NEA, AFT Challenge Arne Duncan’s Policies, Motives

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is joining the National Education Association (NEA) in telling US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “shape up or ship out”.

The union claimed that Duncan’s policies on testing have failed America’s schools.  Duncan had proposed using results from standardized tests toward teacher evaluations and in making pay and tenure decisions.

Also up for discussion was Duncan’s “praising” the verdict of the California Vergara case which ruled that state teacher tenure laws can hurt students, writes Vanessa Romo for Los Angeles School Report.

According to AFT President Randi Weingarten, the verdict “pre-supposes that for kids to win, teachers must lose and nothing can be further from the truth … we will fight it – in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.”

“Our members are frustrated and angry,” said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. “Number one is the toxic testing. There is too much.”

In much the same way that teachers are evaluated each year, the AFT is asking for a “Secretary Improvement Plan” that would evaluate Duncan’s performance.  If he does not improve, they are asking him to resign, writes Allie Grasgreen for Politico.

“Teachers are evaluated and their future livelihoods are linked to that,” Weingarten said. “And when they fall short, they should have a chance to improve. And that’s what this special order represents.”

According to the plan, Duncan would need to change the “test-and-punish” accountability system to a “support-and-improve” model as well as “promote rather than question” teachers and support staff.

The AFT is also asking President Barack Obama to create an improvement plan “based on standing up for public education, supporting teachers and all school workers … to join us in creating the public schools we want and deserve and leading with us in reclaiming the promise of public education.”

Also discussed at its latest national convention in Los Angeles, the union reiterated its support of the Common Core State Standards, as it stands with increased supervision of implementation as well as the two-year freeze on the use of test results in teacher evaluations, writes Allie Bidwell for US News.

The vote took place after a 40-minute debate, the longest that Weingarten had ever seen.  Many union members do not agree with the resolution, asking for strict opposition to Common Core.

Michelle Gunderson said the standards at the kindergarten level are “abysmal”.

“They are not child developmentally appropriate and they are too academically centered for our children,” Gunderson said.

Others say it’s “a fallacy” to believe that material learned will be the same from state to state.

“I am afraid if we do not adopt this resolution and work hard on every one of those resolves, that when this moratorium ends in two years we will be right back where we started,” said Colleen Callahan, director of professional issues for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.  “It is not enough to just say ‘no’.  We have to say ‘how’.  We must reclaim our professional voice, and this resolution is a great step forward in doing just that.”