United State Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in St. Louis on August 27th to help the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) kick off their “Back to School Tour ‘09”. While at Lexington Elementary, Duncan met with national AFT President Randy Weingarten and local AFT leaders to be briefed on a union- district partnership program to improve teacher quality.
Despite working with Secretary Duncan to kick off this tour, teachers unions, as a whole, are swimming upstream against the education reform current set in motion by Secretary Duncan and President Barack Obama. The vast majority of the time they deliver scathing reviews of proposals to expand quality charter schools, implement merit pay systems for teachers and increasing teacher quality by allowing professionals alternative routes to teaching through programs like Teach for America. The nation’s largest techers union, the National Educaion Association (NEA), is now even slamming President Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund. The fund, launched in July, will be divided among states showing pushes toward education reform. Locally, St. Louis’ AFT 420 supported the St. Louis Public School District’s policy of prohibiting charter schools to purchase closed, vacant buildings. This outrageous policy was lifted in July after a mass community outcry.
As Secretary Duncan stated in his visit yesterday “we are looking for those willing to challenge the status quo.” So are the children of Missouri who are increasingly falling behind as a result of the status quo being maintained. No longer can it be acceptable for the focus of school districts and teachers unions to be the adults working in the building and not the students being educated inside. No one needs to look further than the AFT and NEA’s recent campaign in support of President Obama’s healthcare plan to see who their focus is.
At the Lexington Elementary event yesterday, Weingarten stated support for reforms that were “good for students and fair to teachers.” Why is the caveat necessary? If it’s good for students shouldn’t that be the end of the debate? Hopefully, despite some small moves toward reforms and collaboration on issues outside of education, President Obama and Secretary Duncan will continue their leadership in reforming education in America. Implementing reforms that are focused on student achievement will begin the turnaround of American education.