The American Federation of Teachers is holding its national convention this week. Over 3,000 AFT members from all over the country are attending the gathering, which is being held in Detroit, Michigan. Among those scheduled to address the delegates will be Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife Jill Biden. Those attending will also hear from the union president Randi Weingarten.
The AFT is a parent organization of the local unions that represent teachers in grades K-12. Union members also include school administrators, and college and university faculty. During the course of the convention, delegates will vote on policies that will shape the union's agenda for the coming year, as well as volunteer on several community service projects throughout the Detroit metro area.
The Vice President is coming to Detroit to talk up the importance of both education and collective bargaining, and he is expected to outline the education policy priorities of the Obama administration for its next term. Biden has also said that he believed that AFT and other unions will play an important role in the November election.
Other speakers include United Auto Workers President Bob King; Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony; Diane Ravitch, historian of education at New York University and best-selling author; New York Times columnist Charles Blow; and activists Betty Dukes and Sandra Fluke.
Weingarten said teachers are being asked to do more with less and that budget cuts, increased poverty and attacks on teachers have added to the challenges instructors face in the classroom.
Weingarten criticized the current political climate, saying that instead of aiding and supporting teachers, and providing them with tools to do their job well, politicians seemed more interested in using them as scapegoats for the problems in American's education system. Furthermore, with an increasing focus on standardized tests as a measure of teacher effectiveness, instructors spend less time devising ways of reaching all their students, regardless of the individual challenges and skills, and more time in memorization and rote test preparation.
"What teachers want more than anything is the time, tools and trust they need to do their jobs. But instead of support, teachers are faced with high-stakes testing policies that drive rather than inform teaching and learning. These policies have forced educators to sacrifice time needed to help students to critically think and engage in art, music, sports and social studies, and instead focus simply on the math or reading test," Weingarten said in a statement this week.