In Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey’s recent report, “Teaching Is Political, Part I,” we revealed that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is training teachers to become political activists and push for truly radical curriculums at the local school district level. In this report, we look at how the NJEA has taken its political activities to the next level by inserting itself – and teachers – into this fall’s school board elections. The shared title of Sunlight’s two reports comes from an NJEA Summer Collaborative called “Teaching Is Political.” The NJEA likes to claim that others are seeking to “politicize our public schools,” but by its own words and actions, it is the NJEA that is bringing politics into schools and school districts around the state.
Moreover, by becoming politically active in this fall’s school board elections, the NJEA is inserting itself – and teachers – into some highly charged environments. Fed up with pandemic-related school closures and efforts to impose controversial education policies in their schools, parents have been speaking up at school board meetings across the state. News reports abound about parents’ interest in running for school board seats in order to gain more control over what is being taught to their children. Temperatures are running very high in many school districts.
In this report, Sunlight shows that the NJEA is actively taking a side against these parents, whom the NJEA characterizes as driven by “political actors on the extreme right.” To counter them, the NJEA is conducting a statewide campaign that seeks to enlist teachers in the fight. The NJEA has set up a website, built a reporting mechanism to centralize information, and sent out its staff and political organizers to districts all around the state. Sunlight has listened to recordings of meetings between NJEA staff and local teachers that provide on-the-ground confirmation of this on-going campaign. All New Jersey should know that the NJEA – a union that represents 125,000 teachers who teach our schoolchildren – is actively seeking to use teachers to control New Jersey’s school boards and set local education policies.
Teaching is political, indeed!
The NJEA’s “Center for Honesty in Education”
The foundation for the NJEA’s campaign is its newly minted “Center for Honesty in Education” (CHE). The CHE website seeks to enlist local teachers to “combat disinformation, regressive policies, and dangerous rhetoric in local school districts” and “discredit bad actors who seek to politicize our public schools…”
The CHE pledges resources and tools to help the local unions politically organize “parents and other community stakeholders” to combat “disinformation” and “regressive policies” in their local school district. The CHE also provides “Message Guidance for Talking About Honest and Accurate Education,” a series of talking points to help local teachers address and blunt parental concerns about what is being taught in schools. These talking points address such issues as banning library books, “diversity and inclusion” instruction (often described under the “critical race theory” rubric) and sex education standards.
Importantly, the NJEA is also getting its staff and political organizers involved in school district politics. As discussed below, NJEA staff have been monitoring school board meetings, investigating opponents, and compiling a database of information on people and organizations that are pushing back against the NJEA-dominated status quo. To assist these efforts, the NJEA provides a reporting tool on the CHE webpage that allows teachers inform the NJEA of parent efforts to control curriculums as well as “organized political groups” in their districts. The NJEA aims to become a central clearinghouse for information on the activities of its opponents in the various school districts.
CHE Is Part of a National Campaign by the NEA
CHE is part of a nationwide effort by the NJEA’s parent, the National Education Association (NEA), to get teachers active in school board politics. The CHE webpage provides a link to the NEA’s website entitled “NEA Ed Justice Honesty in Education page –includes model school board resolution.” The link directs the reader to the NEA’s EdJustice campaign, which urges teachers to “Get connected and engaged to advocate for racial and social justice in our schools and communities.” EdJustice’s mission includes, among other things:
- Highlight member [teacher] voices on social justice and offer resources and tools for [political] activism; and
- Build and grow community of [political] activists committed to advancing social justice policies in public education.
Regardless of how one feels about the substance of these efforts, they are political in nature. The goal is to turn teachers into local political activists at the local school board level.
This is made abundantly clear by the provision of a model school board resolution that teachers can introduce to local school boards to combat “misguided attacks on instruction occurring in schools.” The model resolution calls for, among other things:
- Professional development and guidance for educators that is “culturally responsive, anti-bias, anti-racist and includes historically excluded perspectives” and fosters “safe school spaces.”
- A curriculum that “works to dismantle systemic racism and racial inequity in our schools.”
- “Support, review and revise the District’s policies, programs, educational materials, teaching approaches, and resources to ensure educational equity.”
Again, regardless of how one feels about the substance of these efforts, they are political in nature because they are seeking to alter school board policies via political action as described in the next section.
A Guide for the Local Political Action
As for the mechanics of local political action, the NEA also provides a practical guide for community and school board engagement called “Guidance for Engaging Communities,” along with a “Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Resolution Passed in Your School District.” Even students are to be enlisted: “If students are old enough to represent themselves in [school board] meetings, it’s always powerful when they share their own stories.”
In a reminder that local politics can turn ugly, if a board member is not willing to support the NEA-fashioned resolution, “[p]lan actions to target the member” by “media outreach around an action designed to target board members and expose their unwillingness to support” the resolution. If that does not work, then the NEA proposes “holding a vigil at their home.”
When a resolution will not pass or be introduced, “[g]auge if more internal organizing such as union meetings and informal meetings with parents and other activists (including students) might help escalate actions and the effort to pass the resolution.”
This is a comprehensive guide to local political action for teacher/activists.
Recordings of the NJEA Campaign in Action: Electing NJEA-Friendly Board Candidates
But the NJEA’s campaign goes well beyond getting teachers to become political activists and get school board resolutions passed. It is first-and-foremost about mobilizing local teachers to elect NJEA-friendly candidates and thereby gain or keep control of local school boards. To do this, the NJEA is devoting substantial resources and personnel to bolster local association efforts.
Sunlight has listened to recordings of meetings conducted by NJEA staff and political organizers at school districts around the state. Only by hearing NJEA staff in action does one grasp the nature of what the NJEA is trying to accomplish in local school board races.
First, NJEA staff seeks to alarm teachers about the nature of the opposition by characterizing opponents as “conservatives” who are “behaving badly” and spreading “disinformation” and seeking to “run candidates for the BOE on the conservative side.” As for the possibility of an unfriendly school board: “one bad election could change everything for you guys.” If conservatives get a majority of the school board “your negotiations are going to be unrecognizable from the past.” Ending a “pro-education” status quo would adversely affect future contract negotiations, working conditions, and current academic and administrative policies.
The NJEA staff informs the locals that they formed group “to push back against it, to prevent the politicization of our BOE.” The Center for Honesty in Education is described as a statewide effort “intended to provide locals with a number of resources” to help them “find a way to be part of the upcoming election.” CHE staff is here to help “identify positive BOE members who would make good things happen” and “maintain the status quo.”
NJEA staff advise the locals of a key part of the CHE webpage: the “reporting tool” that allows local teachers to identify problematic board members and opposition groups and report them to the NJEA. NJEA staff informs the teachers that they have been “investigating the opposition” by following their activities on social media and doing “background checks” on them. In addition, NJEA staff members have been attending school board meeting across the state to “keep an eye on oppositional people and board members.”
As the filing deadline for school board candidates is approaching, the NJEA staff urges the locals to make forming a slate of “pro-education” candidates their first priority. They should develop a plan to organize their local, form a committee, create databases for voter information, interview candidates, and establish training programs for candidates. NJEA staff is ready and waiting to assist.
Organizing community support for these candidates can wait for the fall when NJEA staff will be ready to offer communications and public relations assistance and other resources to help get out the vote. In the meantime, they should build relationships in the community to become more influential in local politics.
These recordings show that all around the state, the NJEA is giving marching orders to local teachers aimed at this fall’s school board elections.
In New Jersey, thanks to the omnipresent and very deep-pocketed NJEA, teaching is indeed political. The NJEA is in fact mobilizing teachers for local political action to change local education policies and take control of school boards. The NJEA wants itself and its local associations, not parents, to be in charge of local education policy.
As the recordings make clear, it is not ALL teachers who are being mobilized. It is actually a small minority of teachers who choose to engage in such political activities. But by inserting itself into highly charged district politics and in many cases fighting local parents attempting to assert their control over school boards, the NJEA is helping to turn schools into battlegrounds. Not even the kids are to be kept out of the fray. Rather than reducing the politicization, the NJEA is going all-in to increase it. This cannot be good for New Jersey schools, for the kids in them, for their parents or for the teachers who teach in the schools.
Once again, Sunlight is left to ask whether New Jersey teachers would choose to support such activities with their highest-in-the-nation, $999 NJEA annual dues. They don’t have a choice, but they do have to live with the consequences.
According to the NJEA, “teaching is political” – whether teachers like it or not.
 See “Education Standards Disinfo Response” link on the lower right of the Center for Honesty in Education webpage.
 CHE “Disinformation Response Guidance” (See Education Standards Disinfo Response” link) Diversity and Inclusion Curriculum