NEA publicly asks for Arne Duncan’s head, but privately asks for a cut of the high-stakes testing pie

1By Brad McQueen

The National Education Association (NEA), at its July 4th convention, asked for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his failed education reform agenda, Common Core, and its focus on high-stakes testing while recently obtained emails reveal it is simultaneously trying to extend the union’s role and influence in the creation of those same high-stakes Common Core tests, PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

The 3.2 million strong educators union adopted resolution #23 which not only mentions Arne Duncan’s focus on high-stakes testing, but also blasts him for “continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

The full text of resolution #23 is as follows:

“The NEA Representative Assembly joins other educators and parents in calling for the resignation of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for the Department’s failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

Okay, let’s cut through all the double talk.  First, we’ll go over what’s really bothering teacher unions across the country, like the NEA, and then we’ll go over the internal email that really goes to the core of their true agenda.

Let’s be clear, the teacher unions’ customers are their dues paying customer-teachers.  They do not represent the needs of, nor do they advocate for the kids in the classroom unless it also helps their teacher-customers’ goals.

Notice that NEA’s resolution #23 above doesn’t focus on the needs of the kids in the classroom in their call for Arne Duncan’s resignation, rather they list slights against teachers and their unions, mentioning “students” almost as an afterthought in support of their argument.

The last straw for the teacher unions was Arne Duncan’s support, wrapped in a bouquet of “equity” bloviation, of the decision to end teacher tenure in California in the Vergara v. California case recently.

Vergara v. California was a suit brought by nine students to defeat the practice of tenure which guarantees permanent employment for teachers after a brief probationary period and makes it next to impossible to get rid of underperforming or poorly behaving teachers.  Tenure also follows the “last-in-first-out” (LIFO) policy during layoffs which uses only the teachers’ length of employment, rather than performance, to determine which teachers will be laid off.

Teacher unions love tenure, where bad teachers are protected along with their rising salaries from which their union dues are continually deducted.  Oh yeah, and there are little humans in the classroom as well called students stuck with the bad teachers protected by tenure.

When we talk about tenure it’s not just the college professors, it’s the elementary teachers, middle school and high school teachers who are covered in many states.  Teachers get a one year contract every year, isn’t that tenure enough? What other career guarantees you job protection, not to mention summers off and close to a month of paid holidays off during the school year.  Ah yes, tenure is quite the racket, thank you teacher unions.

Maybe for once I agree with Arne Duncan, minus all the equity blah, blah, blah nonsense of course.

The next reason the teacher unions, like the NEA, are angry with Arne Duncan is because Common Core attaches student scores and other data to the teacher as part of the teacher’s evaluation, which will also have an impact on the teacher’s salaries.

Let’s look at the case of New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and one the most progressive state legislatures in the country, “paused” for two years, but did not end, the full implementation of the Common Core requirements in their state recently.

New York had been the Common Core’s loudest cheerleader since receiving over $700 million from the feds back in 2010 to implement the Common Core machine in their state, and they were also to be a model for the rest of the nation by creating their very own version of the Common Core test.

After New York students failed miserably on their Common Core-aligned test last school year, the statewide teachers’ union withdrew its support of the Common Core standards and testing.  They did this not because of its effect on students, but because of its effect on teachers and possibly their union-dues-deducted salaries.

Notice that the teacher unions did not call for the end of Common Core in their state, rather they just want it “paused” so that teachers’ pay, with union dues deducted, will not be affected by the new teacher evaluation system that connects student scores to teacher salaries. The unions seemed to be okay with Common Core standards, tests, and NSA-like data suctioning systems being inflicted on the students of New York for the last several years until that infliction threatened their teacher-customer’s bottom line.

The NEA also echoed New York’s disappointment with the “botched implementation” of Common Core, but not the Common Core itself.  It then suggested how to improve the implementation of the Common Core with the NEA as a central advisory agent of course.

As with Obamacare, the union opposition to the Common Core is tenuous at best and can evaporate with a special exemption granted by Common Core Central Command.

The unions will say that they are against “high-stakes” testing, when in reality they are against their member teachers being held accountable for student learning as judged by those test scores.

The NEA has been a vocal supporter of the Common Core since its inception in 2010 especially when it appeared that the union would have significant influence in the final product.

The NEA shows its private/public schizophrenia as one of its personalities criticizes high-stakes testing, yet its other personality seeks to place its members onto committees to help shape the Common Core/PARCC test.

In the following email, obtained by the AZ Daily Independent, we discover that PARCC is creating a special “boot camp” to get these union members up to speed on the test creation process and place them in work groups in an attempt to maintain union support. These union teachers will also be involved in creating “support materials” like workshops to not only possibly expand union membership but to get other teachers on board with the Common Core test (edited for brevity):

From: Laura Slover <>
Date: January 21, 2014 at 7:42:15 PM MST
To: (PARCC state leads and Superintendents of Instruction)
Subject: PARCC/AFT/NEA Partnership

As you know, 2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year for PARCC.  Along with the official launch of PARCC, Inc. and the upcoming Field Test, we have the opportunity to partner with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) to expand the consortium’s group of educators involved in the item review process and the development of instructional supports that will provide additional materials and resources to classroom teachers. The Helmsley Charitable Trust has generously agreed to support this work through spring 2015…

The PARCC, AFT(American Federation of Teachers), and NEA partnership will allow the unions to recruit 36 of their best local educators each to be trained by PARCC and sit alongside existing item reviewers to ensure the quality of the assessments truly reflects the Common Core State Standards.  These educators will be trained in an upcoming “item review boot camp” that will take place from February 7-9 in Arlington, Virginia.

AFT and NEA both reported overwhelming response to and excitement about this project from their members…All of these teachers are new to the item review process, so we see this as an opportunity to not only expand our relationship with AFT and NEA, but also continue to build our capacity to provide a quality item review process.

We see this project as a stepping-stone for many other great partnerships that PARCC will form over the coming years with other national organizations.


The Helmsley Charitable Trust granted $1.6 million to both Common Core testing consortia, the PARCC and Smarter Balanced test groups, to “engage” unions in the test creating process by paying for hundreds of union teachers to be trained at testing “boot camps”.  The Helmsley Charitable trust’s press release also proclaims that, “the grant also supports teacher-to-teacher training and other communications to the broader audience of union members…”, or increase union membership.

So is the NEA against high stakes testing, or is it just for high stakes testing where it plays a part?  Who knows, I guess it depends on which of its personalities you ask.

The NEA didn’t spend all their time at their recent convention asking for Arne Duncan’s resignation, they also passed numerous other very important resolutions.

Resolution #24 sets aside $38,000 to be used for a public relations campaign to try and persuade taxpayers that their tenure scheme is not such a bad thing.  Good luck.

Resolution #9 finally mentions children!  Not U.S. children, silly rabbit, rather they propose that the invasion of illegal immigrant kids crossing our borders, “be given the support, shelter, protection, and education our children are entitled”.  So treat them as “our” children and give them the education that our children are entitled to.

Resolution #15 is my favorite.  It recommends that all schools have a “lactation support” program in place so that students and teachers can bond with each other and their children in private “express milk” stations.  I wonder if they passed that by Michelle Obama’s school lunch program agents.

So for now, the NEA is for breast feeding, illegal kids being treated like our own and supporting tenure while they are against Arne Duncan and they seek his resignation.  No word just yet if the NEA is asking for President Obama’s resignation as Arne Duncan is merely implementing the provisions of Common Core and supporting the dropping of tenure on behalf of his boss.

I guess it really depends on which day you ask them and if you ask them in public or in a private email.

bradBrad McQueen is a former Common Core insider and current public school teacher in Tucson, Arizona and is the author of the anti-Common Core book “The Cult of Common Core”. Connect with Brad at

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  1. Make no mistake, the rank and file teachers of the National Education Association want Arne Duncan’s resignation! We want it because the high stakes testing Duncan promotes as “accountability” for students, teachers, and schools is invalid, unhealthy for kids, and structurally and financially destructive to our communities’ schools. The staff/leadership of NEA have tried for some time to not burn bridges with policy makers because they “want a seat at the table.” Ordinary members have realized the table belongs to our communities, not gazillionaires, politicians or bureaucrats.

    • What is this “table” you speak of? Are you not aware that your place, as a good teacher trying to do her job, is down on the floor with the students and their parents, fighting for the scraps thrown to you by your betters in the Union and their dinner guests, the politicians and academic Marxists?

  2. Mr. McQueen, you should know better than to assert that tenure in K-12 public schools is a guarantee of employment after a brief probationary period. It is not, as you assert, akin to tenure at the college level. At the college level tenure is a property right that, once earned, generally cannot be lost except through the commission of serious crime. Please refer me to a single state where K-12 tenure has the same impact on employment as it does at the college level.

    At the K-12 level tenure is little more than a requirement that teachers be given due process before terminating their employment. The probationary period before tenure is granted varies from state to state. In the states where I have taught tenure can be awarded after three full years of satisfactory service. When you consider that about 50% of novice teachers leave the profession before the end of three years, maybe the probationary period is not so brief. In my 39 years of teaching I saw literally dozens of “tenured teachers” leave the profession because they faced dismissal or were actually dismissed for cause.

    My own experience leads me to believe a few things related to the attacks on tenure. First, the only administrators I have ever met who wanted to undo tenure were those too lazy or too incompetent to hire or evaluate their staff properly. Teachers without tenure are at-will employees. They can be dismissed for any reason during their probationary period. You have to wonder why principals who hire these teachers (the unions have no say in who gets hired) and give them acceptable evaluations during their probationary period (when they could be dismissed for no cause whatever) suddenly want to dump them when they acquire the right to due process. More importantly, eliminating tenure at the K-12 level is counterproductive if our goal is to make sure all children have access to the quality teaching they deserve. Just because you can dismiss a teacher without demonstrating incompetence does not automatically provide you with a better teacher just chomping at the bit to take that person’s place.

    It is no accident that the states with the strongest teacher unions also produce the highest student achievement. Please do not take my word for that. Look it up. The states with the highest student achievement, i.e. Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota all have strong teacher unions. The states with the lowest student achievement, like Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana, are right-to-work states where teacher unions are powerless. This is simple economics. When teachers have strong unions they can get better compensation and better working conditions…including the right to be fired only after a demonstration of incompetence. The teachers with the most marketable skills gravitate towards the districts and states that compensate them adequately and provide reasonable job protection. You may not like the fact that the highest student achievement comes from states with strong unions, but it is a fact. As they say, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.

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