Linda Perlstein asks “does the NEA have laryngitis?” referring the union’s relative reticence in the face of current media attention to education reform--particularly Waiting for Superman and NBC’s Education Nation coverage this week. And it’s true that, compared to some education reform groups (who’ve at times seemed a bit like 3-year-olds who got into a bag of pixie sticks around this stuff) and the AFT’s Randi Weingarten, NEA’s been pretty absent from the national media press on Waiting for Superman and Education Nation. But it would be an error to mistake that media reticence for non-engagement. Education reform groups, for all their recent successes, are still small and scrappy, and engaged in a battle to change hearts and minds around public education--because of this, education reformers have to be aggressive in fighting the fight in the media, seizing any opportunity to make their case to the public. But the NEA already has the power here, with their 3.3 million members, $56.3 million in state and federal campaign spending last cycle, and a host of federal, state and district policies designed with their approval--so they don’t necessarily need to fight their fights in public--particularly when it seems likely to be a loser’s game for them to do so.
That doesn’t mean, though, that any one should think NEA is sitting this one out. I’ve talked to folks from reform organizations who’ve been out at Waiting for Superman screenings, working to organize people revved up after the film and help them plug their emotional response into productive action. They tell me that the NEA has folks there, too.
Ed reformers have had some real success in making their case to the media and winning over elite opinion and even policy makers. But we’re still way outmatched when it comes to ground game here--and all too often that’s where real battles are won and lost. I’m glad to see some reform groups increasingly engaged in the kind of grassroots organizing necessary to give parents, community-members and those who speak for kids a real voice in education reform debates. But there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.