelines on how teachers should discuss the topic with their students. These guidelines stressed the need for children to be tolerant and respectful of all cultures -- and said virtually nothing about the fact that the U.S. was at war with an enemy that was aiming to annihilate it. The NEA came so close to blaming America for having provoked the 9/11 attacks, that a public outcry ensued and the union was forced to remove the teacher guidelines from its website.
In the summer of 2002, as the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks neared, the NEA again posted guidelines on its national website stating that classroom teachers should not “suggest any group [was] responsible” for the previous year's atrocities. Rather, the union advised teachers to have their students “discuss historical instances of American intolerance.”
The NEA directed special praise to a 9/11 curriculum designed by Milwaukee fifth-grade teacher Robert Peterson, who explained the importance of helping students to: (a) “understand that they live in a global village”; (b) ask “why” the attacks may have been aimed against America; and (c) develop empathy for people elsewhere in the world. The NEA summarized what it considered to be one of Peterson's exemplary lesson plans:
“[Peterson] leads the children in a study of world population and distribution of income, and then takes them outdoors to illustrate their research on a large world map drawn on the playground blacktop. With each child representing 240 million people, the kids spread out—15 students in Asia, three in Europe, three in Africa, one in North America, two in South America, none in Australia. Chocolate cookies are then distributed according to each continent's gross domestic product. Six cookies are shared by the 15 people in Asia. Nine are shared by three Europeans, one cookie for South America, just half a cookie for Africa, eight for the lone North American. Most students have strong reactions and many questions. Why are there so many people in Asia? Why are the Europeans and Americans so rich? Some try negotiating with other ‘nations,’ while others even suggest war to even the odds. Peterson says his students begin to glimpse how the world's enormous inequalities could lead to animosity.”
The NEA employs a larger number of political organizers than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. Fortune magazine routinely ranks the NEA among the top 15 in its “Washington’s Power 25” list of organizations that wield the greatest political influence over the American legislative system. The Association has earned that rating, in large measure, by making almost $31 million in campaign contributions to political candidates since the early 1990s. At least 95% of that total went to Democrats.
The NEA derives most of its operating funds from the member dues that, in almost every U.S. state, are deducted automatically from teachers' salaries. In 2010, these dues accounted for $357.5 million of the union's $376.5 million in total revenues.
Of course the NEA concerns itself not only with social and political issues in the U.S. and abroad, but it also is actively involved in negotiating the terms under which its member teachers work. For example, the union adamantly opposes merit pay (or "performance contracting") for public school teachers -- characterizing such a system as “detrimental to public education." Delegates to the summer 2000 NEA convention openly declared their categorical opposition to “any … system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee’s performance.” In 2007 the union elaborated, “competency testing must not be used as a condition of employment, license retention, evaluation, placement, ranking, or promotion of licensed teachers”
Not only is the NEA opposed to merit pay, but for decades it has manifested a marked hostility toward outstanding teachers. The example of world-famous math teacher Jaime Escalante is instructive. According to Escalante (the subject of the 1988 Hollywood movie Stand and Deliver), who developed the most successful inner-city math program in America, teacher union officials chastised him for attracting “too many” students to his calculus classes. When Escalante finally resigned from the high school which he and his students had made famous, local teacher union officials circulated a celebratory note that read: “We got him out!”
The NEA is similarly opposed to vouchers which would permit parents to divert a portion of their tax dollars away from the public school system, and to use those funds instead to help cover the tuition costs for private schools to which they might prefer to send their children. In the NEA's calculus, such voucher programs "compromise the Association's commitment to free, equitable, universal, and quality public education for every student.” (Helping the NEA to lobby against vouchers and parental choice have been such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and People for the American Way.)
Seeking to minimize competition for that government money, the teachers unions invariably oppose the use of school vouchers, which, according to the NEA, “compromise the Association's commitment to free, equitable, universal, and quality public education for every student.” Further, the NEA asserts that voucher systems “only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”
At its 2007 national convention in Philadelphia, the NEA passed a number of resolutions that were designed, like its anti-voucher platform, to discredit and undermine other educational initiatives that threatened to compete with the public schools. For instance, the Association claimed that “home-schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience,” and stipulated that “home-schooled students should not [be permitted to] participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.”
Other NEA resolutions were likewise intended to promote maximum government expenditures on public education. For example, the Association stated that “full-day, every-day kindergarten programs should be fully funded”; “federal, state, and ... local governments should provide funds sufficient to make pre-kindergarten available for all three- and four-year-old children”; tax dollars should “suppor[t] early childhood education programs in the public schools for children from birth through age eight”; and early childhood education programs “should include a full continuum of services ... including child care, child development ... diversity-based curricula, special education, and appropriate bias-free screening devices.”
The NEA also contends that “excellence in the classroom can best be attained by small class size,” the “optimum” being “fifteen students in regular programs and a proportionately lower number in programs for students with exceptional needs.” While such a policy is clearly compatible with the union's desire to maximize the number of schoolteachers on the public payroll, there is a considerable body of evidence suggesting that class size is wholly unrelated to student performance.
Specifically, the NEA's closest political ties are with the Democratic Party. In 1976 the union used its financial resources and manpower to help elect Jimmy Carter to the U.S. presidency. After the election, Carter in turn thanked the union by creating the Department of Education in 1979, prompting one NEA executive to boast that this was the only union in the United States with its own cabinet department. At recent Democratic National Conventions, up to a quarter of the delegates have been members of teachers unions.
Today the NEA is a member organization of the America Votes coalition of get-out-the-vote organizations. America Votes is itself a member of the so-called Shadow Party, a nationwide network of activist groups whose agendas are ideologically Left, and which are engaged in campaigning for the Democrats. NEA’s fellow America Votes coalition members include: America Coming Together (ACT); the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America); the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN); the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund; Democracy For America; EMILY's List; the League of Conservation Voters (LCV); the Media Fund; the MoveOn.org Voter Fund; the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL Pro-Choice America); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) National Voter Fund; People for the American Way (PFAW); the Planned Parenthood Action Fund; the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); the Sierra Club; USAction; and 21st Century Democrats.
Of the $341 million the NEA received from September 2004 to August 2005, some $295 million came from member dues. In turn, many of those revenues were used to promote political agendas and candidates -- almost all of them Democrats. For several decades the NEA has been among the largest contributors of money and personnel to the Democratic Party and its candidates. Between 1990 and 2008, 93 percent of the union's political donations went to Democrats. (And virtually all of the rest went to the most liberal Republicans running in primaries, not in general elections, to tilt the political playing field even farther left).
As reporter Lowell Ponte puts it, “The astronomical amount of political money thus coerced from workers is the lifeblood of [the] Democratic Party.... The NEA functions as a giant money-laundering machine for the Democrats. Democrats impose laws that let the union take a big piece of every employee’s paycheck, which in public schools comes from the taxpayers. And the unions pay for this power and privilege by splitting this taxpayer money with partisan Democrat politicians to keep the machine operating. Public schools are an ultimate example of this synergy, not only because they are government monopolies but also because already-taxed parents are required by law to school their children, to offer their offspring as hostages to this money-extorting government-union machine.” Because the NEA works so closely with the Democratic Party, it promotes the leftist ideologies and worldviews reflected in its aforementioned resolutions.
Studies have shown that as few as 40 percent of NEA members are Democrats, the remaining 60 percent splitting evenly between Republicans and independents. According to the NEA’s own internal polling, half of the union's members identify themselves as conservative. Yet the NEA, like other unions, claims an absolute right to spend dues as it sees fit, regardless of the viewpoints of the teachers it nominally represents.
The NEA has a permanent, paid, full-time staff of at least 1,800 United Service (UniServ) employees who function as political operatives -- more than the Republican and Democratic Parties combined. In a presidential election year, this army of union foot soldiers is tantamount to a political donation of more than $100 million to Democrats. They are trained at radical boot camps, paid and typically given graduate school credit for attending. One NEA handbook is titled Alinsky for Teacher Organizers and teaches activists how to use the confrontation and pressure tactics of the late radical leftist Saul Alinsky.
As Joel Mowbray reports in a Capital Research Center study, the Virginia-based Landmark Legal Foundation (LLF) in recent years has investigated the NEA for possible illegal use of tax-exempt funds. According to LLF President Mark Levin, the NEA has “kept information from its dues-paying members and the general public that clearly shows improper use of tax-exempt money to influence elections.”
LLF’s investigation traces its path back to the 1996 presidential election, when the NEA was a key constituent of a “National Coordinated Campaign Steering Committee” (NCCSC) whose function was to help Democrats win as many national, state, and local elections as possible; to determine campaign strategy for Democratic candidates at all levels of government; and to coordinate spending on their behalf. Joining the NEA on this Committee were the AFL-CIO, the 1996 Clinton-Gore Campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Leadership Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and EMILY's List.
Because the NEA is a tax-exempt organization, the federal government places certain restrictions on how the union may use its immense revenues. Specifically, the government requires that whatever funds a union earmarks for political activities designed to influence an election, must be disclosed on IRS Forms 990 and 1120-POL. The latter of these must be filed by any tax-exempt group whose political expenditures exceed $100 in a single calendar year, and requires some disclosure about the details of those donations.
Yet from 1994-96 the NEA reported that it spent no money at all on politics. This is because an honest disclosure of its political expenditures would have entitled union members, if they objected to having their mandatory dues used to finance Democrat causes, to recover the portion of those dues that had been so earmarked. Also, union revenues used for partisan political purposes were taxable in certain cases.
Contrary to its claim that its political expenditures were nonexistent, the NEA not only spent millions of dollars on issue ads and get-out-the-vote drives for Democrats, but it also coordinated its campaign strategies with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Confirming this was a key piece of evidence acquired by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) -- an unsigned Coordinated Campaign memo from Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge. This memo stated: “When the DNC and its national Partners including … the AFL-CIO and the NEA … agree on the contents of a plan, each national partner will give their funding commitment to the state.”
In other words, if the NEA disapproved of a particular state strategy, it could prevent its "partners" -- the DNC and AFL-CIO -- from funding it, and the measure could effectively be stopped. This was akin to a veto power over Democratic Party political action plans. In other words, the NEA dictated terms to the DNC, not vice versa.
“Those of us who have long dismissed the National Education Association as a tool of the Democratic Party have been badly mistaken,” wrote columnist William McGurn in 2001 in the Wall Street Journal. “Apparently it’s just the opposite ... it’s the Democratic Party that is the tool of the NEA.”
Beginning in 2005, new federal rules required large labor unions like the NEA to report in greater detail (to the U.S. Department of Labor) how they spent their money. Under these new disclosure regulations, it was confirmed that an immense amount of NEA money was being spent for purposes having nothing to do with the union's purported priorities (i.e., better wages, benefits, and working conditions for teachers and school staff). For example, the NEA reported that during the 2004-05 fiscal year, it had spent $56.8 million on "union administration," $25 million on "political activities and lobbying," and $65.5 million on "contributions, gifts, and grants." In other words, it is possible that up to $90.5 million (the sum of the latter two categories of expenditures) was earmarked for leftist political candidates, organizations, and causes. Among these expenditures were the following:
"What wasn't clear before is how much of a part the teachers unions play in the wider liberal movement and the Democratic Party," said Michael Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a California-based watchdog group. "They're like some philanthropic organization that passes out grant money to interest groups."
As of 2006, the NEA's $58 million payroll included over 600 employees and officers, more than half of whom earned salaries exceeding $100,000 per year. NEA President Reg Weaver's salary was $439,000. As of 2004-05, NEA Vice President Dennis Van Roekel earned $273,000, and Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen earned $272,000. By contrast, the average classroom teacher earned $48,000.
Though the NEA consistently complains that education in the U.S. is underfunded, government spending on education has in fact outpaced overall economic growth by more than 50 percent since the early 1900s. As of 2004-05, the government was spending an average of $8,701 per year per public-school student.
According to its 2007 financial report, the NEA’s total assets were $188,710,730. Its total receipts for the year were $352,958,087. Moreover, the NEA's aggressive lobbying of Congress has enabled it to benefit from an archaic law freeing it from having to pay its $1.6 million in annual property taxes. No other labor union in America has been able to negotiate such an arrangement.
In recent years, NEA has also contributed money to a wide variety of leftwing advocacy groups, including: ACORN, the AFL-CIO, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Campaign for America's Future, the Center for Community Change, the Children's Defense Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Democracy Alliance, the Economic Policy Institute, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Urban League, the National Women's Law Center, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Service Employees International Union, the Sierra Club, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, USAction, the Voter Participation Center (formerly called Women's Voices-Women's Vote), and the WAND Education Fund.
In November 2009, the NEA website posted a page titled "Recommended Reading: Saul Alinsky, The American Organizer." This page praised Saul Alinsky's two books -- Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals -- as "an inspiration" to "every organizer" and "anyone contemplating action in their community."
In the 2008 and 2010 election-campaign seasons, the NEA gave a combined total of more than $15.3 million in contributions to federal candidates; 97 percent of that money went to Democrats.
 According to a NAEP report: “On average, being in a small class does not increase the likelihood that a student will attain a higher score on the NAEP reading test,” and “children in the smallest classes ... do not score higher than students in the largest classes.”
In 2003, Hoover Institution senior fellow Eric Hanushek scoured the existing educational literature for rigorous econometric studies estimating the degree to which class size might impact student achievement. Of the 276 different estimates which he found, just 14% were both positive and statistically significant; another 14% were significantly negative; and 72% were statistically insignificant. Thus the modal finding of the literature was that class-size reduction had no impact on student performance. Says a Heritage Foundation analysis, “It is quite likely, in fact, that class size as a variable pales in comparison with the effects of many factors not included in the NAEP data, such as teacher quality and teaching methods.” In a separate report, scholars Nina Rees and Kirk Johnson conclude that: “Hiring more teachers might be good for teachers unions, which would love to see their membership rolls expand at taxpayer expense. But it will do little to help school children get a better education.”