Ten AFT educators were among the invited guests at the White House on March 26 when President Obama hosted a first-ever online town hall meeting on the economy. The president answered questions submitted by visitors to the White House's Web site as well as from those in attendance.
The AFT members who attended came from Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. Bonnee Breese, a teacher at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, was one of the guests President Obama called on to ask a question. Breese focused on charter schools and effective teachers, and how teachers can be involved in discussions about both of those topics. As part of his answer, President Obama pledged to work with teachers on all of his reform efforts. "The teachers are the most important people in the education system," he said. "So if we don't have teacher buy-in, if they're not enthusiastic about the reforms that we're initiating, then, ultimately, they're not going to work."
The AFT members received extensive media coverage back home. Breese was featured prominently the next morning on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Two Baltimore teachers who attended the meeting were interviewed by WJZ-TV. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed Mary Ann Cupples-Wisniowski. And WCHS Radio News in West Virginia reported on Cynthia Phillips' experience.
In a statement after the town hall meeting, AFT president Randi Weingarten said President Obama "gets it" when he says teachers need more resources to do their job well and need to be involved in the decision-making about which reforms will help raise student achievement.
"President Obama understands the link between a strong economy and a strong education, which is why he designated an unprecedented $53.6 billion in his economic stimulus package for education," Weingarten said. "By having educators in the White House audience today during his innovative online town hall meeting, President Obama is getting the input from the very people who can help make our public schools and the economy stronger."
The online meeting, which the president said is a vehicle to get insight and opinions from a broad cross-section of the American public, attracted incredible interest. More than 100,000 questions were submitted, and more than 3.6 million votes were cast by visitors to the Web site who were asked to pick the best submissions. The topic of education alone attracted almost 14,000 questions.
During the meeting, President Obama also answered questions on other topics, such as healthcare, higher education, jobs, small businesses, the auto industry and home ownership. A transcript is available here.
March 26, 2009