Blog: The Educated Reporter

Does the NEA have laryngitis?

It is an understatement to say that I am tired of the Randi Weingarten/Michelle Rhee road show being repeated over and over and over again. At this point it’s just unimaginative booking.There are other conversations we should be having besides hiring-and-firing, and when that pair are matched up even that one is soundbitten into uselessness.

But at least Weingarten is talking. AFT’s media strategy during this burst of national attention to education reform is messaging, messaging, messaging. The messaging may occasionally be contradictory, but it is something. The strategy of the NEA, which is twice as large as AFT and just as angry? Crickets.

From the homepage of the AFT you can link to all sorts of responses to “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” The homepage of the NEA features pleas for the usual agenda items (increased funding, teachers salaries) but only one direct response to the current debate: a link, midway down the page, to a teacher’s letter to Oprah. You can dig to find Van Roekel’s press release criticizing “Superman,” and he was a low-key presence on one of the Education Nation panels. But that’s not much, is it?

Why? Weingarten was a character in “Superman” and Van Roekel was not, though the film is only one small part of the discussion building this year. Maybe the NEA cannot settle on an approach. Stephen Sawchuk at Education Week wrote a great piece this summer about how the unions’ differing structures affect their ability to take a seat at the table regarding national reforms—essentially, the AFT is run by Weingarten and the NEA is run by its locals. Perhaps the NEA has some sort of cunning strategy I don’t understand—lie low and hope that it all blows over?

I guess the Weingarten/Rhee showdown appears irresistible to those who plan panels and make movies. So maybe we haven’t heard much from the NEA is because barely anyone has asked. Though why the nation’s largest union would wait to be invited before raising its voice is a mystery to me.