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NCLB Outrages

PPI Supports AFT Role in NCLB

Ohanian Comment: Corporate-Politico lapdog, Progressive Power Institute supports AFT position on NCLB, damning NEA. Oops! They call themselves the Progressive Policy Institute

There is often a tendency (of which the Bulletin has itself been guilty at times) to lump the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers together under the general moniker of "teachers unions." And to be sure the two unions often do take similar positions on a variety of issues. But at times there are real differences between the two that should not be obscured. Major speeches in the past two weeks by NEA President Reg Weaver and AFT President Sandra Feldman brought one set of differences into stark relief: response to the No Child Left Behind Act.

In short, Weaver announced that the NEA would fight NCLB while Feldman called on AFT members to help make the law work. Where Feldman was reasoned, Weaver was strident. While he repeated the tired canard that the law's critics are on board with NCLB's goals but only quibbling over specifics, she discussed specifics. Where there were echoes of Al Shanker in the AFT speech, there were hints of the reactionary tradition of resisting federal efforts to improve equity for low-income children in the NEA's.

Weaver's was a red-meat speech full of "us versus them" overtones casting educators as oppressed victims and scapegoats and playing to the worst paranoia about No Child Left Behind. The speech was heavy on anti-accountability rhetoric and light on substance regarding anything other than the need for increased funding. Yet even the calls for funding were troubling. It's a sad day when allegedly progressive organizations rail about unfunded federal mandates, once a cause celebre of the reactionary Right and the states' rights crowd.

The Bulletin hardly agrees with everything that Feldman said and she did not go as far as some would like in terms of supporting NCLB, but all things considered her speech was courageous. The easy path would have been to throw bombs and state that the AFT too would fight the law every step of the way, but she didn't do that.

Feldman doesn't look at No Child Left Behind through rose-colored glasses, and her speech was not without complaint. In particular, she echoed many critics concerns about the technical adequacy and plausibility of AYP. But whether or not one agrees with her position here, it's an improvement over the rhetoric of many on the Left who rail broadly against the law, call for its full-scale repeal, or tout "improvements" that would have that effect. When Feldman expresses concern that some AYP goals might be impossible for some schools, she's talking about technical and measurement issues, without a hint of the arguments of some of the law's opponents that, because they're poor, some children need different (read lower) expectations.

Further Reading:

Keynote Address by Sandra Feldman (07/10/03):

Keynote Address by Reg Weaver (07/03/03):

— 21st Century Schools Project Bulletin: Vol 3, No 14
Two Speeches
PPI E-Newsletter
July 15, 2003


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