The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) approved a resolution Sunday calling for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to be fired if he does not immediately make improvements under a plan to be created by President Obama.
The demand is the latest sharp attack on the embattled secretary as left-leaning education groups increasingly revolt against the Obama administration’s agenda.
The resolution, enacted at AFT’s biannual convention in Los Angeles, calls out Duncan for a perceived betrayal of teachers and students in favor of business interests.
“Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has aligned with those who have undermined public education, with those who have attacked educators who dedicate their lives to working with children, and with those who have worked to divide parents and teachers,” the resolution says. “He has failed to bring parents, students, teachers and community members together to improve the quality of public education for all children, and he has promoted misguided and ineffective policies on deprofessionalization, privatization and test obsession.”
As bitter as its language is, the resolution isn’t as hostile as the one approved two weeks ago by the National Education Association (NEA) at their own convention. There delegates demanded that Duncan step down immediately rather than making one last call for improvement. By urging Obama to demand improvement from Duncan or else get a pink slip, however, the AFT’s resolution is a more direct challenge to the president.
With the AFT’s vote, both major national teacher unions have overtly rebelled against the course the Obama administration is charting on education. Teachers, long a stronghold of Democratic support, have become frustrated by the increased importance of standardized tests, the promotion of non-unionized charter schools as alternatives to public schools, and the attacks on tenure and other generous benefits long enjoyed by teachers.
The AFT’s resolution explicitly mentioned Vergara v. California, a recent court case that invalidated California’s tenure laws, as highly objectionable. Last month, Duncan earned a stinging rebuke from AFT President Randi Weingarten when he seemed somewhat sympathetic to the Vergara decision instead of offering the strong denunciation unions hoped for.
Duncan has thus far stood aloof from the growing distaste on the left for his leadership of the Department of Education. Last week, following the NEA’s vote, Duncan told reporters he was “trying to stay out of local union politics.”
The “improvement plan” that AFT’s resolution puts forward is far more than an ultimatum to Duncan. If enacted, it would require a wholesale revision of the White House’s education policies over the last several years. Suggested improvements include a major reduction in the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools, and switching from neutrality to aggressive support for teachers against challenges to their benefits.
The AFT’s convention also was marked by increasing friction with the Common Core multistate standards. On Friday, AFT President Randi Weingarten announced that AFT would provide funding for teachers who seek to modify or rewrite the standards in their states.
However, the organization ultimately avoided a stronger condemnation over the weekend. Instead, delegates approved a resolution that condemned Common Core’s implementation but endorsed the basic intent of the standards.
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