The National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) claim to represent the best interests of not only their combined four million members but of the American public school system as a whole.
The facts, however, show they do neither.
As test achievement test scores and enrollment numbers continue to decline, the NEA and AFT’s national conferences, both held in July, provided an opportune platform for the unions to offer practical solutions to the challenges facing American education. Instead, NEA and AFT leadership chose to double down on left-wing social issues, prioritizing their radical political agenda over advocating for teachers and students.
The NEA’s 2023 Representative Assembly, held in Orlando, Fla., July 3-6, brought together 6,000 delegates from the union’s state and local affiliates across the country to discuss new policies, budgetary issues, and a strategic plan for the upcoming school year.
NEA President Becky Pringle set the tone for this year’s gathering with her opening remarks. Embellished with meaningless slogans and empty platitudes, Pringle’s speech laid bare the union’s left-wing bias with commentary about the “extremist” United States Supreme Court and America’s fundamentally inequitable social fabric.
Her diatribe concluded with a scathing characterization of Florida, the conference’s host state, as “our nation’s Ground Zero for shameful, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic rhetoric and dangerous actions.”
The attacks continued as NEA delegates discussed this year’s New Business Items (NBIs), annual resolutions that guide the union’s ideological and fiscal priorities. Though, in a change from past years, the full list of NBIs was hidden from public view, this year’s resolutions featured predictable diversions into non-education subject matter, such as LGBTQ+ priorities, religious expression, and gun control.
NBI 1, submitted by the NEA’s LGBTQ+ Caucus, railed about the “prevalence of discrimination and violence targeted at people who are perceived as” LGBT. The action item, accompanied by a hefty price tag of $580,000, commits the NEA to develop a “robust 2024 election strategy that centers LGBT issues,” as well as devoting additional resources to the development of educational materials dealing with “the need for access to gender-affirming care … using pronouns and how to support transitioning students.”
NBI 69 had “something to do with religious expression,” according to one teacher in attendance, and at least one NBI focused on gun control, proposing that the NEA support red-flag laws, universal background checks and assault rifle bans—measures the union has long supported anyway.
All three NBIs were passed by the NEA activists in attendance.
The 2023 Representative Assembly also included a brief virtual appearance by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. Following a superficial discussion between Pringle and the First Lady about summer book recommendations, the president spoke for just eight minutes. His remarks, littered with typical claims about Republican “book banning” and the characterization of a widespread teacher shortage as a “national security issue,” were purportedly followed by a vote of the NEA’s elections committee to endorse Biden’s 2024 re-election bid. Given that the union already publicly endorsed the Biden-Harris 2024 presidential ticket back in April, the significance of the vote at the Representative Assembly isn’t particularly clear.
The AFT held its corresponding national event, AFT TEACH 2023, from July 21-23 in Washington, D.C. Although varying slightly in format, the professional development, session-based conference matched the NEA’s Representative Assembly in terms of blatant political propaganda.
Rivaling Pringle’s remarks, the characteristically bombastic AFT President Randi Weingarten’s keynote speech framed America’s “far-right wing” as the fundamental threat to public education.
Conservative “extremists,” according to Weingarten, “try to divide Americans from one another, (because) they know that public schools unite us … parents know that (AFT has) our children’s best interest at heart.”
To this end, Weingarten unveiled the union’s $5 million “Real Solutions for Kids and Communities” campaign, offering abstract, unspecified solutions to “learning loss, literacy and loneliness” in public schools.
Breakout sessions offered to attendees of this year’s conference, however, left little doubt as to where the union stands on “children’s best interest.”
Conspicuously absent from both gatherings were substantive discussions about improving student outcomes in such disciplines as math, science, reading, and writing — presumably because such tedious subject matter gets in the way of their true objective: Transforming schools from educational institutions into indoctrination centers for the next generation of leftist extremists.
With each new conference, resolution, and budget item, it becomes increasingly clear that embedding a fringe, left-wing ideology into school curriculums isn’t just the unions’ primary goal. It’s their only goal.
Teachers who, unlike the NEA and AFT, care about the success of their students have a decision to make. They can either continue to financially contribute to the political pet projects of government union bosses or exercise their constitutional right to resign their membership and, in so doing, help defund arguably the largest obstacle to the long-term success of education in this country.
Maddie Dermon is a research and policy analyst at the Freedom Foundation. www.FreedomFoundation.com