Are Teachers and Democrats Headed for Divorce?

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (Jerry McCrea/The Star-Ledger)

It’s best to quickly recognize the red flags in any failing relationship. This way, ties can be severed instead of allowing things to linger forever in dysfunction. For Democrats and teachers’ unions, the writing is on the wall. The two are simply going in opposite directions.

The Democrats continue on the road to corporate-inspired charter schools, using the tried and true method of “stronger teacher evaluations” to undermine “underperforming” schools and teachers — thus opening the door wide to private charter schools with their non-union workforce.

Obama’s Race to the Top education “reform” has enshrined these odious goals into government policy, and the once love-struck teachers’ unions have hastily exited the honeymoon stage with the Obama administration, heading toward a quick divorce.

Rank and file teachers have already quit the Obama administration, and by extension the Democrats as a whole. Evidence of this was on display during the national conventions of the two largest teacher unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

The NEA convention voted in favor of a resolution of “no confidence” in Obama’s Race to the Top program, essentially voting “no confidence” in the Obama administration. The AFT convention was not allowed to vote on a similar resolution, but the rank and file applauded loudest when the AFT President, Randi Weingarten, spoke about the betrayal of the Obama administration. The NEA did not invite Obama administration officials to the convention, because, according to The New York Times, “…union officials feared that [Obama] administration speakers would face heckling.” (July 4, 2010).

The president of the NEA, Dennis Van Roekel, summarized teacher’s experience with the Obama administration:

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced.” This is an extraordinary statement. Not only is it true, but it highlights that President Obama is more anti-teacher than was President Bush, who introduced the anti-teacher No Child Left Behind.

In fact, the situation for teachers is worse than either union president is willing to say. State budget crises are destroying the funding for public education and teachers are being laid-off by the thousands, while others accept wage freezes, larger classes, and other concessions.

On top of this, a flood of new state laws around the country is being implemented by Democrats and Republicans “working together” in accordance with Obama’s Race to the Top campaign. The New York Times explains:

“…with states across the nation facing huge budget shortfalls, governors, legislators, mayors and educators in about three dozen states have been working to win Race to the Top money by bringing their school policies in line with President Obama’s education agenda.” (May 31, 2010).

The barrage of new state laws makes it easier for states to create private charter schools — at the expense of public education — and to fire union teachers (based on their students’ test scores). Job security and public education are both under massive attack.

On July 23rd, 241 teachers were fired in Washington D.C., based on their student’s test scores. Examples like this are now becoming common. If unions cannot prevent these mass firings from happening, their power becomes decimated.

But this frontal assault is not being labeled as such by many teacher union officials. Some union leaders are minimizing the destruction caused by the Obama administration, simply referring to his policies as “misguided” or “flawed,” rather than condemning the Democrats as “blatantly anti-union” or “destructive to public education.”

This is because many union leaders are deathly afraid of ending their co-dependent relationship with the Democrats, no matter what level of domestic violence occurs. These union officials make excuses for the Democrats, or justify their cooperation with the politicians, by claiming that the union needs “a seat at the table.” But at this table teachers are on the menu, and the Democrats are only willing to listen to union advice as to how the teachers are best served — grilled, roasted, skewered.

A big test will come this November, when mid-term elections will take place all over the country. Will teachers’ unions use funds and resources to help elect Democrats, after tens of millions were wasted to elect Obama and his Race to the Top cohorts in Congress?

Some union leaders will argue, “Yes, we will support good Democrats.” Fair enough, but a good Democrat is not someone that simply says, “I support unions and teachers.” A necessary condition for teachers’ unions to support politicians must be that they condemn Obama’s Race to the Top, while declaring allegiance to the job security of teachers, and thus they must refuse to cooperate with the corporate-inspired scheme to make teachers’ evaluations based on students test scores, so as to create more charter schools.

Also, politicians who are given union support must have a plan to fully fund public education and reject the current trend of cutting funds to education and social services, using budget deficits as an excuse. Raising taxes on the rich and corporations — as Oregon did — is one way for teachers to survive the state budget crises.

Ultimately, teachers’ unions need to officially declare their defunct relationship with the Democrats is “over” and work with politically independent labor candidates, with a future eye towards creating a union-led political party that would represent the interests of all working people.

Shamus Cooke

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com.

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Comments

  1. Mark Thompson says

    Its about the power of the unions and the greed of its members. They always say, ” Do it for the kids!” when they demand pay raises while threatening to walk out on the kids.

    Prior to the creation of The Department Of Education in 1969, America was tops in education in the world and now we are rated in the back of the pack amoung the most developed nations. . It was NEVER about educating the students, it IS about political indoctrination from the left. Keep em stupid so you can control them. The worse education is in the urban centers where “The Great Society “has failed & no amount of money will EVER change the drop out factories as long as political correctness supersedes locality control.

    Please get a chance to watch the film ” Waiting For Superman”. A fine documentary of how we have destroyed the lives of generations & future generations. Perhaps this is why Nancy Pelosi said about the welfare system. ” You get the best bang for your buck on welfare !”

  2. Rex says

    If the goal is to break the union, then just do it. Do not destroy public education in its entirety.

    The teachers unions are too big, too powerful and need to quit behaving like the plumbers union. Here are some of the problems with teachers unions:

    * You cannot fire an incompetent teacher, or a teacher who deviates from social norms “too far”.

    * Unions negotiate in favor of senior members and screw newly hired members. Just compare the salary scales of teachers with private industry for similar education requirements. A teacher in the first few years on the job is making little more than minimum wage. There’s no equity here.

    * The attitudes of teachers are pure blue collar. They demand extra pay, beyond salary, for doing things that in private business are considered “casual overtime”. There is no sense of professionalism. Where’s the dedication.

    * In places where there is no “Right to Work” union dues are involuntary servitude. This gives way too much power to unions and limits the authority of management to do its job.

    I voted for Obama. I’m a teacher (32 years) and I have come to hate the institutions that are involved in the Education Industrial Complex. I love teaching.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Some union leaders will argue, “Yes, we will support good Democrats.” Fair enough, but a good Democrat is not someone that simply says, “I support unions and teachers.” A necessary condition for teachers’ unions to support politicians must be that they condemn Obama’s Race to the Top, while declaring allegiance to the job security of teachers, and thus they must refuse to cooperate with the corporate-inspired scheme to make teachers’ evaluations based on students test scores, so as to create more charter schools.” (the story) […]

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