Or at least a chunk of it!
In July I was honored to attend the AFT Convention in Los Angeles, which is held every other year, as one of three elected representatives from GNTA. This year’s convention, which lasted for five days, left little time for recreation but was often inspirational, sometimes contentious--never boring.
One of the main tasks of the convention is to determine the educational, political, and social justice goals and priorities for the AFT. A number of resolutions were debated, with the hottest topic by far being the Common Core Standards. There is consensus among teachers across the country that the standards are flawed in many respects, that the rollout has been atrocious, and that the coupling of the standards with testing has been harmful to education. However, there was significant disagreement over how to address those concerns, from those who believe the standards should be jettisoned completely to those who believe they should be revised and the peripheral issues of rollout should be addressed separately. Debate was prolonged, impassioned, and sometimes downright ridiculous as the rhetoric soared. In the end, the body passed a resolution calling for the AFT to
- support for the “promise” of the Common Core Standards;
- reject low-level standardized testing and support the development of assessments aligned with rich curricula;
- advocate for a shift away from excessive testing and test preparation toward a “support-and-improve” accountability system;
- support affiliates in efforts to hold policymakers/administrators accountable for proper implementation of CCSS;
- advocate that each state create an independent board composed of a majority representation of teachers and other education professionals to monitor, evaluate, and improve the CCSS;
assist state and local affiliates to ensure that:
- educators are involved in creating a cohesive plan for communicating with and engaging all stakeholders;
- educators have a significant role in the continuing development, implementation evaluation, and, as necessary, revision of the CCSS process;
- there are adequate funds provided by all levels of government to ensure the successful implementation of the CCSS;
- call for a national conversation about how best to measure student learning and support teacher involvement in all aspects of Common Core-related assessments;
- work to ensure that the moratorium on high-states consequences of assessments for students, teachers and schools is extended until all the essential elements of a comprehensive, equitable standards-based system are in place.
The convention also passed a lengthy resolution calling for “the development of ‘support-and-improve’ accountability models to replace the current, failed ‘test-and punish’ systems;” another to support age-appropriate assessment for young learners; and another to overhaul high-stakes testing. A resolution against standardized assessments for students receiving special education services was referred to the Executive Council for further study.
For me, one of the most fascinating things about the convention was witnessing the interplay among the largest locals (particularly the Chicago Teachers Union and New York’s United Federation of Teachers, which tend to be antagonists) as well as the state affiliates, particularly NYSUT. It’s obvious that both the UFT and NYSUT have tremendous influence on the way the AFT leans. In watching Twitter and blog reporting on the convention (often by people who weren’t in attendance), it is evident that there’s a great deal of lingering bitterness in the wake of the recent NYSUT elections as well as concern that the UFT may have undue influence on NYSUT’s leadership. This certainly bears watching.
In August, I attended the NYSUT Presidents’ Endorsement Conference in Albany to consider political races pertinent to our state. Despite the title, the process of determining NYSUT endorsements is multi-layered and sometimes unclear. Four groups weigh in with recommendations: NYSUT Legislative Staff, the Political Action Chairs from each region of the state, the NYSUT Board of Directors, and the local Presidents of NYSUT, myself included. Some decisions had already been made prior to our arrival: for example, it had already been determined that NYSUT would not make an endorsement in the governor’s race for either the Democratic primary in September or the general election in November. It’s not clear who ultimately made that decision, although it had been obvious at the Representative Assembly in May that an endorsement of Andrew Cuomo would have faced widespread opposition from the NYSUT locals, nor would there have been strong support for Republican Rob Astorino. There was a great deal of grumbling that NYSUT should have considered a primary endorsement of Zephyr Teachout and, if she loses the primary, of Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins. When the Long Island Presidents’ grumbles turned to loud calls for further discussion of this possibility, certain political considerations were explained to us, which most of us were able to accept, but many of us remained disturbed by the top-down, less than transparent nature of the decision-making in this case.
In terms of strategy, the other recommending groups wanted to endorse Democrats wherever possible, particularly in the state Senate, where it’s possible that a Democratic majority can be achieved this year. Among the local Presidents here on Long Island, however, there are many cases where we feel that Republican incumbents have been better for us than their Democratic challengers would be. For one thing, Democrats have traditionally appeared to favor the big five cities in terms of finances, whereas our Republican representatives have fought to return more state aid to Long Island districts. Many of us have built relationships with our Republican Senators and feel that we’ve made progress in helping them understand our issues. While we weren’t always successful in achieving endorsements for these incumbents, we were at least able to prevent alternative endorsements for candidates solely on the grounds of their being Democrats.
Two weeks after the NYSUT conference, Michael Norberto (JFK), Sandi Cooper (SMS), and I attended the New York AFL-CIO COPE Convention to consider that body’s endorsements. For the first time, NYSUT asked for a large showing of delegates in order to have a significant voice in the decision-making. There had been a great deal of speculation that the AFL-CIO would endorse Cuomo for Governor; however, discussions prior to the convention among the leadership of the various affiliates must have made it clear that such an endorsement would not be supported by the public service unions such as NYSUT and AFSCME, and the possibility was not even raised. For AFL-CIO endorsements, several groups make recommendations, but the final decision is made by the convention delegates. This resulted in lengthy debate as alternatives to the recommendations were frequently explored.
I was honored to represent GNTA at all three of these meetings and will distribute a list of NYSUT and AFL-CIO endorsements for all races pertinent to our members within the next month.