Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama's education plan: It's not anti-teacher or anti-union

Those who dislike teacher unions are tickled pink over what they believe is an anti-union slant to President Barack Obama's education reform speech, delivered this week to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This example in the Politico blog says that Obama "for the first time confronted a powerful constituency in his own party: teachers’ unions. "

True, the president voiced support for performance-based pay. But that's not exactly the same as test-score based merit pay, as much as some would like to conflate the two. As American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says here, there is much that is good to say about "innovative ways to reward teaching excellence."

Note that in this Washington Post report on the president's speech, reporter Scott Wilson writes that he is proposing increases in education spending (the federal No Child Left Behind Act was never fully funded, even though its mandates were fully implemented). He also wants to explore national academic standards, an issue that Weingarten herself strongly supports.

It is true that the AFT and LFT will have policy differences with President Obama. We are not in his pocket, nor are we in his. The important difference between now and the past eight years is that this president has promised to make changes WITH teachers, not TO them.

There is one thing that we in the South need to understand about President Obama's background. He was raised in Hawaii and his public service career was nurtured in Illinois. Both of those states have collective bargaining laws for teachers and school employees. He comes from a culture of collaboration with teacher organizations.

So when the president talks about education reform, he automatically assumes that educators will be in on the discussion and policy decisions.

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