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USA: Quality public schools at heart of union activity

In the United States, both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) held their conventions in July. The meetings were marked by the presidential elections, as NEA and AFT are actively supporting the re-election of President Obama next November.


AFT: A new vision of unionism

In her keynote address to the bi-annual AFT convention, held in Detroit on 27-30 July, AFT President Randi Weingarten outlined a new vision of unionism. “Solution-driven unionism” is creative and innovative and relevant to the 21st century. It advances solutions that unite union members, the people they serve and the communities in which they live.

EI President Susan Hopgood told the 2000 AFT delegates that attacks on our school systems, on teachers, on our profession and on our unions, as experienced in many countries, can only be confronted successfully when we strengthen our cooperation at an international level. Hopgood thanked AFT for its sustained involvement in Education International and for its international programmes that benefit teachers around the world. 

The convention highlighted key AFT priorities and programmes and featured various speakers including US Vice President Joe Biden and best-selling author Diane Ravitch.

The convention strongly condemned the rapid spread of standardised testing throughout the US school system. Delegates adopted a resolution stating that “the current generation of low-level, high-stakes tests - and their extreme misuse as a result of ideologically and politically driven education policy - has not improved our schools. Indeed, several studies have shown the exact opposite: Test-based rewards and sanctions for schools have slowed our progress in narrowing the achievement gap and have diverted attention away from many other important educational goals.” The full text is available here: http://www.aft.org/about/resolution_detail.cfm?articleid=1618.

NEA: Stand up for profession

“We educate America” was the theme of the Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly of the NEA held from 27 June-5 July in Washington, DC. In his opening remarks, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel challenged the 8000 delegates to stand up for their profession and unite to transform America’s public schools into world-class institutions of learning.

Van Roekel said NEA members realise they can’t set education policy by themselves, but they do have the power to influence it. “You do it each and every day - it’s who we are - it’s what we do…because we educate America!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HN1b9uD3rg&feature=player_embedded

If public education is to remain a basic right for every child, rather than a privilege only for the wealthy, educators will have to lead their profession, not just in their schools, but in their communities and in political campaigns. That was the recurring message from President Barack Obama, who spoke to the delegates by satellite and Vice President Joe Biden, who said that Governor Mitt Romney’s attacks on teachers and public education are fundamentally an attack on the middle class.

Romney’s vision of education is a system that only benefits the richest Americans, Obama said. But the power of public education is its potential for personal growth and collective progress.
“You can’t help the American people without helping education,” he said.

EI President Susan Hopgood addressed a dinner meeting of the NEA Executive Council, former NEA Presidents and international guests, where she paid special tribute to former NEA and EI President Mary Hatwood Futrell. Hopgood thanked NEA for its valuable contributions to the work of Education International. “The challenges facing teachers in the USA are global challenges that require global solutions,” she said. “In spite of all the problems we are encountering, there is a worldwide consensus emerging that investment in the teaching profession is the best strategy to build high quality public school systems.”

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