In 2009, the long-time lawyer for the National Education Association (NEA), Bob Chanin, gave a farewell speech to a crowd of thousands of assembled delegates at the organization’s annual conference. In a moment of startling frankness, Mr. Chanin revealed the core concern and focus of this large and politically powerful education union.
“Despite what some among us would like to believe,” NEA’s effectiveness “is not because of our creative ideas,” he said. “It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.” Having made that clear, he moved on to his point:
NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power, and we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the union that can most effectively represent them—the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.
This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality, and the like, are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.
Those in attendance rose to give Chanin a standing ovation, clearly supporting this position—a position that reveals that the union’s power is aimed not at helping children (despite public statements to the contrary), but at preserving and expanding the benefits and privileges given to their members, the education bureaucracy.
It is against this backdrop that I present the NEA’s official position on home-schooling, one of many resolutions contained in a 109 page document listing the organization’s views on a variety of education-related issues. It begins with a simple, yet audacious claim: “The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.”
Recognizing that this union—and its affiliate, the Utah Education Association—fights first and foremost for the teacher’s interests, as opposed to the students, it becomes clear why such a position exists at all. Fewer students in the classroom mean fewer dollars given to the system; funding models tied to seat time and daily attendance create an incentive to support compulsory education and oppose alternatives that threaten their stream of income.
Of course, the NEA’s resolution is laughable on its face; a union protecting its members’ interests is not the ideal institution to define what is a “comprehensive education experience.” Further, this claim is at odds with the data; as a recent nationwide study reports, homeschooled children “have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests, compared to the national school average of the 50th percentile.” Given that fact, and the oft-reported poor performance of flunking students, failing schools, and widespread need for remedial education of public school graduates, perhaps the NEA’s “comprehensive education experience” refers more to the social environment provided by the government school system. But the same study finds that homeschooled children develop “at least as well, and often better than, those who attend institutional schools.” The study’s summary concludes:
More than two decades of research have shown that homeschooling… is associated with relatively high academic achievement, healthy social, psychological, and emotional development, and success into adulthood for those who were home educated.
But it’s clear that such a hard-line position against homeschoolers is grounded more in emotion than fact when the NEA’s resolution also states their view that homeschooled students “should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools”—a purely punitive proposal.
If the state’s interest in an educated populace justifies the status quo, then alternatives with little to no cost and superior outcomes, such as homeschooling, should be ardently defended and sought after. Fortunately, the NEA’s opinion holds no sway on this issue, given the legislature’s recent deregulation of homeschooling.