MEDIA WATCH ANALYSIS: NEA denounces Duncan, 'Race to the Top,' and Obama education 'reform' while New York Times continues propaganda for Obama, Duncan corporate 'school reform' programs

Less than a week before the smaller American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convenes for its bi-annual convention in Seattle, the larger (three million member) National Education Association (NEA) broke with recent tradition, denounced the Obama administration's education programs and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and set a new standard for opposition to corporate 'Education Reform.' Meanwhile, the smaller (1.4 million member) AFT plans to honor anti-union billionaire Bill Gates when it meets in Seattle in a few days.

Substance reports are still coming in from the NEA's 2010 meeting.

But according to an anti-union news article in The New York Times, the unwelcome mat was out in New Orleans, one year after the NEA delegates were greeted with wall-to-wall Arne Duncan at their annual meeting (called the "Representative Assembly") and two years after Barack Obama (then the Democratic Party's nominee for President) addressed both the NEA and AFT in July 2008. The New York Times article, by reporter Sam Dillon, continues a tradition of promoting the so-called "reforms" of the Obama administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, quoting mostly from corporate-funded supporters of programs like charter schools and Race to the Top, belittling teacher unions, and selectively quoting from the minority of union members who are still in support of the Obama administration's anti-union privatization agenda.

Sam Dillon, the New York Times reporter covering the NEA convention, has been providing public relations material as "news" stories for Arne Duncan since December 2008, when he penned a Page One news story about the Duncan appointment with heavy emphasis on the myths of the Chicago miracle and while completely ignoring the critics of Duncan's policies (who were to pack the meeting of the Chicago Board of Education the day the Dillon article appeared).

According to an article appearing in the July 5, 2010 New York Times:


By Sam Dillon,

New Orleans -- For two years as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama addressed educators gathered for the summer conventions of the two national teachers’ unions, and last year both groups rolled out the welcome mat for Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

But in a sign of the Obama administration’s strained relations with two of its most powerful political allies, no federal official was scheduled to speak at either convention this month, partly because union officials feared that administration speakers would face heckling.

The largest union’s meeting opened here on Saturday to a drumbeat of heated rhetoric, with several speakers calling for Mr. Duncan’s resignation, hooting delegates voting for a resolution criticizing federal programs for “undermining public education,” and the union’s president summing up 18 months of Obama education policies by saying, “This is not the change I hoped for.”

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the union, the National Education Association, told thousands of members gathered at the convention center here.

President Obama and Mr. Duncan have supported historic increases in school financing to stave off teacher layoffs while seeking to shake up public education with support for charter schools, the dismissal of ineffective teachers as a way of turning around failing schools, and other policies. That agenda has spurred fast-paced changes, including adoption of new teacher evaluation systems in many states and school districts, often with the collaboration of teachers’ unions.

But it has also angered many teachers, who say they are being blamed for all the problems in public schools.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Duncan played down the tensions. “I have great respect for the leadership of both unions,” he said. “We’re trying to push a lot of change, and we’ve seen extraordinary breakthroughs in the last 18 months. But we won’t agree on every issue.”

He noted the considerable range of views among union leaders nationwide. “Some state and local unions are very thoughtful and progressive and are embracing innovation,” he said. “Others are more entrenched in the status quo.”

Still, administration officials are concerned about the souring relations, and have been working to ease tempers, partly by emphasizing what they consider to be positive leadership by teachers’ unions in some regions.

“The administration is aware of the anger and wants to do whatever they can to cool it off, including getting third parties to issue words of praise for the unions when warranted,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a Republican who last month used his influential education blog, Flypaper, to highlight the forward-looking positions taken by union leaders in Delaware, Tennessee and six other states. Mr. Finn said he decided to write the post after an administration official pointed out how many local unions had helped lead overhaul efforts.

Better relations are important to the administration. Mr. Van Roekel’s association, with more than three million members, says it spent $50 million in 2008 to help elect the president and more than 50 candidates for Congress and governors’ offices, most of them Democrats.

The American Federation of Teachers, with 1.4 million members, also spent millions of dollars to help elect Mr. Obama and other candidates in 2008.

“If the teachers sit on their hands this fall, it would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has studied the teachers’ unions.

In a skirmish last week over federal education financing, the administration and the teachers’ unions were bitterly at odds. Last year, Congress approved $100 billion in education stimulus funds, about half of it to help states avoid school layoffs.

With that money now running out, House Democrats proposed spending $10 billion more to shore up school district budgets, paying for it, in part, with $800 million in cuts to Race to the Top and two other competitive grant programs Mr. Duncan created to spur his initiatives. Mr. Duncan and the White House supported the $10 billion in new spending, but objected to trimming the grant programs, infuriating union leaders.

“For the Department of Education to say, ‘Everybody else has to sacrifice, but our pet programs must be spared’— that makes me so angry I don’t even know how to say it,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has often been more supportive of administration initiatives than the National Education Association .

E-mail messages pleading for the jobs measure rained down on Congress from thousands of union teachers, and despite a veto threat by the White House, Democrats in the House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to create the $10 billion school jobs fund and to trim Mr. Duncan’s grant programs. The bill must be reworked by the Senate. On Friday, Mr. Duncan shrugged off what appeared to be an administration setback, expressing confidence that lawmakers would eventually find a way to spare Race to the Top.

One group that helped the administration defend Race to the Top was the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that has pressed for changes in the way teachers are evaluated. Timothy Daly, its president, said the angry rhetoric from union leaders now was less important than the long-term changes the administration has begun to coax from them.

“Sometimes union leaders need to show their members that they are vociferously pushing back,” Mr. Daly said. “But in several areas of the country the unions have come quite a distance.”

As examples of what he called innovations that unions have recently supported, Mr. Daly pointed to a “revolutionary” new contract for teachers in Washington, D.C., a far-reaching state law overhauling teacher tenure passed in Colorado with Ms. Weingarten’s support, and a new contract in New Haven, under which tenured teachers who are ruled ineffective and do not improve may be fired.

“Teachers are like anybody else, we don’t want to make changes,” said David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, who helped negotiate that contract. “But those days are over. The public is sick of hearing that an ineffective teacher has tenure, that you can’t touch them.”

Here in New Orleans, many state and local teachers’ union leaders have expressed ambivalent views on the Obama administration.

“We have to recognize that with Obama we have a voice in the decision-making, they listen to us,” said Earl Wiman, president of the Tennessee Education Association. But he added, “Mostly what we’ve seen out of this administration is a top-down, put-your-thumb-on-somebody kind of philosophy, and it’s aroused more frustration around federal education policy than I’ve ever seen.”


The New York Times version of what was happening in New Orleans was not the only one being published on July 5. The New Orleans daily newspaper, the Times Picayune, devoted more time to what the NEA was saying and much less space to what the defenders of Obama and Duncan were saying:

Teachers union chief blasts Obama administration's education policies

Published: Saturday, July 03, 2010, 6:23 PM Updated: Saturday, July 03, 2010, 7:00 PM Masako Hirsch, The Times-Picayune,

With the second round of federal money waiting to be doled out through the Obama administration's Race to the Top educational reform program, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel on Saturday discussed the organization's opposition to the program and called on his members to demand changes in an upcoming overhaul of the No Child Left Behind act.

Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, stands in front of a huge banner of a child as he delivers a speech to thousands of educators and school administrators from across the country on Saturday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Van Roekel spoke at the organization's annual representative assembly, being held this year in New Orleans. The NEA is one of the largest teachers unions in the country, with an estimated 3.2 million members. About 9,000 teachers and education staff members are in the city for the conference, which ends Tuesday.

Van Roekel, a former Arizona high school math teacher, denounced budget cuts in some states that are causing teachers to lose their jobs.

"In states like Louisiana, Colorado and Florida, policymakers disrespect educators and trample employee rights and call it education reform," he said.

He described the current political climate as "anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student," and said that politicians and pundits blame teachers and unions for all school problems.

Van Roekel focused on what he said are the limitations of the Race to the Top program, in which several states including Louisiana are competing for the remaining $3.4 billion in grants.

The administration's objectives in the program include increasing the number of charter schools and changing the way teachers are evaluated. The NEA, however, has been critical of the program and what it calls a fixation on standardized testing results.

"While we applaud the administration for its commitment to fund education, our members are frustrated by the disconnect between what they need each day to support their students and the federal policies that hold up struggling students as 'products to be tested,'" Van Roekel said.

He said Obama rejected the emphasis on standardized testing during his presidential campaign, but his administration's plan contradicts that position.

He also criticized the Race to the Top program for distributing money to only a few states. In the first round of the program, only Tennessee and Delaware received money.

"We got a system that creates too few winners and far too many losers," he said.

Van Roekel called on his members to be active as Congress considers reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as the No Child Left Behind Act under the George W. Bush administration.

He asked members to send letters and e-mails to legislators and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking them to change the act so states do not have to compete for money and to replace No Child Left Behind's "pass-fail testing system with a system of multiple measures and a focus on student growth."

Van Roekel said a newly formed NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching will issue a report on how teachers can gain more authority over their jobs and the quality of teaching in public schools.

"You have the energy and instincts to create a new system of public education," he said.

He closed his speech by telling members to "speak up for public education, for students and for yourself."

Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the local arm of the NEA, said Louisiana reapplied for a Race to the Top grant last month despite her group's opposition. The other state teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, supported the application.


NEA's Delegates Vote 'No Confidence' in Race to the Top edweek/teacherbeat/, July 04, 2010. Education Week.

NEA's Delegates Vote 'No Confidence' in Race to the Top

After a protracted debate, delegates to the National Education Association approved a new business item today that takes a position of "no confidence" in the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top guidelines and in the use of competitive grants as a basis for the reauthorization of ESEA.

It was a symbolic slam on the Obama administration. But as with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's keynote speech, it stopped short of actually calling out the U.S. president, a supporter of the program. And the debate over the item provided the clearest picture yet of both the internal and external difficulties the NEA faces pushing against an education agenda promoted by a Democratic administration, rather than a Republican one.

For one, the item passed by a razor-thin margin. Most pass with a simple voice vote. New Business Item 2 required a standing vote, where delegates pro and con stand, in turn. The room looked to be divided almost in half, and the item very nearly moved to a roll call vote.

One delegate who opposed it noted the Tennessee and Delaware state unions' participation in their states' winning Race to the Top applications, and feared that the item's sentiment didn't accurately represent the diversity of opinion about the program.

"A number of our state affiliates have signed on to the Race to the Top, as have a number of local affiliates," she said. "To make a blanket statement that we have no confidence in Race to the Top is a conflicting message, and a disunity message."

Others worried about political ramifications. "I agree with the principle of the resolution but not with the term 'no confidence,' " the delegate said. "I'm not sure that's the way we want to go into reauthorization, throwing punches."

Yet others felt that it was time for the NEA to come out more strongly against the administration. "The worst thing that can happen is that we are divided on this, because our opposition will seize on [it]," said one delegate.

Even then, the resolution did not actually name or blame President Barack Obama for the policies. At least one delegate said he felt that those omissions were disingenuous.

"Arne Duncan was not on the ballot. The policies of the Department of Education are the policies of the Obama administration," the delegate said. "We have to step up and say that the policies of the Obama administration, we do not agree with those."

Another delegate seemed to agree, saying that even if NEA wouldn't connect the dots, the media and public would have no problems doing so. "The one line the press will pull from this convention is that we have 'no confidence' in RTTT, which translates to the Department of Education, which translates to Barack Obama," she said.

For the NEA, Barack Obama is quickly becoming the equivalent of Voldemort: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Still, the delegates were on the whole worked up enough that they rejected an amendment to strike out the "no confidence" language and replace it with a softer phrase.

The author of the NBI 2, Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo, N.Y., affiliate, got applause when he was introducing the resolution: "Some people are going to be mad at us if we pass this. Well let the word get out," he said. The program, he added, would exacerbate policies that "brutalize our students with standardized tests, which in my opinion is like giving someone blood tests until they die."

From another supporter: "The Race to the Top is a gun with bullets in it to take out teachers, public education, and the union itself."

Camille Zombro, the head of the San Diego affiliate, seemed to have the last word. "Teachers would never have put together a program like Race to the Top," she said. "Even in states that are trying to make lemonade, ... you were still given a lemon."


July 5, 2010 at 8:58 PM

By: Vinicius

Obama and AFT Clowned us!

Obama didn't have the cajones to hire Linda Darling-Hammond out of Standford as his Education Secretary, instead he went with the idiot Duncan, Hyde Park Mafia and neo-con charlatans. The idea of the Walmartization of education is tragic. Duncan never had the requisites to run CPS much less the Department of Education.

AFT hosting Gates is incredible. He is fully on board with his business friends on the Obama/Duncan Selling of Public Education. I hope more folks will speak up before Obama's buddies hijack public education like never before.

September 3, 2010 at 6:32 PM

By: Richard M

Dunce Duncan

Unfortunately I have to admit I voted for Obama. Considering the alternative it may still have been the lesser of two evils. However, at the top of my ever-growing list of dislikes about Obama's administration, Arne Duncan is at the top of the list. He is the clown that orchestrated the closing of many fine Chicago public schools and placed education at the disposal of corrupt business people in the guise of charter schools. it is more than a pity, it is a crime. Now Dunce Ducan wants to ruin the education system of a nation. 2012 can't come soon enough.

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