Dear Dennis.

Dennis Van Roekel

President, National Education Association

November 13, 2012

Dear Dennis.

Like you, I was pretty pleased with the results of the election on Tuesday.

Let me qualify that. I was mostly pleased. 

I have to say, that even apart from the defeat of Romney, this was one of the most broadly based progressive electoral victories in a national election in my memory: Tax support for education in California. Marriage equality in a number of states. The defeat of the Republican Superintendent of Education in red state Indiana. Advances in representation by women and minorities. A long list. Longer than I have room to write in this letter.

It is significant, I think, that for the first time in history the Democratic Caucus in Congress in now made up by a minority of white men.

And if I read your press release correctly, you were mostly pleased too. Mostly. But not entirely.

I think you and I both know that President Obama’s record on education issues has not been good. And as I read your statement, you could only come up with two specific things that Obama promised in the campaign that related to education: early childhood funding and making higher ed affordable. You were polite. But it is a telling list.

You and I have not exactly agreed on what we should do about Obama these past four years. You pushed the early no strings endorsement at the 2010 NEA RA. I opposed it.

However, predictions of teacher discontent leading to teachers staying home proved to be as wrong as all the predictions of low turnout by African-Americans, Latinos and young people. Teachers voted in large numbers as we have always voted in large numbers. And we voted Democratic as we have always voted Democratic.

Now. Will we be taken for granted as we have always been taken for granted?

The NEA and other unions supplied millions of dollars and GOTV feet on the ground troops for Obama. Frankly, I chose to work locally on an elected school board for Chicago and against the attack on constitutionally protected public employee pensions in Illinois. And frankly, Obama didn’t need much help in Illinois.

But as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.

I read in the NY Times this morning about union expectations over the next four years.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, which worked hard for Mr. Obama, said he was confident the administration would focus less on shaking up public high schools and elementary schools — a move that angered the teachers’ unions — and more on increasing access to early education and making college more affordable.

I guess I am not so confident that the administration and Arne Duncan will focus less on shaking up schools.

I can’t recall candidate Obama making promises that would suggest that.

As of this morning, nearly 900 teachers from all over the US have made a commitment to make phone calls to the White House every day demanding an end to Race to the Top and end to administration support for more charters. More are signing up to make the calls all the time.

My friend Glen Brown, blogger, retired teacher and pension activist, has comprised a pretty good list of issues that teachers are concerned about and want action from the Obama administration during the next four years.

 The folly of discriminatory charter schools that operate for profit;
 The folly of using public money for privatization;
 The folly of “for-profit” cyber schools;
 The folly of value-added modeling used to measure student learning and for teacher evaluation;
 The folly of merit pay and competition;
 The folly of ignoring why students fail;
 The folly of devaluing public school teachers and their rights and benefits;
 The folly of out-of-state money that influences another state’s local school issues and determines education policies;
 The folly of hedge-fund billionaires and their officiousness, the corporate entrepreneurs/school “reformers” such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Alice Walton, Joel Klein, Betsy DeVos, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, Tony Bennett, David Coleman, and Michelle Rhee…;
 The folly of wealthy factions, such as ALEC, Stand for Children, Students First, American Federation for Children, National Alliance for Charter Schools, New Teacher Project, Teach for America and their ilk;
 The folly of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core Standards.

So, Dennis. Let’s both take some brief comfort in the results of last Tuesday’s election.


Now I look forward to the leader of our 3 million member union collecting on the investment we made. Be a strong voice for members, students and parents. Join us in telling the President that we expect a different education agenda coming from the White House these next four years.

– Fred Klonsky

IEA/NEA retired.

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