A Tale of Two Approaches—The AFT, the NEA, and NCLB

Julia E. Koppich
J. Koppich & Associates


When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law on January 8, 2002, neither the National Education Association (NEA) nor the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was on record supporting or opposing the new legislation. Rather, both the NEA and AFT remained neutral on the bill. What has transpired since the enactment of the statute is the story of the two organizations’ different approaches to the law.

This article begins with an explanation of the organizations’ different responses in their pursuit of reform and explains some of the initial statutory compromises the NEA and AFT had a hand in shaping. The article then moves to an examination of the organizations’ initial responses to NCLB and traces the evolution of those responses as NCLB implementation becomes a reality. As this article will demonstrate, though the organizations are largely in accord about what they view as the deficiencies of the law, they have adopted different strategic approaches to secure statutory change. In contrast to NEA efforts, which have focused on public denunciation of the law, the AFT has taken a more considered, and sometimes less predictable, approach. In large measure, these strategies mirror the organizations’ reactions to education reform more generally over the last two decades. The article concludes by asserting that, though the AFT has had a more thoughtful approach to NCLB than the NEA, neither organization has been entirely successful in crafting a cogent policy response to this major piece of legislation.

This article was originally published in the Peabody Journal of Education by Taylor & Francis Group.

Suggested citationKoppich, J. E. (2005, January). A tale of two approaches—The AFT, the NEA, and NCLB [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.