What Does the National Education Association Do?

An Overview of the NEA

Joe Biden speaking at a meeting of the National Education Association.

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The terms "National Education Association" and "teaching" are synonymous with one another. The National Education Association is the most popular teacher's union in the United States, but they are also the most scrutinized. Their primary goal is to protect teacher rights and to ensure that their members are getting treated fairly. The NEA has arguably done more for teachers and public education than any other advocacy group in the United States. Get an overview of the National Education Association, including a brief history and what they stand for.


The National Education Association (NEA) was formed in 1857 when 100 educators decided to organize and create an organization in the name of public education. It was originally called the National Teachers Association. At that time, there were several professional education associations, but they were only on the state level. A call was issued to unite together to have one voice dedicated to the growing public school system in America. During that time, education wasn’t an essential facet of everyday life in America.

Over the next 150 years, the importance of education and professional teaching has transformed at an astounding rate. It is no coincidence that the NEA has been at the forefront of that transformation. Some historical developments of the NEA throughout history include welcoming Black members four years before the Civil War, electing a woman as president before women even had the right to vote, and merging with the American Teachers Association in 1966. The NEA was birthed to fight for the rights of both children and educators and continues to do so today.


The original membership of NEA was 100 members. The NEA has grown into the largest professional organization and the largest labor union in the United States. They boast 3.2 million members and include public school educators, support members, faculty and staff members at the university level, retired educators, administrators, and college students becoming teachers. The NEA headquarters are located in Washington, D.C. Each state has an affiliate member in more than 14,000 communities across the nation. The NEA has a budget of over $300 million per year.


The stated mission of the National Education Association is "to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world." The NEA also is concerned with wage and working conditions common to other labor unions. The NEA’s vision is “building great public schools for every student.”

The NEA relies on members to perform much of their work and provides a strong local, state, and national network in return. The NEA, at the local level, raises funds for scholarships, conducts professional development workshops, and bargains contracts for school employees. At the state level, they lobby legislators for funding, seek to influence legislation, and campaign for higher standards. They also file legal action on behalf of teachers to protect their rights. The NEA at the national level lobbies Congress and federal agencies on behalf of its members. They also work with other education organizations, provide training and assistance, and conduct activities conducive to their policies.

NEA Pros and Cons

There are several issues that are continuously relevant to the NEA. Those include reforming No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). They also push to increase education funding and discourage merit pay. The NEA conducts events to support minority community outreach and dropout prevention. The union researches methods to lower the achievement gap. They push for reforming laws concerning charter schools and discourage school vouchers. They believe that public education is the gateway to opportunity. The NEA believes that all students have the right to a quality public education regardless of family income or place of residence.

One of the chief criticisms is that the NEA often puts the interests of teachers in front of the needs of the students they teach. Opponents claim that the NEA does not support initiatives which will harm union interests but would help students. Other critics have been vocal because of the lack of support from the NEA towards policies dealing with voucher programs, merit pay, and the removal of “bad” teachers. The NEA has also been recently criticized because of their goal to change public perception of homosexuality. Like any large organization, there have been internal scandals within the NEA including embezzlement, misspending, and political incorrectness.

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Meador, Derrick. "What Does the National Education Association Do?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 18, 2021, thoughtco.com/an-overview-of-the-national-education-association-3194786. Meador, Derrick. (2021, January 18). What Does the National Education Association Do? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/an-overview-of-the-national-education-association-3194786 Meador, Derrick. "What Does the National Education Association Do?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/an-overview-of-the-national-education-association-3194786 (accessed March 21, 2023).