Failing Grade

apple on stack of books generic school students teachers
This column was written by Gary Andres.
The National Education Association (NEA) pulled another predictable political stunt last week by filing suit against the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and claiming the law amounts to an unfunded federal mandate. Demonstrating its propensity to pursue baseless litigation, rather than promote quality education, the nation's largest teachers union wants the guts of the law suspended until -- you guessed it -- schools get even more federal money.

But its political strategy to expand education funding is morphing into a public-relations dud for the union. Criticized from both sides of the ideological divide, the lawsuit has the unintended effect of highlighting the dramatic increases in federal education spending over the past four years, as well as this administration's commitment to improving schools for poor and minority kids-- a mission NEA lost somewhere on its way to the courthouse.

House Education and Workforce chairman John Boehner thought the NEA's latest ploy highlighted its real motivation in the debate. "Some lobbying groups want the federal money, but not the accountability that comes with the No Child Left Behind Act," told me this week. "The NEA ought to spend its time figuring out how to raise education standards rather than constructing exotic legal theories."

The case, Pontiac v. Spellings, underscores the NEA's alacrity when it comes to litigation and political tussles for federal money, as well as its reticence toward reform and accountability. Notwithstanding evidence of real improvement in schools since the passage of NCLB and record amounts of federal funds, NEA sounds like a schoolhouse version of Jerry Maguire -- "Show Me the Money." But that's an old movie, and the NCLB altered that refrain. Now a more appropriate line is: Show Me the Results -- and then you get more money. And that's starting to happen.

Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, told the Philadelphia Daily News recently, "The progress in urban schools is not a fluke. It is consistent with the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores for large central cities and appears to show real headway by urban educators in raising student achievement."

The NEA worked overtime to line up Democrat support for its lawsuit. Its website lists pre-arranged statements from Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Rep. George Miller, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and Rep. Ted Strickland. While the Democrats were clued in early about the lawsuit, Republicans on Capitol Hill were kept in the dark. "We have evidence that the NEA coordinated the roll out of the lawsuit with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic governors," a Republican staffer told me. "We found out about it at the last minute." The NEA also briefed DNC chair Howard Dean beforehand, according to knowledgeable Hill sources. "I don't think (Republican National Committee Chairman) Ken Mehlman made that list," they said.