National Education Association

views updated May 18 2018


The National Education Association (NEA) is America's oldest and largest professional employee organization committed to the cause of public education (as well as to the well-being of its members). Founded in 1857 in Philadelphia, and now headquartered in Washington, D.C., in 2001 the NEA membership includes more than 2.6 million elementary and secondary school teachers, college faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has affiliates in every state as well as in over 13,000 local communities across the United States.


Anyone who works for a public school district, a college or university, or any other public institution devoted primarily to education is eligible to join the NEA. The organization also has special membership categories for retired educators and college students studying to become teachers. More specific membership information can vary among state and local affiliates. Members pay dues to be part of the NEA, and in return are provided with a wide range of services from the organization. The NEA has long been active in trying to improve the economic status of teachers and education professionals by assisting in the negotiating of employment contracts with local school boards.

Issues the NEA includes in negotiations are salary schedules, grievance procedures, instruction methods, transfer policies, discipline, preparation periods, class size, extracurricular activities, sick leave, and school safety. The NEA assists local affiliates in negotiations through consultation by field representatives and through the production of resource materials. In defining the role of its members, the NEA developed the Code of Ethics for the Educational Profession. In 1975 NEA members adopted the code, which "indicates the aspiration of all educators and provides standards by which to judge conduct."


The NEA is a democratic organization, and the structure and policy of the NEA are outlined in the organization's constitution and bylaws. NEA members nationwide set association policy and change the bylaws and the constitution of the organizationmost notably through the annual Representative Assembly (RA), which is held every July. The Representative Assembly is the primary legislative and policymaking body of the NEA. It derives its powers from, and is responsible to, the membership. NEA members at the state and local level elect the more than nine thousand RA delegates, who in turn elect NEA's top officers, debate issues, and set NEA policy at the Representative Assembly.

Between Representative Assemblies, NEA's top decision-making bodies throughout the year are the board of directors and the executive committee. The board of directors consists of at least one director from each association affiliated with the NEA, as well as an additional director for each twenty thousand active NEA members in each state, six directors for the retired members of the NEA, and three directors for the student members. The board meets four times a year, plus one meeting in conjunction with the Representative Assembly.

The executive committee consists of nine members: the three executive officers of president, vice president, and secretary treasurer, and six members elected at-large by delegates to the Representative Assembly. The executive committee meets approximately seven times a year.

Staff and Administration

NEA is a volunteer-based organization supported by a network of staff at the local, state, and national level. At the local and state level, NEA affiliates are active in a wide array of activities, ranging from conducting professional workshops on discipline and other issues that affect faculty and school support staff to bargaining contracts for school district employees. At the national level, more than five hundred employees work for the NEA at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The NEA staffing structure is designed to help realize the NEA's strategic priorities.


During the 19982000 budget years, it was decided by the membership that the association's priority work would concentrate on three areas of concern: student achievement, teacher quality, and school system capacity to support student success. The organization's staff departments were assembled with these three core priorities in mind.

Student achievement. Increasing student achievement is NEA's first strategic priority. Making sure that all students have the skills and knowledge to function successfully in school so that they may also succeed as adults is critical to the Association's strategic focus on rebuilding public confidence in public education. This department is dedicated to helping local affiliates address issues such as high-stakes testing and implementing standards-based education. It also helps affiliates advocate for and influence instructional policy and practice at the local level and implement the NEA's annual Read Across America child literacy event, which is held every March 1 in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel).

Teacher quality. The single most important factor in enhancing student achievement is teacher quality. The NEA stands by the belief that without a qualified teacher in every classroom, student learning is limited and access to quality education is compromised. NEA's Teacher Quality Department is designed to help all teachers achieve high standards for practice. Through this department, the NEA promotes rigorous standards for access to, and graduation from, teacher preparation programs; advocates that all teacher education institutions meet the high standards set by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE); and insists on comprehensive teacher induction programs, which include mentoring support systems for new teachers that enhance professional practice and teacher retention. The department also seeks to ensure that all personnel hired to teach are fully licensed; promotes the strategic recruitment and retention of licensed teachers in shortage areas; advocates standards-driven professional development and teacher evaluation systems that work to enhance performance; and advances strategies to increase the number of teachers, particularly minority teachers, who become National Board Certified.

School system capacity. The NEA is working to enhance school system capacity to assure that America's schools have the staff, structures, and resources needed to improve student achievement. Toward this end, work in this department establishes systems that support quality teaching and high levels of learning. The NEA is also seeking to increase financial support for public education, stimulate the recruiting and maintaining of quality school staffs, improve the physical learning environment, ensure safe and orderly schools, promote equity and excellence among school districts, and help educators, parents, and other interested citizens develop more effective school management and decision-making processes.


At the state level, NEA activities are wide-ranging. NEA state affiliates, for instance, regularly lobby legislators for the resources schools need, campaign for higher professional standards for the teaching profession, and file legal actions to protect academic freedom.

At the national level, NEA's work ranges from coordinating innovative projects to restructuring how learning takes place and fighting congressional attempts to privatize public education. At the international level, NEA is linking educators around the world in an ongoing dialogue dedicated to making schools as effective as they can be. On an individual level, NEA members organize themselves into voluntary groups called caucuses.

NEA affiliates around the country celebrate three major events: Read Across America Day; American Education Week (the week before Thanksgiving); and National Teacher Day (the Tuesday that falls in the first full week of May, which is Teacher Appreciation Week).

Lobbying and elections. One of the most prominent education lobbying group in the nation, the NEA is influential in politicsranging from school board elections to the presidential election. With 2.6 million members in America's schools, one in one hundred Americans is an NEA member. This makes NEA a loud voice in America's public-education policy debate.

NEA's lobbying efforts are based on the initiatives passed by the Representative Assembly, and usually involve school funding issues, student testing requirements, and federal funding for needy schools. The NEA has a political action committee (PAC) named the Fund for Children and Public Education, which is used to contribute funds to candidates running for office who uphold the principles of the NEA and its affiliates. Members donate to the PAC, but it is not funded through dues assessments like many other labor union PACs.

Communications. The NEA is often called upon to serve as a voice for teachers and public education in national media outlets. Usually the organization's president serves in this role, though oftentimes NEA staff are also asked to be spokespeople for the association. Additionally, the NEA produces and disseminates several publications. The most widely read is the NEA Today monthly magazine, which is sent to all NEA members. There are also publications put out by the NEA for its different constituencies, including retired members, student members, and members in higher education institutions.

Research. As a way of serving its members, the NEA has a research department that looks into issues concerning teachers and public education. The most widely used research document produced by the NEA is the yearly Rankings and Estimates, which ranks state school statistics such as teacher salaries, per-pupil expenditures, and student enrollment. Every five years, the NEA research department produces Status of the American Public School Teacher, which is an intensive look at the attitudes of members about their workloads and toward the profession and compensation.


The NEA was founded in 1857 as the National Teachers Association, "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching, and to promote the cause of popular education in the United States." In 1870 the NTA united with the National Association of School Superintendents and the American Normal School Association to form the National Educational Association. The organization was incorporated in 1886 in the District of Columbia as the National Education Association, and in 1906 it was chartered by an act of Congress. The charter was officially adopted at the association's annual meeting of 1907, with the name officially set down as the National Education Association of the United States. The original statement of purpose of the National Teachers Association remains unchanged in the present NEA charter.

In 1917 the association moved to Washington, D.C., where it acquired a permanent headquarters in 1920. In the same year the association, grown too large for the efficient transaction of business by the total membership, reorganized on a representative basis, with delegates drawn from NEA-affiliated state and local education associations. With this new arrangement the NEA increased efforts to organize professional associations of teachers at the state and local school district level. The emerging goal for the association became a united teaching profession with every teacher participating at three levels of association worklocal, state, and national. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the association also expanded through the development or addition of departments devoted to subject matter and positional specialties.

The 1960s saw the merger of separate associations of white and African-American educators, a situation that had arisen as a result of dual school systems in the South. Although NEA membership had always been open to all qualified educators regardless of race, an independent national organization of African-American educators, the American Teachers Association, was in existence until 1966, when its 32,000 members merged with the NEA. Merger of state associations followed, and by 1969 had been completed in almost all states.

In the late 1990s the NEA was talking merger again. At that time, the NEA was close to merging with another sister union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is affiliated with the AFLCIO labor union. In 1998, the Representative Assembly voted down a proposal to unite the two organizations. However, a partnership agreement was approved at the 2001 Representative Assembly. The partnership agreement allows the two organizations to work together and prevents the two unions from "raiding" each other's members.

See also: Teacher Unions.


National Education Association. 2000. NEA Handbook 20002001. Washington, DC: NEA.

internet resource

National Education Association. 2002. <>.

Denise Cardinal

National Education Association

views updated May 21 2018


NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (NEA), the largest professional educational organization in the United States, grew out of the National Teachers Association (NTA), which was established in 1857. Through the activity of the NTA, the Office of Education was established in the federal government in 1867. The NTA was reorganized as the National Education Association in 1871, and in 1906 it was chartered by Congress. Initially representing the ideals and interests of the nation's leading educators, including public school officials, college and university leaders, and educational journalists, the organization experienced a significant transformation after 1917, when the national office moved to Washington, D.C., where it could hopefully influence federal policies. Thereafter, emphasis was placed on recruiting and serving the needs of classroom teachers, mostly female; membership grew from 8,466 in 1917 to 220,000 in 1931. The Research Division was founded in 1922, serving the interests of both teachers and administrators. The NEA survived the Great Depression, but with a significant loss of membership and increasing competition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). While not challenging the authority of school administrators, the NEA created a committee on equal opportunity in 1935 to study gender and racial salary inequities, with most attention devoted to assisting female teachers. The association grew during World War II, when it linked education to the war effort with the creation of the Commission on the Defense of Democracy in Education. Membership escalated through the decade, reaching 454,000 in 1950, with increasing emphasis from the national office on strengthening the local and state associations.

Continuing its conservative approach during the 1950s, the NEA had little organizing success in the larger cities. Beginning in the 1960s, this would change when the organization transformed itself from a professional organization to something resembling a teachers' union in response to the increasing number of teachers' strikes led by the AFT. While the NEA had a membership of 1.1 million in 1970 (compared to the AFT's 205,000), it had growing difficulty in mobilizing teachers at the local level. The NEA leadership initially shied away from sanctioning collective bargaining, but substituted what it termed "professional negotiations," which amounted to the same thing. The publication by the NEA of the Negotiations Research Digest in 1967 also indicated an increased commitment to collective bargaining. Another sign of change was the creation in 1972 of a national political action committee to enhance political lobbying and campaigning, giving the NEA increasing national clout.

The NEA had little interest in civil rights matters until the 1960s. Starting in 1926, the organization formed a relationship with American Teachers Association (ATA), the national organization of black teachers, but membership remained segregated, particularly among the southern affiliates. The NEA officially supported integration in 1963 and the number of segregated southern affiliates gradually decreased, although there were still eleven the following year. The NEA and the ATA officially merged in 1966 and by decade's end, only the Mississippi and Louisiana affiliates had refused to accept the merger, for which they were expelled from the NEA in 1970. Merger was not completed in these two states until the late 1970s. The NEA, meanwhile, strongly supported school desegregation.

By the 1980s, the NEA had become a progressive, activist, integrated teachers' union with strong presidential leadership and an active political agenda; it generally supported the Democratic Party's candidates and policies. Merger with the AFT was increasingly broached but uncompleted as of 2002, when the NEA had 2.7 million members distributed in all fifty states and 13,000 communities. It continued its commitment to improving teachers' salaries and school programs, while issuing NEA Today and numerous other publications, all within the context of protecting urban public schools from political pressure for increased school privatization.


Murphy, Marjorie. Blackboard Unions: The AFT and the NEA, 1900–1980. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Urban, Wayne J. Gender, Race, and the National Education Association: Professionalism and Its Limitations. New York: Routledge Falmer, 2000.

Wesley, Edgar B. NEA: The First Hundred Years. New York: Harper, 1957.

Ronald D.Cohen

National Education Association

views updated May 29 2018


The National Education Association (NEA) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan professional organization made up of elementary and secondary school teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, and others interested in public education. The NEA, which was founded in 1857, is the oldest and largest U.S. organization dealing with public education. The organization has more than 2.7 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The organization has approximately 565 staff members in its headquarters and regional offices. The association's budget for fiscal year 2002–03 was more than $267 million.

The NEA has 51 state-level affiliates that include 50 state associations and the Federal Education Association. The more than 14,000 local NEA affiliates include approximately 800 higher education affiliates. Anyone who works for a public school district, a college or university, or any other public institution devoted primarily to education is eligible to join the NEA. It also has special membership categories for retired educators and college students studying to become teachers.

The NEA is a volunteer-based organization supported by a network of staff at the local, state, and national levels. At the local level, NEA affiliates are active in various capacities, such as conducting professional workshops on discipline and bargaining contracts for school district employees. At the state level, NEA affiliates regularly lobby legislators for the funds for public education, campaign for higher professional standards for the teaching profession, and file legal actions to protect academic freedom. At the national level, the NEA coordinates innovative projects to restructure how learning takes place and lobbies Congress on behalf of public education.

NEA members nationwide set association policy by meeting at their annual representative assembly every July. NEA members at the state and local levels elect the more than 9,000 assembly delegates, who, in turn, elect the top NEA officers, debate issues, and set NEA policy.

The NEA has been a vigorous opponent of efforts to privatize education through the use of tuition vouchers. It rejects the arguments of voucher advocates that vouchers improve student learning, provide meaningful parental choice, and increase educational opportunities for low-income students. Instead, the NEA contends that vouchers are costly and that they are not the panacea for the problems in public education.

The NEA has also expressed concerns about laws that allow the creation of charter schools, which are deregulated, autonomous public schools. Advocates of charter schools believe that freeing some public schools from many state and local mandates will encourage educational innovation, create greater parental involvement, and promote improvement of public education in general. The NEA, while not opposing the concept of charter schools, has lobbied for sufficient oversight of these new schools, believing that public accountability is necessary.

The election of george w. bush as president in 2000 and the gain of Republican seats in both the House and Senate in 2002 strengthened the position of voucher supporters and gave increased urgency to continuing NEA opposition. In 2003, faced with a weakening economy and the consequent tightening of state and local budgets, NEA continued to oppose the privatization of work traditionally performed by school district employees and pressed for reduced class sizes and the need to train more teachers as millions of veteran teachers neared retirement.

further readings

Berube, Maurice R. 1988. Teacher Politics: The Influence of Unions. New York: Greenwood Press.

Lieberman, Myron. 2000. The Teacher Unions: How They Sabotage Educational Reform and Why. San Francisco: Encounter Books.

National Education Association. Available online at <> (accessed July 28, 2003).


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National Education Association