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AFT Convention Report, or 'AFT 102' ... Report from a committee meeting and a few important resolutions

[Editor's Note: As July moves towards August, many members of the Chicago Teachers Union delegation to the Seattle Convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) that was held from July 7 through July 12 are still working on their reports and trying to communicate some of what happened during the significant week. Substance will be reporting all of those as they come in, with graphics, and we encourage our readers to continue writing, even as memories fade a bit. The most comprehensive report we can do from Seattle will be published in the print edition of Substance, due out the first week of September. George N. Schmidt, Editor].

One AFT Committee Meeting — "Educational Issues"

This rookie delegate was assigned to the "Educational Issues Committee." What follows is a general overview and narrative description of that meeting, followed by a few observations regarding other resolutions. As readers who have been following the reports of the AFT convention know, resolutions are brought to the AFT in advance of the convention by locals and by the AFT National Office and AFT Executive Council. The resolutions are then published in a large resolutions booklet (this year it was 147 pages long) and divided into various committees. All convention delegates are assigned to these committees so that resolutions come to the floor of the massive (more than 3,400 delegates) convention in some reasonable way. The trick is that the committees, which are not permitted to submit more than three resolutions to the convention floor, are dominated by supporters of the national leadership. It is in that context (and with a recognition that the current CTU delegation will be in Detroit for the next AFT convention in July 2010), that the following analysis is submitted here.

If you haven’t already, please read the more focused report by Jen Johnson entitled, “AFT CONVENTION: Resolution on school closing, charters required hard work, some compromises.”

The Educational Issues Committee meeting was held in the same room (6E, Level 6 of the Washington State Convention Center) as and directly following the AFT Teachers Divisional Meeting on July 8, 2010.

AFT members were separated into the following divisional groups from 1:00 to 3:00 just before the committee meetings (scheduled from 3:15 to 5:15): Healthcare, Higher Education, PSRP (paraprofessionals and school-related personnel), Public Employees, and Teachers.

The place and meeting sequence is duly noted because the final agenda items for the Teachers Divisional Meeting worked as a pep rally for the resolutions the leadership wanted passed — in which president Weingarten herself entered to give final reinforcement) for those teachers who would soon be in the Educational Issues Committee meeting: “Overview of Resolutions from the AFT Executive Council,” and “Panel and Q & A: Teacher Development and Assessment.”

In fact, a glance at the agendas from each of the divisional meetings suggests that the same reinFORCEment strategy was employed toward all of the AFT members at the end of each divisional meeting, so there might be no doubt regarding which resolutions in the committee meetings were priority items to the leadership.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) delegates knew we were in the correct committee meeting because it was typed on the backs of our delegates’ badges. However, on the front of each badge we had different, giant, capital letters in the right-hand corners. Quite a few of the 9-10 of us had a “D,” and there was one “G.” So when the chair announced something to the effect of “only members with an ‘E’ on their badges will be allowed to speak,” some ugliness immediately arose among the 350-400 people in the hall.

As if waiting for the green light, the instant the announcement was made a group sitting directly in front of us turned around, and their leader very rudely and loudly told us something like: “So, why don’t you do us all a favor and get out of here right now!”

We each reflexively gave her/them a verbal smack down back. I quickly also got up to tell the chair and a Sergeant-at-Arms to please announce that there were D’s and G’s as well as E’s on the badges for this committee. (Of course, they didn’t.) But by the time I got back to my seat, the bullies in front of us were facing the front, and nothing further ensued with them for the rest of the meeting.

In different parts of the hall, some people began blocking visitors from entering, and others had taken the chair’s meaning to try to physically direct the non-E’s out of the hall. All this had to be settled.

After this incredibly unwelcoming start to an AFT committee meeting, the meeting itself commenced. The rules were reviewed: 15 minutes per resolution (time could be extended); 2/3 to close the discussion/debate; 3 minutes per speaker with warning signs when “1 minute” and “30 seconds” were left. The resolutions were presented in order:

#3 AFT’s Pathway To Student Success: What Every Student Needs (AFT Executive Council)

#4 Designing High Schools For Student Success (AFT Executive Council)

#5 Teacher Development And Evaluation (AFT Executive Council)

#6 A Common Core: High Standards As The Foundation For All School Improvement Efforts (Illinois Federation of Teachers)

#7 Keep Supernaturalism Out Of The Science Curriculum (University Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100)

#8 Oppose The Unjustified Closure Of Urban Neighborhood Schools (United Federation of Teachers, Local 2)

Resolution #3 AFT’s Pathway To Student Success: What Every Student Needs. (*Please read this resolution below.)

The first four speakers rose to express various forms of support. A fifth speaker rose “against” the resolution with clarifying questions (“I’d like to know what these mean”) regarding 4 lines in the resolution. Lines 56 and 57 state: (Well prepared teachers) “are full participants in development and evaluation plans that inform teaching and learning.” And lines 311 and 312 state: “We must invest in curriculum and programs that are aligned with the common core standards and the yet-to-be-developed assessments.”

As a delegate not greatly versed in Roberts Rules of Order, this is what I gleaned from my notes and memory: The questioner was told by the chair that s/he rose to a question but it was not a point of information so the chair would not consider rescinding the previous action and would not address the questions. (Message loud and clear to everyone in the room: Your job is to sit down and shut up until you are asked to vote, unless you want the chair to try to make a fool of you. However, this attitude actually slowly ended up back-firing on the chair in the course of the meeting.)

The “discussion/debate” was closed. The ayes had it by about 75% to 25% against the nays in the oral, yell-out, a.k.a. the vote. With no discussion/explanation of what “yet-to-be-developed assessments” the AFT Executive Council had in mind for its members, what “core standards” might be developed in Arne Duncan’s Department of Education, and with language that sounds exactly like CPS’s failed TAP program on teacher “development and evaluation,” with all eight pages/320 lines intact, Resolution #3 passed.

Resolution #4 Designing High Schools for Student Success.

The first speaker immediately sought to offer a “friendly amendment.” The chair informed everyone, “We’ll decide if it’s friendly.” The speaker was advocating for lines 54 and 55 to say “full funding” as opposed to “equitable funding” by the federal government and wanted to add the further clarifying language of “fully funded federally mandated programs” elsewhere. What followed was a verbal swordfight between the chair and the speaker.

The chair saw no difference and found “full funding” and “equitable funding” to be synonymous, stating that he was an English teacher. The speaker replied, “So am I, and…” they went back and forth. When the speaker asked if he could address the body, the chair’s answer was: “No.”

The chair then asked the room if it was ready to vote, but the nays had it! So debate continued. The next speaker rose to fully support the resolution.

Then, Yvette Felarca, BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) Caucus Candidate, the only candidate running against Randi Weingarten for president of the AFT, rose to amend language in the resolution. She requested that lines 66-68 (“Community members and parents must bear the responsibility for ensuring that children are in school, safe, healthy and ready to learn”) change to “Parents must support their children’s academic success.”

On this point the nays had it, but a surprising amount of ayes were heard. For a second amendment, she wanted the mention of a local affiliate stricken from the resolution: Lines 120-121 reference “what the Syracuse Teachers Association has done with Say Yes to Education in Syracuse, N.Y.” The chair ruled her out of order, stating that throughout the resolutions there are such references to union locals. Felarca got everyone’s attention by saying that this particular one referenced “a preK-20 school” before the chair could stop her. On cue, someone rose to make the motion to close debate, since 15 minutes had passed. I heard a fifty-fifty on the ayes and nays, but the chair ruled that debate was closed. With all four pages (155 lines) intact, Resolution #4 passed.

Resolution #5 Teacher Development And Evaluation. (*Please read this resolution if you can locate it at the AFT website.)

The first speaker rose to make an amendment that basically changed every line throughout the resolution to take the “evaluation” part out of the resolution (lines 315, 324, 327, 329, 335, and 347). Someone else immediately rose in opposition, loudly ending with an applause-getting, “Let’s get those bad teachers next to us OUT OF THERE!”

CTU members did not applaud and appeared shocked at the level of applause for such a statement.

The next speaker expressed being troubled by the lack of debate and that things were moving too quickly. Four others followed expressing opposition to the amendment. At one point here, teachers in the room (not CTU) clapped for the words “hold us accountable.” At another point, one poor optimist in the room yelled out, “Don’t try to fix it! Let’s just vote it down on the floor!”

The AFT position, with everyone regurgitating Randi-speak from previous meetings, is that we should work with administrators, politicians, etc. and help create (unfair and ridiculous) evaluation systems as opposed to just fighting against them and having them 100% put upon us with no input. The first speaker’s amendment was voted down (NAY!) with the ayes few and far between.

Two speakers immediately rose to spend valuable time thanking everyone for defeating the suggested amendment. Then two more speakers rose in support of the resolution. However, from our own CTU, Local 1, Norine Gutekanst spoke eloquently against the amendment — it let teacher evaluations based on students’ test scores in the door; she spoke against the power being given to these tests and was worried about “yet-to-be-developed assessments” (from resolution #3).

Someone else then rose to also speak against the resolution, speaking against the AFT going on the record for “even with limits” allowing these tests to be used in classist ways by governors and mayors; the speaker said that the AFT was helping create “slaves for Bill Gates” and “compliant young soldiers” from the working class. A point of information was handled. The vote was called, and the ayes won. With all eight pages/349 lines intact, Resolution #5 passed.

Resolution #6 A Common Core: High Standards As The Foundation For All School Improvement Effort.

There was no discussion. The chair called a vote which only asked for those in favor - AYE! - and he said it passed. This resolution was two pages (67 lines) long.

Resolution #7 Keep Supernaturalism Out Of The Science Curriculum.

There was actually a fair amount of debate and discussion on this resolution. Basically, people in the room debated usage of the words “supernaturalism” versus “creationism” versus “non-scientific ideas.” They debated “stepping on the beliefs of others” versus “scientific inquiry,” supporting science teachers teaching science, AFT decisions not being binding over state laws, and future national core standards possibly addressing these issues. Debate was closed, but two more people spoke after that. The chair asked the committee if this should be referred to the Executive Council, but the committee just wanted to and did vote against (NAY!) all 51 lines of the resolution. It seemed to me that the chair was not happy with the outcome.

Resolution #8 Oppose The Unjustified Closure Of Urban Neighborhood Schools

Please read Jen Johnson’s report on this resolution if you haven’t already. I would only add that CTU, Local 1 was literally rendered dazed and speechless for a moment or two after Ray Wohl was ruled out of order by the chair because, we were told, anything connected to “charter schools” was “not germane to a discussion of school closures.” CTU, Local 1 members should be proud of the three speakers (Jen, Ray, and John Schmidt) who, along with two speakers who rose in support from Detroit, swayed a tough crowd (see all of the above) and got this resolution passed with its 52 lines plus an added CTU/CORE amendment to boot. The ayes overwhelmed a few muffled nays. The resolution passed.

The Ranking of the Resolutions.

The veteran pros in the committee moved fast to put Resolution #5 in the first position ranking from the committee. This was quickly followed by Resolutions #3 for second place and #4 for third place. Boom. No discussion. Done. (Quick review of AFT 101: If a resolution is not ranked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, it is as good as dead because only those three make it to the entire membership of the AFT convention for consideration.)

However, a speaker from Detroit rose quickly to put Resolution #8 in the second position currently held by #3. After a bit of discussion and debate, the chair held a vote in which Resolutions #5 and #3 were placed in the first and second positions. Someone rose again to support placing #4 in the third position, but the speaker from Detroit rose to put #8 there. The final say went to CTU’s Jen Johnson. Her words, regarding how it was a school closing that resulted in the tragic YouTube video from Chicago everyone probably saw, and how resolutions from local affiliates not just the AFT leadership should also be a priority, won the day. Resolution #8 was placed in the third position ranking.

Other Interesting Footnotes Re: Resolutions.

*Chicago’s CTU under the prior leadership of the United Progressive Caucus (UPC) with Marilyn Stewart had two years to submit proposed resolutions to the AFT. They submitted two (of three submitted) to the Women’s Rights Committee. Resolution #80 (29 lines) “Commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire” and Resolution #82 (21 lines) “Safeguard Women’s Healthcare.” Interesting, the national Progressive Caucus (PC) leadership recommended neither on the sheet it gave to its local affiliates. Both passed in second and third places, with the words in #82 regarding “abortion” changed to “reproductive freedom.”

*Curiously, the PC leadership recommended their affiliates support Resolution #60 from the Political Action/Legislation Committee, but it did not pass to the floor. (See Resolution #60 below.) The language of this resolution from New York State United Teachers is very anti-RttT (Race To The Top). The resolution sought to restore formula funding based on need instead of the competitive grants being offered by the Obama administration’s Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan. I was not in attendance at that particular committee meeting, so I am not aware of the dynamics that put this resolution into 4th (dead) place, i.e. the resolution never made it to the full AFT floor for consideration. I heard from one CTU member that this committee meeting was over in about 15 minutes.

*For the International Relations Committee, the AFT Executive Council wrote resolutions regarding “Iran and Trade Union Rights,” “Support for Democracy in Zimbabwe,” and “The Devastating Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.” In contrast, three locals (United University Professions, Local 2190; Professional Staff Congress, Local 2334; and United Federation of Teachers, Local 2) submitted resolutions on Afghanistan. The three were apparently combined in a way that “watered them down” in order to pass through that committee into the first position ranking, sending it to the AFT floor for approval. Thus, while the other two AFT Executive Council’s resolutions remained, their resolution on the earthquakes was bumped out. Other local affiliates’ areas of international concern (four being in the western hemisphere) that didn’t make the cut were: Cuba (2), Honduras (2), and Ireland.

Final Comments and Questions:

I hope that the above context (the reports I've dubbed "AFT 101" and "AFT 102") conveys just what the “rookies from Chicago” accomplished in such a setting. High school teachers and personnel need to be very thankful that the AFT “leadership’s” micromanagement frenzy in Resolution #4 never saw the light of day; unfortunately the acutely micromanaged definition of what high schools and their personnel are supposed to be in an ideal AFT “leadership” world is included in Resolution #3, along with that for elementary schools.

Kudos to the National Education Association (NEA) for coming out publically against RttT. Shame on the AFT.

I judge that Resolutions #3 and #5, written by the AFT “leadership” (and passed by the membership), were not written for teachers; these “blueprint-style” resolutions were written for students, parents, administrators, and politicians. I hope I am wrong, but I predict that they will be used against us as opposed to being used for coalition building. The jargon-laden words (“prepare every child to overcome the challenges of today’s world,” “job-embedded professional development aligned with appropriate standards and curriculum,” “a system of 360-degree accountability,” “continuous professional improvement” and on and on and on…) are the talking points we in Chicago have heard so much out of the sides of the laughing mouths of Ron Huberman, Mayor Daley, Arne Duncan, and their ilk.

What the AFT “leadership” resolutions do is generate a gargantuan list of what ideal schools should look like in an ideal world. This is just what the wrong-minded crowd, the “blame the teacher crowd” wants and needs. Randi referred to them often in her pot-calling-the-kettle-black speechifying. These resolutions will be used to judge against us how much we do not measure up to the ideal, as opposed to how much we lack in so many kinds of resources to be able to reach that ivory tower crowd’s ideal. These resolutions, along with all that surrounded the hero-worshipping of Bill Gates, make me, as a mere union member, ask a very basic question: Why do I have to pay dues to this organization? I need to agree to disagree with those who held up signs proclaiming that Gates was a Trojan Horse. I think the Trojan Horse was already rolled in and opened up back at the last convention when a Wall Street lawyer was elected to the AFT presidency. With friends like this AFT “leadership,” who needs enemies? 



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