AFT Teachers Target Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan

According to the Los Angeles Times, on Sunday the American Federation of Teachers called on Barack Obama to chastise U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan by putting him on an “improvement plan” prior to dumping him.

The union was not exactly in lockstep with the National Education Association, which earlier in July called for Duncan’s resignation in Denver. But the mood was similar; one Chicago delegate, Nate Goldbaum, referred to Duncan as “the man who is taking away all that we hold dear,” and did indeed call for his resignation.

Goldbaum’s idea was looking as though it would carry the day until Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco, suggested using the improvement-plan language. The LA Times reported that Kelly said, “This amendment calls for us to put the onus on Obama. He made the choice. He must make the change.” Detroit teachers union president Keith R. Johnson said the “improvement plan” gave Duncan “enough rope to hang himself,” while also permitting Obama to tell Duncan, “It’s been real, but you gotta go.”

The union wants to protect due process for teachers who face discipline or dismissal. The union is afraid that Duncan is working with anti-union forces which want to “privatize” public schools so that corporate interests can obtain public funding targeted for education.

The union’s resolution charged Duncan:

...has aligned with those who have undermined public education, with those who have attacked educators who dedicate their lives to working with children, and with those who have worked to divide parent and teachers … and he has promoted misguided and ineffective policies on deprofessionalization, privatization and test obsession.

Under Duncan, the Department of Education has attempted to compel states and school districts to initiate the use of student standardized test scores in order to evaluate teachers’ performances. According to the LA Times, Dorie Nolt, speaking for the Department of Education, said:

The transformation that educators and policymakers are leading to prepare all students for college and careers is incredibly difficult, and too often the adults fight about how to best help the kids. Secretary Duncan is hopeful that after AFT wraps up their meeting, he and the organization can continue to work together.”

On the one hand, Duncan says he supports a form of tenure for teachers, currying favor with them, but on the other hand, he approved of the June court ruling that struck down California’s current tenure rules and also limited some other teacher job protections.

AFT President Randi Weingarten called the “improvement plan” idea a “constructive approach,” but acknowledged that many delegates felt a “sense of betrayal” about Duncan and the Obama administration.



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