Recommended changes to the NEA’s public messaging:
The document, titled "Persuading the People on Public Schools," lists a series of educational and political buzzwords and offers euphemisms of varying degrees of synonymy. Instead of "inequality," the NEA suggests "living in the right ZIP Code."
…There's an enormous tension here. It would be nice if we knew what worked without testing for efficacy. It would be great if we could "get serious" and implement those effective things without periodically evaluating our progress. But that's a bizarre strategy for crafting good policy. It is, however how we usually do education policymaking here in the United States. Our existing educational data systems are pretty weak, and Congress is exploring undermining those relatively modest efforts to get data on what works.
To be clear, there's nothing wrong with the NEA having a communications strategy. Obviously the NEA needs to think strategically about how the place it occupies in public debates. It's a political group, and it has every right—every obligation—to craft a message that serves its members' interests above all.
But it's important to keep that last bit in mind: Communications strategies are fundamentally about serving organizational interests. They obscure weaknesses and conceal embarrassments to massage public conversation to serve the organization. Any overlap between those objectives and the public's interest is usually incidental at best.
The substance of an organization's public-relations strategy can reveal a lot. Which gets to the real importance of the document. It's a powerful piece of proof that the NEA is planning to be as confrontational as possible in the coming years. This has seemed likely for a while—and for a number of reasons: Its criticism of the Obama administration's education reforms, controversies related to the Common Core State Standards, the rise of radical groups like the Badass Teachers Association, Eskelson García's increasingly forceful rhetoric, and many more.
…So what does it mean when a major education organization would rather not discuss inequality, equity, research, or effectiveness in 2015? It means that the organization wants to muddy public education debates and resist changes to the status quo. Which, to my mind, is unlikely to lead to "educational improvement" for anyone.