I know this is old news, but I've been out of town. On Sunday, July 13, I was in the air flying toward the very city where the AFT was kind of taking a stand.
The NEA had taken similar steps earlier by calling for the ouster of Arne Duncan, though outbound president Dennis Van Roekel immediately chalked it up to members just being, you know, cranky or in a bad mood, so they just took it out on Arne Duncan. So, to summarize, NEA members called for Duncan's ouster, Duncan indicated that he wasn't going to pay attention, and the president of NEA said that Duncan really didn't need to take it seriously. So, you know, earth-shattering stuff there.
The AFT resolution was marginally more interesting, although, like the NEA resolution, has ceased to matter to anyone at all in less than a week.
Union politics are a fascinating study for anyone who is intrigued by things that call themselves democratic and yet aren't particularly so. All union members are equal, but some are more equal than others, and not much happens at these conventions that isn't carefully stage managed by the most equal union members of all. The AFT is particularly confusing because 1) there are unions within the union and 2) there are loyalty oaths involved that amount to "agree to be assimilated."
I understand the urge to exert these high levels of control over members. I was a union president of a relatively small local, and the Herding Cats aspect can become stressful really quickly. I can easily imagine being a national leader, looking at the giant masses of people coming together from every corner of every point of view and thinking, "Damn, if we don't take some control, this will just be a hellish mess of gooey anarchy" (and, yes, "Hellish Mess of Gooey Anarchy" would be a great band name). I can even understand the feeling of "We are so close to getting Great Things done and we can't let that get derailed" as well as the feeling of "Boy, do I like having power."
But let all those feelings get control of you, and pretty soon you're acting like a representative group that doesn't have much respect for the people it's supposed to be representing. Or you start saying things like "I'll punch you in the face if you try to take away my Common Core,"a statement that really ought to come from someone other than a teacher/union leader.
So AFT's call for President Obama to put Duncan on an improvement plan comes with an interesting backdrop. According to Stephen Sawchuk at EdWeek, some union leaders didn't want to go all in with the NEA's Throw the Bum Out resolution, viewing it as silly and pointless. Michael Mulgrew, who allegedly made to offer to punch people in the face over CCSS, thought that the NEA resolution was beneath him, which raises some questions about how he draws the Beneath Me line.
The AFT resolution has the virtue of setting an example by calling for due process, and I give it points for ignoring the fiction that Obama is somehow disconnected from his own education policies.
On the other hand, it is ineffectual. And AFT president Randi Weingarten echoed Van Roekel in explaining that it basically just meant that teachers are really hurt and pissed off. As Arthur Goldstein tweeted, "I certainly hope they follow this non-demand with a strongly worded letter. That'll show 'em."
And Weingarten went one worse, with a call for teachers to leap on in there and rewrite the Core to show "them" how it should be. This is just an artfully reworded version of Van Roekel's odious comment to the NEA's 2013 convention-- "If you don't like the Common Core, then what do you want to do instead?" I called for Van Roekel's resignation over that one (an act every bit as effective as the NEA and AFT resolutions) because I think it's an indefensible thing to come from a national union leader.
To accept and embrace the Common Core is to accept and embrace the premise of its creation-- that US schools are in trouble because US teachers are lost and ineffectual. If there's anyone who shouldn't be agreeing with that, it's the folks who represent the millions of teachers that the Core is intended to "fix."
Like the NEA, AFT leadership appears to have decided to see if they can't bleed off all that teacher anger about CCSS and the rest of the corporate high-stakes test-driven status quo by focusing it on Arne Duncan (who, after all, won't be damaged by it a bit) so that the precious cargo of Common Core Swellness will remain unthreatened. "Look at that scary thing over there! Go get it! Go stomp on it! No need to look behind this curtain here."
This blog piece is somewhat pointless. Five days later, the AFT resolution is an unimportant gesture of no real importance. What's sad is that leaders had to know that was the case when they let the thing pass in the first place.