Special Report

No Lefty Left Behind

The National Education Association allies itself with radical fringe groups. What next, field trips to Lenin's tomb? Elementary school readings from Mao's Little Red Book?

By 8.17.04

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WASHINGTON -- Last February Secretary of Education Rod Paige used the inflammatory and inappropriate term "terrorist organization" to describe the National Education Association. Perhaps he should have called them a "far left group." It might have been only slightly less inflammatory, but it would have been far more accurate.

Last Wednesday the NEA hosted a conference call to launch a new coalition called "National Mobilization for Great Public Schools." It is motivated by the need to make education "a higher priority across this nation" because "we're failing to provide too many children with the basics," according to the coalition's website. The coalition plans to host over 3,000 "house parties" across the nation on September 22 to make educational issues a major election issue.

The other coalition members include some of the usual suspects: NAACP National Voter Fund, and the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. However, the NEA is now working with groups much further on the left: MoveOn.org, ACORN, and Campaign for America's Future.

No description of MoveOn.org is necessary for regular readers of this site other than a reminder it was the organization sponsoring the political ad contest that included two ads comparing Bush to Hitler.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was founded by George Wiley whose claim to fame during the 1960s was to instigate poor single women to engage in sit-ins at welfare offices to end "oppressive" welfare eligibility restrictions. According to writer Sol Stern, Wiley's aim was "to flood the welfare system with so many clients that it would burst, creating a crisis that, he believed, would force a radical restructuring of America's unjust capitalist economy." ACORN continues Wiley's proud tradition of confrontational tactics. Several years ago, ACORN members protested Baltimore's lack of service to poor neighborhoods by dumping garbage in front of city hall and conducting a profanity laced demonstration in front of the mayor's house. ACORN is the group most responsible for imposing living wage laws in many of America's cities, and it's currently conducting a sustainable development campaign that, by limiting the growth of the suburbs, would make it more difficult for people to flee the high-tax cities.

The other organization involved is Campaign for America's Future, whose co-director Robert Borosage was formerly president of the leftist Institute for Policy Studies. CAF hosted the Michael Moore speech during the Democratic Convention and has accepted about $300,000 in contributions from George Soros. During the conference call Borosage even unintentionally admitted that some of the members of this coalition were from the far left. In response to a question about how this coalition could contend that it was bipartisan, he let slip, "I think you'll see that by the time we finish this coalition very mainstream groups [will be] joining it, it's just the mainstream groups it takes longer to get through their process."

The coalition certainly isn't about any new policy directions. Borosage claimed that schools face new challenges including overcrowded schools, significant restraints on and cuts in education spending, and soaring college tuition costs. These new challenges could be cured with some old remedies. "Our schools need adequate and equitable funding, qualified teachers, and technology," said Reg Weaver, president of the NEA. Borosage added, "Children need adequate nutrition, health care, and accessible and affordable pre-school." "Teacher and parents aren't magicians and we can't magically prepare our children without the needed resources," concluded Pat Boone (no, not that Pat Boone), vice president of the New York chapter of ACORN

Also speaking at the conference call was Coy Marquardt, introduced as a teacher from Iowa City, Iowa, and an NEA member. It wasn't a surprise to find out that he is also pretty politically active -- he's currently secretary of the Johnson County Democrats -- given his ability to reiterate the boilerplate against No Child Left Behind:

"My school achievement will be based on one standardized test, focused only on reading and math. I learned that all schools must meet the definition of 'adequate yearly progress' on this standardized test or it becomes a failing school. I learned that if a school is labeled as failing they will not get any additional funding to help them achieve, but rather be punished or worse yet shut down."</ BLOCKQUOTE>

The solution, according to Marquardt, is to evaluate schools on "several forms of assessments like graduation rates." Weaver also chimed in at this point saying, "We want more flexibility in definition of 'adequate yearly progress.' And more flexibility in terms of defining what a certified, qualified teacher is." In other words, make the standards more nebulous so that it is easier for schools to evade the sanctions under No Child Left Behind.

No, the purpose of the coalition is mobilizing the grassroots to pressure politicians to spend more money on public education. NEA has joined with far-left groups like MoveOn.org, ACORN, and Campaign for America's Future because they have demonstrated their ability to organize activists. "The centerpiece of this is really the new citizen activism that started to express itself this year," said Borosage. Joan Blades of MoveOn.org stated, "We're going to give politicians the support they need to [advance our goals]. We've seen that local organizing, coming together and going national is just incredibly powerful." Later she added, "There are a lot of politicians that would absolutely love to do more for education but they can't do it without political capital which grassroots support [can provide]."

Rallying activists outside the confines of a tired Democratic Party is surely the aim of the NEA, and they will achieve it even if it means associating with groups of the far left. Indeed, the NEA seems unconcerned about this. According to Weaver, "I've always said we will work with anybody that has goals and objectives of increasing support for quality education."

Perhaps these are desperate times for the NEA. It faces not only a new testing regime that penalizes failure but also expanding of school choice programs from vouchers, charter schools, and tuition tax credits. The NEA is determined to fight reform, even if it means getting in bed with some far left organizations. Desperate times call for desperate measures.


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About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.