The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest professional employee organization and one of the most powerful labor unions in the United States. It works to improve public education and attain higher salaries and better working conditions for educators and school employees through political activism, research, professional development, contract negotiations, and awards. The NEA represents over 2.8 million teachers, administrators, education support professionals, faculty members, education students, and retirees. It is a staff supported, volunteer-based association with affiliates in all fifty states and in over 13,000 communities.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the NEA influences the political process at the local, state, and national levels. For example, the NEA seeks to “fix and fund” the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; supports free, universal preschool; and opposes efforts to reduce public school funding through privatization (educational choice and voucher programs). It conducts large-scale research projects and provides access to comparative data on teachers, students, and schools. Members use this information to improve educational practices and promote increased funding for public education.
NEA professional staff members assist affiliates engaged in the contract negotiation process through which employee salaries, benefits, and working conditions (e.g., class size, school safety, preparation periods, grievance and transfer policies) are determined. The NEA’s Web-based Legislative Action Center highlights pending legislation likely to impact education. The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, a political action committee, is funded by voluntary member contributions (not dues). The fund uses these contributions for political purposes, supporting candidates whose platforms and voting records reflect the association’s principles. Critics argue that the NEA impedes educational reform efforts, wields too much political power, and promotes causes that do not reflect members’ professional values and interests.
Organized in 1857, the NEA was first called the National Teachers Association. Zalmon Richards of Columbian College, George Washington University, was the association’s first president. The NEA was incorporated under a Special Act of Congress in 1906. Ella Flagg Young of the University of Chicago was the association’s first female president (1911–1912). The NEA was a “professional association” for nearly a century, opposing collective bargaining and the use of strikes to settle labor disputes. However, the NEA became a teachers’ union in the 1960s, after losing ground to a rival organization, the American Federation of Teachers, in large urban school districts.
The main policy-making group of the NEA is the Representative Assembly, comprised of more than 9,000 elected delegates. When the Representative Assembly convenes each year, it constitutes the largest democratic decision-making body in the world. Noteworthy publications of the NEA include the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession, NEA Today, and The NEA Handbook.
- Loveless, T. (2000). Conflicting missions? Teachers unions and educational reform. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
- National Education Association. (2006). NEA handbook 2005–2006. Washington, DC: Author.
- National Education Association: http://www.nea.org
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