LOS ANGELES — American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten told thousands of teachers to “be a little badass” in fighting against “so-called reformers” challenging teacher tenure and union protections.
Echoing the Democratic Party class warfare election themes, Weingarted attacked the Koch brothers, lamented the “purchasing power of the wealthy” in politics, and blasted the U.S. Supreme Court as “Supreme Court, Inc.”
Weingarten was bipartisan, however, in her attacks on school reformers, singling out Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) for “promoting competition and test-obsession.”
The AFT is particularly concerned about the emergence of a constituency for school reform among Democrats and the black community. Therefore it is supporting a new group called “Democrats for Public Education.” Weingarten touted the new pro-union organization as an alternative to Democrats for Education Reform. The new group will be co-chaired by former Democratic governors Jennifer Granholm (Michigan) and Ted Strickland (Ohio), as well as by Democratic National Committee vice-chair and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.
In a lengthy address, Weingarten also took a skeptical approach to the Common Core curriculum, which conservative activists have also begun to oppose. While acknowledging that there were different views within the union about the importance of standards, and that some AFT members were involved in drafting Common Core, she was concerned that “teacher voices have not been strongly enough represented” in shaping the new standards, she said. The conference delegates will consider a resolution on Common Core later in the weekend.
Echoing recent calls from liberals for more political “conflict,” Weingarten called for members to “find common ground and engage in conflict–without fear of either.” She also noted that Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s roll-back of collective bargaining in Wisconsin was a reminder that “elections matter.” She implied that it was not enough to elect Democrats: a pro-teachers’ union Bill de Blasio, she said, was preferable to a Rahm Emanuel.