The nation's largest teachers union sharply attacked President Obama's most significant school improvement initiative on Friday evening, saying that it puts too much emphasis on a "narrow agenda" centered on charter schools and echoes the Bush administration's "top-down approach" to reform.
The NEA is half right and half wrong.
The NEA's opposition to a "top-down" approach - that is, to federal control of education - is on target. Federal control squashes variety and innovation at the state level, which was occuring in the form of vouchers and charters before President Bush's enormous expansion of federal involvement via No Child Left Behind. The NEA's opposition is not principled, since they would support federal invovlement if it were good for teachers' unions, but their criticism is nonetheless correct.
The NEA's opposition to charters is appalling. Charters are not the panacea that some supporters claim, and they may have the unfortunate side effect of reducing support for vouchers. Charters nevertheless provide competition for public schools, and the demand for charters across the country suggests many parents and students find them appealing. The NEA opposes charters because they hurt teachers' unions; that is an unconscionable position from a group that purports to care about children.
The change in education policy that President Obama should support is repeal of NCLB. This would appeal to his base, and it is the right thing to do.