The Speech

Arne Duncan’s speech to the NEA today is an important one and an important moment.    It’s fair but challenging and a pretty clear signal of where the lines are.     Free PR advice for the NEA:  Pretend you love it and are on board and in agreement with the Secretary about the urgency to improve schools, it’s a holiday weekend so maybe nobody will notice the actual content….

Update from Eduwonk sources inside the hall:  They’re ignoring my advice!  They even heartily booed the mention of Green Dot!   These days that’s like hating Santa Claus…some booing at other parts as well, tenure, seniority, and all the talk of data but charters are definitely the big target that almost everyone in the NEA ranks can agree to shoot at.

Update II:  Some reax from LA Times, Politico, Sawchuk, Antonucci.

Update III:  Implicit big winner here:  AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten.

3 Replies to “The Speech”

  1. It’s more than a little gratuitous to suggest that teachers have to “pretend” they want to improve schools. It is entirely possible to have a vision that clashes with Arne Duncan’s, or even Green Dot’s, and still wish to improve schools.

  2. When the teachers’ unions were formed at the beginning of the last century, the members wanted a professional organization that would have input about curriculum and instruction and other professional concerns. However, legislators were not willing to give the unions jurisdiction over these important professional decisions. Instead they granted the unions the same rights as labor unions: the ability to negotiate for salary, working conditions and benefits. Of course unions are now being criticized for just bargaining about “salary, working conditions and benefits.” Many people don’t realize that this is all they are legally permitted to do. Yes, they can express concern for the education of the children their members teach, and they do, but they are not empowered to make decisions regarding those concerns. As a teacher, I always cared passionately about my students but whenever I went to the union about a question regarding instruction, evaluation or curriculum I was always told “The union can’t bargain for any of that.” And of course it can’t. I’ll give a specific example: If teachers did not think a specific textbook was the best one for the students, they could complain to the union, which in turn complained to the administration. However, the administration (board of education) always had the final say (by law) and the union could not bargain for a change.

    President Obama is very astute about many things and particularly about the importance of teacher input: NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING will happen in education without the cooperation of the teachers who deliver instruction. If teachers do not like what is being done to them, they might not have a say at the district or state level, but they can, and will, go into their classrooms, close the door and do what they wish. (I am not saying this is “good” or “bad” but it just “is.”) Treating teachers as full professionals and empowering them to make decisions about their students would be a giant step in raising achievement for all our children. Once this happens, more of the “best and the brightest” will begin to apply for teaching positions in our most challenging schools and they will decide to make it a career. Highly intelligent people usually like to be decision-makers.

    I would like to see the unions evolve into the professional organizations that they were originally intended to be. Only when teachers are fully empowered as decision-making professionals will we have the highly educated workforce that we all seem to want.

  3. Never has someone said so much ad yet so little as Arne Duncan. I have heard him speak or read his speehces half a dozen times now and I have yet to hear a single concrete idea that would dramatically improve education. Case in point: in today’s speech which was dominated by the notion of improving the quality of teachers and principals, Duncan had nothing to say about reforming the system that creates these people in the first place. Not a word was spoken about the sorry state of our colleges of education. Clearly, the entire future of education in America rests with future teachers and principals — virtually all of whom will be educated in our nation’s colleges and universities. Yet Duncan has nothing to say about this issue and not a single idea that I have heard for reforming this particular education system. I also have to wonder why someone who is supposed to be such a clear-headed and hard-nosed reformer needs to go on a 22-state listening tour. Doesn’t he get it yet? Has he honestly heard anything he didn’t already know? This is not sincere information gathering; it’s political pandering from a guy who is in way over his head.

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