MergerTalk By NEAFT Caucus Chair Morty Rosenfeld 




                 Are you as tired as I am of the AFT and NEA desperately stretching the credulity of our members to attempt to accommodate the Obama administration’s education policies?   Surely our national leaders know that the administration’s proposed modification to the ESEA and its Race to the Top program stand no conceivable chance to significantly improve the education of America ’s children.  Both are premised on the baseless belief that if we just make the work-life of teachers even more difficult than it already is, if we subject them to private sector-like accountability measures and threaten them with mass firings if their students don’t improve their scores on highly questionable assessments, this fear will motivate them to do what they refuse to do now – teach more effectively and improve the academic performance of their students.  What they are saying is not much different than George Bush’s feigned exasperation at “teachers who refuse to teach.”    Just about all of us in public education know the truth, but there’s badly needed money being dangled before us, and we can’t get our hungry eyes off it, if only because we fear what the country will think of us if we are responsible for depriving our states of these badly needed resources.  

            Thus, we made nice to the administration on their Race to the Top program, disagreeing with elements of it, but claiming that we supported its underlying principles.  What did that get us from the administration?  It brought us their support for the mass firings in Rhode Island and Georgia and their Blueprint for Reform, its ESEA agenda.   

            Meanwhile, as we have been busy appeasing them, others have begun to push back.  The April 4 New York Times reported that many of the nation’s governors are losing enthusiasm for the Race to the Top program and are considering not applying for the second round.  To Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, the scoring by the administration of RTTT applications was “…like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,”   Some states, admittedly mostly red ones, are beginning to see that the goal of the administration is to lure them into surrendering their autonomy in education matters for the federal dollars that are winnable in the high stakes education game for which the Feds have written the new rules.  Some have lifted their caps on charter schools, rewritten their regulations to permit the evaluation of teachers based on the scores of their students on standardized tests and still haven’t gotten any money.   

            Some states appear to have been marked down because there was not “sufficient” support from their state or local unions.  Hard as it seems for us to believe, the people running our government don’t appear to care any more about what union members think than the previous administration that was at least honest about its contempt for us.  Rather than struggling to compete for who can disagree with the administration in the least offensive way, why not galvanize the discontent of our membership with the Obama  education policy and start speaking truth to power with one united voice.  

              With public education under attack from administration we helped put in office, it’s time to put away the issues that have keep us apart and begin to use our energy to protect public education and our membership.  There will be no appeasing people who support the mass firing of teachers in failing schools.  There’s no negotiating with them around the margins of the kind of disastrous proposals they bring to the table.  It’s time to realize that we’re in for a terrible fight but one that can be won if we as NEA and AFT members will focus on what unites us rather than what keeps us apart.  It will be won when we cease being satisfied with pious platitudes about the importance of teachers and demand that we be treated as though we are really worth something.  It will be won when the close to four million members a merged national union could have are led to understand the power they could have if they would stop their defeatist moaning and groaning and challenge this administration and all enemies of public education.