The National Education Association (N.E.A.) would rather die than let parents choose their children's schools-but this week it voted to let them decide whether or not their kids will take tests! What's the difference? It seems the country's largest teacher union is willing to empower parents so long as the empowering coincides with the self-interest of teachers, in this case by crippling state and national testing programs that can be used for student (and perhaps teacher) accountability.
Self-interest is the key. It's the one constant in nearly every action of the N.E.A. and most of the actions of its rival/partner, the American Federation of Teachers (A.F.T.) Adult self-interest, to be accurate. Teacher self-interest, to be yet more precise. The educational well being of children may be invoked. But it's usually a decoy, a bit of spin meant to garb the adult self-interest in something less naked.
Self-interest isn't a bad thing. It's the essence of capitalism. It's the core of most countries' foreign policies. (It's also what makes packs of wolves bring down caribou and thieves snatch purses from old ladies.) What's hypocritical is self-interest that pretends to be something else. And patterns of self-interest that lead organizations to profess one thing and do another.
The teacher unions don't always work against quality education for children. The A.F.T., in particular, has a distinguished record of studies, reports and journals (especially its outstanding quarterly, American Educator, whose departing editor, Liz McPike, will be much missed) that press for high standards, sound...