Teachers’ unions who thought that an Obama administration would be a friendly ally are concerned it will be more like a third Bush term.
From the Politico
A skirmish between powerful teachers’ unions and President Barack Obama over nearly $5 billion in education spending is shaping up as a preview of the battle to come over No Child Left Behind in Congress early next year.
But the tables are turned: now the unions are worried that Obama, a Democratic ally, is going to be just as tough on them as President George W. Bush, a longtime foe.
The dispute adds teachers’ unions to a growing list of key Democratic constituencies that have been frustrated by Obama’s lunges toward the political middle, along with gay-rights activists upset Obama won’t lift the ban on gays in the military, and Latino officials who say Obama is slow-walking immigration reform.
So far, both the unions and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have tried to avoid a full-on collision, and the unions are showing new flexibility in accepting previously unheard-of moves like stricter teacher evaluations.
But they’re also making it clear they’ll only go so far with Obama, who was booed at two teachers’ union conventions when he was a candidate.
One of the little-noticed aspects of Obama’s presidency is how much his approach to education mirrors Bush’s – heavy on testing and data-collection, with support for charter schools, teacher evaluations and merit pay.
That’s what Obama and Duncan are stressing in upcoming decisions over how to award the nearly $5 billion in “Race to the Top” funds, with final guidelines due in November.
And the reform efforts seen in Race to the Top are what some education observers expect Obama to seek in reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law, which administration officials said will be developed in the coming months.
The unions tried to shoot down some of those concepts in formal responses to the Race to the Top program – but all signs are that Duncan’s Education Department isn’t backing off significantly.
And clearly, the unions expected more from a Democratic president.
Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, gave the administration an “A for effort,” but has some concerns.
“This administration doesn’t want to be ‘Bush Three,’ but some of the things that are coming out…simply charter schools and measurement… that’s what the previous administrations pushed,” Weingarten said, referring to Bush and his father, the president.
“Data is important and charter schools can be great incubators for instructional practice and labor relations practice, but if it ends up just becoming measurement and some charter schools, that’s not public education,” she said.
The teachers’ unions see amy move towards merit based pay and school choice as a threat to their fiefdom that protects underperforming teachers and harms our education system.
Maybe Obama and Duncan are taking a cue from D.C. Schools Chnacellor Michelle Rhee who has angered teachers’ unions by firing teachers and administrators who weren’t up to her standards as she tries to revamp a chronically underperfoming system and give D.C. schoolchildren a shot at a decent education.
Expect the battle to get nastier as time goes along as the unions dig in and try to force Obama’s hand to acquiesce.