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Outgoing AFT president calls for abolition of No Child Left Behind

CHICAGO. NAVY PIER AT THE NATIONAL CONVENTION OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS. JULY 11, 2008.

In a major address to the 3,000 delegates to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), outgoing AFT President Ed McElroy announced that the union was no longer in favor of tinkering with the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law and called for the abolition of NCLB.

According to the press release summarizing McElroy's remarks: "McElroy pledged that the AFT would work with the next president to move beyond the No Child Left Behind Act (which he called 'an idea whose time has gone') to 'create a new education law that respects the knowledge of classroom professionals and helps teachers and paraprofessionals provide our students with the high-quality education they deserve."

To the loudest cheers of his valedictory speech, McElroy repeated that No Child Left Behind cannot be repaired, and had to be replaced. He reminded the delegates that their duties includes electing an even greater majority of Democratic Party candidates to the House and Senate in Washington in November, and to replacing George W. Bush with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who received the endorsement of the AFT executive council in June and who will receive the backing of the convention later this weekend.

When No Child Left Behind was originally proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush in 2002, it received widespread bipartisan support, including the support of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D, MA) and U.S. Representative George Miller (D, CA), who at the time were the ranking minority leaders in the Senate and House on matters of education. Senator Kennedy stood beside President Bush at the signing of NCLB. AFT long maintained in public that NCLB was basically an "unfunded" mandate, and publicly clamored for more funding for NCLB. Kennedy and Miller followed their lead. When NCLB came up for reauthorization in 2007, however, widespread national opposition to the law was even heard inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C., and at the offices of the two national teacher unions (the other national union is the National Education Association, which held its national convention in Washington, D.C. the first week of July. By mid-2007, it was clear that NCLB was in trouble, and even its staunchest supporters inside the Democratic Party were being forced to retreat. Rep. Miller returned to his home district in California to find himself followed by teachers and others who were actively opposing NCLB.

From the beginning of the race for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the USA, NCLB was also being discussed widely and facing growing opposition. By the summer of 2007, two of the contenders for the nomination (U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Governor Richardson of New Mexico) told people across the county that there were opposed to NCLB, and that the law should be eliminated. The two leading contenders for the Democratic Party nomination -- New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama -- were less emphatic in their opposition to the renewal of NCLB. Both continued throughout the 2008 primary season to discuss NCLB as if it might be improved, and not simply eliminated.

McElroy's rejection of NCLB is not a rejection of the federal role in education.

McElroy told the AFT convention that NCLB was simply the latest version of the federal ESEA (Elementary Secondary Education Act) which goes back to the 1960s as the signal federal program to aid public schools. Although AFT did not present the press or public with its plans for renewing ESEA without NCLB, sources at the convention said that the plans would be forthcoming.

The convention is expected to hear from Senator Clinton at 9:30 a.m. Saturday (July 12). In a last minute announcement, AFT also told the press that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley would greet the convention on July 12. Daley had not been listed on the agenda published prior to the convention, and the snub had drawn widespread comment from the delegates.

Although U.S. Senator Barack Obama appeared before a high-priced fundraiser at one of the two main convention hotels on the night of July 11, his campaign has continued to announce that his address to the AFT will be by satellite, as he addressed the NEA two weeks earlier. Many at the AFT convention consider Obama's refusal to appear in person before the convention a personal snub. Chicago's teachers were among the first supporters Obama had when he was gathering support for the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2003 and early 2004. In fact, without the support of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Obama would not have received the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party and the junior senator from Illinois today would be Dan Hynes, a member of a prominent Democratic Party family in Chicago who was the early favorite in 2003 for the nomination.

By July 11, there was some speculation that Obama was reconsidering his decision to snub the AFT as he had snubbed the NEA by refusing to appear in person.



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