At the local level, union affiliates conduct professional workshops on discipline and other issues. They also teach bargaining strategies and work on contracts for school district employees. National and state affiliates lobby legislators for resources and file legal actions on behalf of teachers.
Former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and American Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker debate the role of teachers unions.
Education Secretary Richard Riley and William Bennett discuss the politics of education reform.
Bob Dole's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
Clinton discusses his views on education reform while addressing the graduating class at Princeton University.
The American Federation of Teachers.
The National Education Association.
The Center for Education Reform has been critical of the NEA and its policy recommendations.
The teacher's unions have played an unexpectively prominent role in the education policy debate this election year.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in San Diego Bob Dole said "I say this not to the teachers but to their unions: if education were a war, you would be losing it. If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy." President Clinton responded by defending the unions and said Dole was simply "teacher-bashing."
Teachers have aligned with President Clinton since 1992. This year, members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) were in full force at the Democratic convention in Chicago. The NEA, more that two million members strong, sent 405 delegates and alternates, the largest representation of a single group. They also brought a war chest of $5.5 million raised through a political action committee. According to the Center for Responsive Politics in the 1994 elections the NEA's political action committee, among the nation's five richest, contributed $2.2 million to candidates for Congress. Only $22,000 went to Republicans. Of the 264 candidates the NEA is supporting for Congress this fall, only one is a Republican.
Teachers unions were not formed as political entities. The National Education Association, one of the first teachers unions, was founded in 1857 in Philadelphia. It is now headquartered in Washington, D.C. The American Federation of Teachers, the second largest union, was founded in 1916. The AFT has more than 830,000 members from five distinct membership constituencies and more than 2,100 local unions across the country and abroad.
The anger directed towards the unions is a mixture of politics and policy. Republicans see the teachers unions as essentially Democratic party supporters and liberal lobbyists. But policy makers have also charged the teachers union with negotiating work rules and tenure rules that reward seniority over competence, and make it difficult to reward teachers for teaching well and fire teachers for poor performance.
The President of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers union with nearly one million members has says the blame rests with the management of America's school system, rather than on the unions. On the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, he said "if Chrysler were going down and Toyota were selling losts of cars, I doubt that Bob Dole would be standing up there giving a speech attacking the United Automobile Workers. He'd say something is wrong with the management of the automobile industry."