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National Education Association

Membership, Governance, Staff and Administration, Policies, Activities, History

The National Education Association (NEA) is America's oldest and largest professional employee organization committed to the cause of public education (as well as to the well-being of its members). Founded in 1857 in Philadelphia, and now headquartered in Washington, D.C., in 2001 the NEA membership includes more than 2.6 million elementary and secondary school teachers, college faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has affiliates in every state as well as in over 13,000 local communities across the United States.

Membership

Anyone who works for a public school district, a college or university, or any other public institution devoted primarily to education is eligible to join the NEA. The organization also has special membership categories for retired educators and college students studying to become teachers. More specific membership information can vary among state and local affiliates. Members pay dues to be part of the NEA, and in return are provided with a wide range of services from the organization. The NEA has long been active in trying to improve the economic status of teachers and education professionals by assisting in the negotiating of employment contracts with local school boards.

Issues the NEA includes in negotiations are salary schedules, grievance procedures, instruction methods, transfer policies, discipline, preparation periods, class size, extracurricular activities, sick leave, and school safety. The NEA assists local affiliates in negotiations through consultation by field representatives and through the production of resource materials. In defining the role of its members, the NEA developed the Code of Ethics for the Educational Profession. In 1975 NEA members adopted the code, which "indicates the aspiration of all educators and provides standards by which to judge conduct."

Governance

The NEA is a democratic organization, and the structure and policy of the NEA are outlined in the organization's constitution and bylaws. NEA members nationwide set association policy and change the bylaws and the constitution of the organization–most notably through the annual Representative Assembly (RA), which is held every July. The Representative Assembly is the primary legislative and policymaking body of the NEA. It derives its powers from, and is responsible to, the membership. NEA members at the state and local level elect the more than nine thousand RA delegates, who in turn elect NEA's top officers, debate issues, and set NEA policy at the Representative Assembly.

Between Representative Assemblies, NEA's top decision-making bodies throughout the year are the board of directors and the executive committee. The board of directors consists of at least one director from each association affiliated with the NEA, as well as an additional director for each twenty thousand active NEA members in each state, six directors for the retired members of the NEA, and three directors for the student members. The board meets four times a year, plus one meeting in conjunction with the Representative Assembly.

The executive committee consists of nine members: the three executive officers of president, vice president, and secretary treasurer, and six members elected at-large by delegates to the Representative Assembly. The executive committee meets approximately seven times a year.

Staff and Administration

NEA is a volunteer-based organization supported by a network of staff at the local, state, and national level. At the local and state level, NEA affiliates are active in a wide array of activities, ranging from conducting professional workshops on discipline and other issues that affect faculty and school support staff to bargaining contracts for school district employees. At the national level, more than five hundred employees work for the NEA at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The NEA staffing structure is designed to help realize the NEA's strategic priorities.

Policies

During the 1998–2000 budget years, it was decided by the membership that the association's priority work would concentrate on three areas of concern: student achievement, teacher quality, and school system capacity to support student success. The organization's staff departments were assembled with these three core priorities in mind.

Student achievement. Increasing student achievement is NEA's first strategic priority. Making sure that all students have the skills and knowledge to function successfully in school so that they may also succeed as adults is critical to the Association's strategic focus on rebuilding public confidence in public education. This department is dedicated to helping local affiliates address issues such as high-stakes testing and implementing standards-based education. It also helps affiliates advocate for and influence instructional policy and practice at the local level and implement the NEA's annual Read Across America child literacy event, which is held every March 1 in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel).

Teacher quality. The single most important factor in enhancing student achievement is teacher quality. The NEA stands by the belief that without a qualified teacher in every classroom, student learning is limited and access to quality education is compromised. NEA's Teacher Quality Department is designed to help all teachers achieve high standards for practice. Through this department, the NEA promotes rigorous standards for access to, and graduation from, teacher preparation programs; advocates that all teacher education institutions meet the high standards set by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE); and insists on comprehensive teacher induction programs, which include mentoring support systems for new teachers that enhance professional practice and teacher retention. The department also seeks to ensure that all personnel hired to teach are fully licensed; promotes the strategic recruitment and retention of licensed teachers in shortage areas; advocates standards-driven professional development and teacher evaluation systems that work to enhance performance; and advances strategies to increase the number of teachers, particularly minority teachers, who become National Board Certified.

School system capacity. The NEA is working to enhance school system capacity to assure that America's schools have the staff, structures, and resources needed to improve student achievement. Toward this end, work in this department establishes systems that support quality teaching and high levels of learning. The NEA is also seeking to increase financial support for public education, stimulate the recruiting and maintaining of quality school staffs, improve the physical learning environment, ensure safe and orderly schools, promote equity and excellence among school districts, and help educators, parents, and other interested citizens develop more effective school management and decision-making processes.

Activities

At the state level, NEA activities are wide-ranging. NEA state affiliates, for instance, regularly lobby legislators for the resources schools need, campaign for higher professional standards for the teaching profession, and file legal actions to protect academic freedom.

At the national level, NEA's work ranges from coordinating innovative projects to restructuring how learning takes place and fighting congressional attempts to privatize public education. At the international level, NEA is linking educators around the world in an ongoing dialogue dedicated to making schools as effective as they can be. On an individual level, NEA members organize themselves into voluntary groups called caucuses.

NEA affiliates around the country celebrate three major events: Read Across America Day; American Education Week (the week before Thanksgiving); and National Teacher Day (the Tuesday that falls in the first full week of May, which is Teacher Appreciation Week).

Lobbying and elections. One of the most prominent education lobbying group in the nation, the NEA is influential in politics–ranging from school board elections to the presidential election. With 2.6 million members in America's schools, one in one hundred Americans is an NEA member. This makes NEA a loud voice in America's public-education policy debate.

NEA's lobbying efforts are based on the initiatives passed by the Representative Assembly, and usually involve school funding issues, student testing requirements, and federal funding for needy schools. The NEA has a political action committee (PAC) named the Fund for Children and Public Education, which is used to contribute funds to candidates running for office who uphold the principles of the NEA and its affiliates. Members donate to the PAC, but it is not funded through dues assessments like many other labor union PACs.

Communications. The NEA is often called upon to serve as a voice for teachers and public education in national media outlets. Usually the organization's president serves in this role, though oftentimes NEA staff are also asked to be spokespeople for the association. Additionally, the NEA produces and disseminates several publications. The most widely read is the NEA Today monthly magazine, which is sent to all NEA members. There are also publications put out by the NEA for its different constituencies, including retired members, student members, and members in higher education institutions.

Research. As a way of serving its members, the NEA has a research department that looks into issues concerning teachers and public education. The most widely used research document produced by the NEA is the yearly Rankings and Estimates, which ranks state school statistics such as teacher salaries, per-pupil expenditures, and student enrollment. Every five years, the NEA research department produces Status of the American Public School Teacher, which is an intensive look at the attitudes of members about their workloads and toward the profession and compensation.

History

The NEA was founded in 1857 as the National Teachers Association, "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching, and to promote the cause of popular education in the United States." In 1870 the NTA united with the National Association of School Superintendents and the American Normal School Association to form the National Educational Association. The organization was incorporated in 1886 in the District of Columbia as the National Education Association, and in 1906 it was chartered by an act of Congress. The charter was officially adopted at the association's annual meeting of 1907, with the name officially set down as the National Education Association of the United States. The original statement of purpose of the National Teachers Association remains unchanged in the present NEA charter.

In 1917 the association moved to Washington, D.C., where it acquired a permanent headquarters in 1920. In the same year the association, grown too large for the efficient transaction of business by the total membership, reorganized on a representative basis, with delegates drawn from NEA-affiliated state and local education associations. With this new arrangement the NEA increased efforts to organize professional associations of teachers at the state and local school district level. The emerging goal for the association became a united teaching profession with every teacher participating at three levels of association work–local, state, and national. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the association also expanded through the development or addition of departments devoted to subject matter and positional specialties.

The 1960s saw the merger of separate associations of white and African-American educators, a situation that had arisen as a result of dual school systems in the South. Although NEA membership had always been open to all qualified educators regardless of race, an independent national organization of African-American educators, the American Teachers Association, was in existence until 1966, when its 32,000 members merged with the NEA. Merger of state associations followed, and by 1969 had been completed in almost all states.

In the late 1990s the NEA was talking merger again. At that time, the NEA was close to merging with another sister union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is affiliated with the AFLCIO labor union. In 1998, the Representative Assembly voted down a proposal to unite the two organizations. However, a partnership agreement was approved at the 2001 Representative Assembly. The partnership agreement allows the two organizations to work together and prevents the two unions from "raiding" each other's members.

See also: TEACHER UNIONS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. 2000. NEA Handbook 2000–2001. Washington, DC: NEA.

INTERNET RESOURCE

NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. 2002. <www.nea.org>.

DENISE CARDINAL

Additional topics

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