NEA and AFT leaders walk a tightrope.

In a weird way, it was so much easier when W was President and Rod Paige and then Margaret Spellings ran the Department of Education. While many Democrats supported NCLB, the two teacher unions were in opposition. And said so.

But an historic electoral victory in 2008, Democratic Party control of the White House and Congress and control of the USDE ironically made things, not easier, but more complicated.

It can’t have been an easy two years for AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. Although many progressive critics think they were silent too long, negotiating through the land mines of current political realities certainly was challenging, I will concede.

Even after the ground-changing vote repudiating Race to the Top at last week’s NEA RA in New Orleans, delegates from all across the country expressed their frustration and disappointment, not only with the Obama administration, but with the slowness of our leaders to speak out.

But the center of gravity has now shifted. Van Roekel has made the debate with Arne Duncan a wide open affair. The NEA delegates could not have been more clear.

This has put pressure on the AFT to do the same. Will it?

The AFT’s Randi Weingarten is in a somewhat different position than the NEA’s Van Roekel. She is the darling of the media. Stephen Sawchuk of EdWeek, who has been covering both conventions is absolutely star struck by Weingarten. To Sawchuk she is “courageous” one day, a “reformer” and “firebrand” the next.

Why? Typical of the mainstream media, Sawchuk is impressed by Weingarten’s willingness to be flexible in her defense of teacher union interests.

But some of her own members are not so impressed at her flexibilty.

NYC Educator blogged recently,

Weingarten, who sponsored anti-teacher mayoral control in NYC both before and after it turned out to be disastrous for teachers, parents, and students.   In fact, Ms. Weingarten saw fit to invite Bill Gates, one of the most destructive forces to education in the country, to the AFT convention.  However, union dissidents like me, who support better conditions for working teachers, are specifically kept out.

And JD2718, who is a delegate to the AFT convention reported:

Up to a point I’d been listening, fairly politely. Then Randi Weingarten read, from her prepared text:

“Our vision is that every neighborhood school should be an excellent school that all families know they can count on, every year, for all of their children.”

and that was too much. Neighborhood schools? When her legacy in the Bronx was to destroy neighborhood schools? When “school choice” guarantees that struggling schools are shut instead of improved. When kids routinely travel past several closer schools on their way to theirs. When Weingarten sat on the board of New Visions, and helped fragment our high schools? When “zones” were abolished for Bronx high schools?

And even loyal defenders of Weingarten have felt compelled to Tweet me and assure me that a resolution criticizing Race To the Top will come out of the convention, even though Weingarten mentioned nothing about it in her opening address.

As I said, the center of gravity has shifted. A difficult tightrope or not, national union leaders are feeling great pressure from their rank-and-file to do less sitting at the table and more standing up to the attacks on public schools and teacher unions, attacks coming in part from a Democratic conrolled USDE.

Some can walk a tightrope. Some fall off.

2 thoughts on “NEA and AFT leaders walk a tightrope.

  1. Thanks for the quote. I’m not certain AFT walks much of a tightrope. The UFT has got the convention center packed with party faithful and have made quite sure that no dissident voices got any representation whatsoever. The UFT packs a lot of punch in this organization and no UFT delegate dares questioning the party line for fear of losing perks, jobs and upward mobility.

    It’s ironic that while the UFT criticizes the top-down governance of the Bloomberg administration, it’s unwillingness to entertain new and different voices, they are nothing if not even more of the same. It doesn’t matter what you think–if you didn’t vote for Randi, if you didn’t vote for Mulgrew, there’s no room in the convention, let alone any decision-making arm of the UFT, for you or anyone who shares your ideas.

    They’re one of the last political dynasties around, though few people even know of their existence.

  2. And even loyal defenders of Weingarten have felt compelled to Tweet me and assure me that a resolution criticizing Race To the Top will come out of the convention, even though Weingarten mentioned nothing about it in her opening address.

    Either they did not know, or they intentionally misinformed you. A resolution came out of committee, ranked low, and never made it to the floor.

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