Teachers’ unions shun Duncan

Guess who’s not coming to speak at the National Education Association’s convention in New Orleans? President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, once welcome at the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers conventions, aren’t on the guest list this year “partly because union officials feared that administration speakers would face heckling,” reports the New York Times.

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.

Many teachers feel they are being blamed for problems that are beyond their control. Union leaders are angry that Obama and Duncan aren’t willing to cut Race to the Top reforms to fund a $10 billion education jobs bill.

The  NEA spent $50 million in 2008 to help elect Democrats; the AFT spent millions more.

“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.

Duncan is trying to avoid confrontation. “Some state and local unions are very thoughtful and progressive and are embracing innovation,” Duncan told the Times. “Others are more entrenched in the status quo.”

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