Obama’s “Audacity” with NEA Proves Nothing

Some in the edublogosphere are making a big deal out of Barack Obama addressing the National Education Association—the nation’s most powerful labor union—from Montana instead of their convention in D.C., and for garnering some boos for his support of “performance pay.”

Joe Williams, writing on the Democrats for Education Reform blog, declares that Obama’s address proved him to be a candidate “who won’t be forced to play by the old rules, and one who is refreshingly willing to point out the extent of the very big problems he is trying to solve.” Meanwhile, Mike Antonucci, who runs the Education Intelligence Agency and provides invaluable insights into the nation’s teachers unions—as well as insider video of Obama’s speech to the convention—argues that Obama’s tepidly endorsing a few things NEA activists don’t like is pretty big news.

As Colonel Potter would have said on M*A*S*H, “horse hockey!”

It’s not the least bit shocking that Senator Obama threw something into his speech about performance pay. He knew darn well the assembly would reject it, just as they did last year. It’s exactly what he wanted: Something that people would swoon over as truly audacious change but that ultimately has no downside. It’s not like the NEA was going to withdraw its endorsement over a quick taste of veggies. The NEA is as Democratic as they come, and if you watch the whole address you’ll see Obama shoveling in all the red meat the union loves: demonizing vouchers, decrying underfunding of No Child Left Behind, lamenting the supposed scapegoating of teachers—the works!

The sound of inflatable “thundersticks” rumbling approval throughout almost all of Obama’s speech doesn’t lie: the Senator didn’t really hurt himself with the NEA. On the flip side, he very well might have gained important points with members of the electorate prone to mistaking shrewd strategy for real change.