Delegates at AFT’s Convention Denounce Arne Duncan

In the second such action in two weeks, yesterday the delegates of a national teachers union at its national convention passed a resolution repudiating U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Yesterday the American Federation of Teachers, meeting in Los Angeles, formally disdained the policies of Secretary Duncan.  On July 4, the National Education Association passed an even stronger resolution demanding that Duncan resign.  The NEA and the AFT represent over 4 million school teachers across the United States.  The AFT”s resolution—ironically commenting on Duncan’s relentless focus on evaluating teachers by econometric formulas and holding them accountable—demands that President Barack Obama hold Duncan himself accountable, put him on an improvement plan and—if he can’t improve—fire him.

Because teachers unions are democratic institutions, the drafting of, debating about, and voting on such resolutions—whatever their actual wording—is important because such actions move and shape the national conversation about education policy.  Such strong resolutions coming from both of our largest teachers unions put pressure on the leaders of NEA and AFT, leaders who have tried to work with a Democratic administration in Washington, despite that this administration’s policies have been anti-teacher.

Despair, demoralization and rage among school teachers—growing from the lack of respect that has been consistently expressed by the Secretary of Education and President Obama for teachers’ dedication, for their credentials, and for the nation’s need for a stable and qualified teaching profession—has deepened into widespread bitterness.  Such resolutions are a gauge of the morale of the nation’s school teachers and the willingness of delegates—who are in this case our neighbors and our children’s teachers—to name their pain from being blamed—scapegoated as a class of people— for failing quickly to raise test scores in our poorest communities and thereby to compensate for our society’s appalling inequality and institutional racism. Such resolutions mean that teachers have taken a formal stand, finally, against policies that directly affect them and the children they teach.

The AFT’s resolution is really a demand not only that Duncan change course, but that the President should take notice and reject the policies his administration has firmly supported despite some rhetoric to the contrary.  The resolution asks President Obama to hold Duncan to the standards of a report issued last year by an Excellence and Equity Commission established by Congress, a report that called on the President to address the vast inequity of resources available to school districts—opportunity gaps that inevitably cause achievement gaps.  The Excellence and Equity Commission report, For Each and Every Child, declared: “Accountability for equity and excellence should focus on opportunities and resources, as well as on student outcomes…. Actors at every level should be empowered and held responsible according to their role, from students and teachers all the way up to state and federal policymakers.”

The AFT resolution also demands that President Obama and Arne Duncan turn away from the test-and-punish model of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and instead invest in a “support-and-improve” model that would help teachers address the needs of the children in their care.

Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week, quotes Randi Weingarten’s comment on the resolution: “Make no mistake about it: There’s a lot of hurt that has been expressed from the floor—the feeling that the secretary of education doesn’t walk in the shoes of public educators or provide the support and resources necessary to ensure all children have a high-quality public education.”  Weingarten is president of AFT.

This blog covered the resolution passed on July 4 by the delegates to the National Education Association’s 2014 convention in Denver here.