Leaders of America’s largest teachers’ unions are joining teachers in 170 countries to urge political leaders to invest more in K-12 education around the world.
The campaign is organized by Education International, an umbrella group of unions representing 30 million teachers, and will be announced Friday in New York with United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown.
“The whole premise is that every single child ought to have access to a free, universal, quality education,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union. “There's not a country in the world where that's happening right now, including the United States.”
Van Roekel told Yahoo News the federal shutdown over the budget — which has resulted in 57,000 low-income children being taken out of Head Start pre-K programs — shows that the United States is far from reaching the goal of providing free high-quality education to all of its children. Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, the country's second-largest teachers' union, is also joining the campaign.
“In this country, we are definitely on the wrong track,” Van Roekel said, adding that the high percentage of children who live in poverty makes it harder for them to succeed.
Van Roekel and his union have clashed with the Obama administration over its plan for education, which involves evaluating teachers based on their students’ performance on standardized tests and encouraging the development of independent charter schools. Unions have argued that teachers are battling impossible odds in some underfunded public schools that are serving children in poverty.
“Poverty isn't an excuse, but it's a reality, so how do we remove those obstacles to kids so they can succeed?” Van Roekel asked.
The campaign will urge the 30 million teachers in Education International’s membership to pressure lawmakers to invest in teachers and teacher development. But the group’s leaders wouldn’t say how much money it would spend on advocacy or what specific events it had planned for the yearlong campaign.
Susan Hopgood, Education International’s president, said the campaign will focus on the 57 million primary-school-age children worldwide who are currently not in school, most of them in developing nations. (One of the goals established at the Millennial Summit of the United Nations in 2000 was to achieve universal primary school education by 2015.) But even in developed countries, where almost all children attend school, the quality of that education is not universally up to par, she said.
“There’s a push to privatize education, which has a detrimental impact on children's education,” Hopgood said. “We find that very many countries’ governments are actually cutting education budgets.”