July 16, 2019
By Matt Beienburg

“I don’t do it for the Income. I do it for the Outcome. Our Future. Our Children!”

“On Strike for my Students!”                       

Thousands of teachers marched across America with cries like these in 2018. Teachers and other allies—including many Republicans, Democrats, and every stripe in between—joined to support a movement branded around educators and the education of our students: Red for Ed.

For many who poured their passions into it, however, that movement apparently doesn’t support them.

This is because one of the largest organizing forces behind Red for Ed—the National Education Association (NEA)—recently voted on a series of resolutions that divide and devalue those who had joined in solidarity with Red for Ed’s ranks.

Take item #2, for example: “The [NEA] will re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education. NEA will make student learning the priority of the Association…” This inflammatory declaration should startle every parent, teacher, and community member who has supported the association and #RedforEd. 

Wait, what on earth is the problem with this declaration, you ask?

The problem is that the association voted it down.

Source: National Education Association Representative Assembly.

In other words, a majority of the association’s delegates inexplicably found that “putting a renewed emphasis on quality education” was too controversial of a position to take. (As EdChoice Director Robert Enlow remarked, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”)

Yet these same delegates had no qualms approving 72 other resolutions—making it clear that many Red for Ed moms, dads, and teachers are out of touch with the group’s aims. A few of those resolutions:

  • For any Red for Ed families concerned about divisive messages their children might receive in school, for example: “NEA will incorporate the concept of ‘White Fragility’ into NEA trainings/staff development, literature, and other existing communications…”ADOPTED. (Teaching “white fragility” has been approvingly described as calling attention to “white people’s paper-thin skin” and their “refus[al] to acknowledge their own participation in racist systems.”)
  • For any Red for Ed dads who agreed with President Barack Obama’s declaration on race “that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed”: “NEA will collaborate and partner with organizations and individuals who are doing the work to push reparations… and to involve educators, students, and communities in the discussions around support for reparations.” ADOPTED. (No, not the Obama sort, but “full repair and reparations for the crimes against humanity committed against [descendants of Africans] by the U.S. and for the gross injustices inflicted upon their ancestors.”)
  • For administrators determined to see teachers paid well, but concerned about the politicization of school curricula: “Mandating that Ethnic Studies be taught in preK-12 schools in age-appropriate ways.” ADOPTED.
  • For any Red for Ed moms who support their teachers but have personal reservations about allowing abortion all the way up to the point of birth: “The NEA vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose and stands on the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. WadeADOPTED.
  • For those wanting America to do more for migrant families but who disagree with Latin American dictators that the U.S. is the root of misery around the world: “The NEA will call on the U.S. government to accept responsibility for the destabilization of Central American countries.” ADOPTED.
  • For teachers at places like the Madison Elementary School District in Phoenix, which have forged district-charter school partnerships benefiting public school teachers and students alike: “NEA will develop a report on the negative effects of charter co-locations on students, particularly students of color, students with disabilities, and public school communities.” ADOPTED. (To read more about how these district-charter partnerships are helping school communities, check out my recent Goldwater Institute paper on the subject.)

Honest disagreements exist among good people on both sides of virtually all of these issues. Yet when so many public school allies came together for a cause they believed they all shared—the promotion of educators and students’ education—many must now ask themselves what being a supporter of Red for Ed really requires.

As the delegates signaled in one last resolution: “NEA will take the lead in urging a school calendar revision for the 2020 presidential election and will encourage the closure of schools on election day” because “Closing schools on election day pushes the Red4Ed movement forward.”

With aggressive and divisive political platforms—but not student learning—now apparently at its core, that movement will be leaving many of its supporters behind. Perhaps it’s time those supporters reciprocate.  

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.

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