National Education Association breaks with Duncan, Obama on 'Race to the Top'

Less than two months after praising U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and featuring his visage and words throughout its national convention, the 3 million member National Education Association has broken with Duncan and his boss Barack Obama over the administration's so-called "Race to the Top" program. Although details were still coming in on August 22, the Washington Post reported the beginning of the story in its editions of August 21, 2009. As of August 22, the smaller American Federation of Teachers (AFT), of which the Chicago Teachers Union is one of the largest locals, was still supporting Obama and Duncan.

In July 2009, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekl (above with hand outstretched) placed the three million member union in alliance with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama's programs. After mounting pressure from state and local unions, the NEA began to reverse itself and came out critically against Obama and Duncan's 'Race to the Top' in late August 2009. Substance photo from the 2009 NEA convention by Rich Gibson. Below is the Washington Post story that appeared on August 21, 2009.

NEA Attacks Administration's Education Reform Plan


NEA Attacks Administration's Education Reform Plan

By Nick Anderson

The nation's largest teachers union sharply attacked President Obama's most significant school improvement initiative on Friday evening, saying that it puts too much emphasis on a "narrow agenda" centered on charter schools and echoes the Bush administration's "top-down approach" to reform.

The National Education Association's criticism of Obama's $4.35 billion"Race to the Top" initiative came nearly a month after the presidentunveiled the competitive grant program, meant to spur states to move toward teacher performance pay; lift caps on independently operated, publicly funded charter schools; and take other steps to shake up school systems.

The NEA's statement to the Department of Education came a week before the end of the public-comment period on the administration's proposal, and it reflected deep divisions over the White House's education agenda within a constituency largely loyal to the Democratic Party.

The union, which boasts 3.2 million members, charged that Race to the Top contradicted administration pledges to give states more flexibility in how they improve schools. "We find this top-down approach disturbing; we have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind," the union wrote in its comments, "and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success and that usurp state and local government's responsibilities for public education."

It added: "Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears that the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America's public schools -- urban, suburban, exurban and rural -- and all must comply with that silver bullet."

An Education Department spokesman had no immediate comment. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said repeatedly he wants to work with unions and not foist reforms on teachers without consultation.

When Obama announced the initiative July 24, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, praised the administration's intentions to lift standards, raise teacher quality and turn around low-performing schools.

But he said performance pay, charter schools and links between student and teacher data raise difficult issues for his union.

That last issue prompted an NEA objection earlier this year, after Obama expressed his desire to grade teachers through the test scores of their students.

Van Roekel told the New York Times that his members were unhappy with such comments.

''When he equates teachers with test scores, that's when we part company,'' Mr. Van Roekel told the Times.



August 23, 2009 at 5:01 PM

By: Sarah

Musings About the State of Education

Recall a July 2 Subatance report by George:

“The problems faced by parents and teachers with a small number of Chicago principals who have been described as everything from "high handed" to "tyrannical" has become more public because of blogs and the Internet. Three weeks ago, CPS officials hosted a meeting with teachers from three of the schools facing serious principal problems at the TAMS center on a Saturday morning. The meeting involved teachers from Field, Gunsaulus, and Prescott elementary schools. Additional problems at Brooks High School have also prompted concern and monitoring by the Office of LSC Relations at CPS and by Mr. Villasenor himself.”

Then read just 2 of the requirements in a long list contained in an e-bulletin job posting at Price Elementary School. These canned requirements are popping up all over personnel bulletins:

A teacher at Price must “Have a belief, passion and firm commitment to educate all students.” How does a principal measure that? Can the teacher buy passion credits to demonstrate her intensity?

A teacher must also have “Proficiency in making data-driven pedagogical decisions to improve student learning outcomes.” Woooo, if I can stop laughing long enough to translate that for all the non educators: A fifth grade kid whose last 2 tests show that he can’t multiply needs extra practice with his times tables.

Pompous morons running the schools!

August 28, 2009 at 2:09 PM

By: Jesse Sharkey

AFT Back to School Tour features... Duncan?

Duncan's "Race to the Top" essentially amounts to cash prizes for union-busting. The AFT's decision to feature Duncan at their back-to-school press conferences (see demonstrates how little they understand about the dangers that face teachers unions in the next few years: attacks on pensions, budget shortfalls blamed on unions, and surging non-union charters.

Yet our union leaders seem intent on downplaying the threats, counselling patience, and holding onto power with an ever tighter grip. How else to explain that the top two stories on the CTU's website warn, not of the dangers facing our union from an increasingly confident and anti-union ruling class, but of the dangers of 'listening to rumors' about leadership, and 'filing unauthorized grievances.' Yikes. I guess the real people union leadership wants us to fear are CORE or CSDU agitators, not those hundred-person crowds, or their organizers, who are packing hearings to push charter schools into a neighborhood near you.

The storm clouds of war are gathering over the CTU. CPS is headed by a hatchet-man with his eyes fixed squarely on our pension. The anti-union schools movement has grown in confidence and size to a position where they can call out a stage army of hundreds around the line, 'people who oppose charters must not care about children.' Our own leaders are having brunch and press conferences with the enemy.

'Hold the course,' 'Trust us,' and 'Everthing will be alright' might sound like more comforting counsel, but it is self-delusion. CTU members need to get ready for a fight... because frankly, our position is strong enough to win. But we have to start by recognizing the real threats we face, and then proceed to organize all the teachers in Chicago to join forces with the community and defend public education.

July 13, 2010 at 9:36 AM

By: Walter McLauren

Sarah's comment Aug. 23, 2009

Sarah was citing several specific problems at Chicago schools then a broader problem with specific jargon on canned job posting requirements. These seem to be heading in the direction of national standardization and they are often confusing and open to interpretation. Her example of a 5th grader needing math practice is common. What is an even greater problem is students who refuse to do extra practice on concepts and continue to fall farther behind. National standards of discipline will meet more difficulties as kids are learning social behavior norms from the Simpsons and other popular means of promoting disrespect for authority.

I am not a robot. But there are 3 kinds of people in the world. Those that are good at math and those that aren't.

I guess I'll know which won I are when I click submit.

July 13, 2010 at 10:27 AM

By: Walter McLauren

Dumbing down?

Left behind because your teachers were 'teaching to the test?' I teach foreign languages, and more than half my students don't know what a direct object is when they start trying to learn Spanish, French or German. Almost 30% don't know what a verb does or how to recognize one when they see it. I have to teach ESL and phonics before we can hope to say a whole sentence where parts of speech might be in different places than we are used to. There is open rebellion if we don't give a study guide before the final exam. I frequently get asked if there will be a word bank to choose from. Will they be ready for higher education where the study guide will be the notes and work they have collected over the course of the semester and hopefully organized into a useful study tool? Are we failing to get most of our children ready for the rigor of 9th grade? We've come a long way baby. Down. We had to know a whole semester of material and just hope we had studied the things that would be on the final.

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