Teachers unions to Education Secretary Duncan: Leave!

LOS ANGELES – The American Federation of Teachers‘ convention has a blunt message for Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan: You flunk the test of helping the nation’s schools and kids, so leave.

And they’re not the first to tell the former Chicago Public Schools CEO to go: Earlier in July, at its own convention in Denver, National Education Association delegates sent the same signal, telling Duncan to resign.

AFT delegates, meeting in Los Angeles on July 14, added the “leave” message to a resolution on how they will fight to improve the nation’s schools while launching a national campaign against right wingers and privatizers. Just before that, they re-elected President Randi Weingarten, who has had outspoken differences with Duncan, to a new term.

NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen-Garcia is on board, too. She told her convention delegates the week before that “no commercial, mass-produced, industrial-strength standardized factory test should ever be used as the determining factor for any student or adult.” Duncan is an outspoken backer of using test results to rate, hire and fire teachers.

The last straw for AFT delegates was when Duncan cheered a California court ruling, the Vergara case, tossing out teacher tenure and its protections. The original resolution added Duncan to the list of foes of teachers. That list slammed right wingers who pushed both the California ruling and a successful U.S. Supreme Court case, Harris vs. Quinn, allowing “free riders” among home health care workers nationwide.

The Californians added the Duncan ouster demand. It says that after due process rights – which the California judge stripped from teachers there – Duncan should go, unless he passes the standards for supporting teachers and schools. The AFT resolution also says the union will launch a national campaign against “teach to the test” and to fight the schools’ foes and to fight for collective bargaining rights, pointing out how that helps students and schools.

“Proponents of the Vergara and Harris cases – groups opposed to the existence of labor unions – have made clear their intentions to copycat and expand these lawsuits in courthouses and legislatures across the country,” the AFT delegates said.

“These decisions are contributing to an escalating and engineered imbalance in our democracy, one where corporations and the wealthy have a dominant voice, and these decisions helped working people see these threats are real and connect the dots between the concerted efforts to silence educators, working people and unions altogether.”

“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,” AFT continued.

“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 de-professionalization, privatization and test obsession.”

So the union, tongue in cheek, asked President Obama to implement “a Secretary-improvement plan” at the Education Department, and see if Duncan makes the grade. As far as AFT is concerned, he flunks.

The “Secretary-improvement plan” would have the secretary stand up for public schools, support teachers and school workers, inspire parents and the public “to join us in creating the public schools we want and deserve,” and lead “in reclaiming the promise of public education.”

That includes lobbying for more and more equitable education funding, changing the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law’s “‘test and punish’ system to a ‘support and improve’ model, and promote rather than question the teachers and school support staff of America,” AFT delegates decided.

“Resolved, that if Secretary Duncan does not improve, and given that he has been treated fairly and his due process rights have been upheld, the Secretary of Education must resign,” the resolution concluded. In a statement in D.C., Duncan brushed it off.

In addition to re-electing Weingarten, delegates re-elected Baltimore paraprofessional Loretta Johnson as Secretary-Treasurer, the union’s #2 post. St. Paul, Minn., President Mary Cathryn Ricker will succeed the retiring Executive Vice President, Francine Lawrence, as #3.

Photo: AFT Facebook page.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.