Press Release

Statement by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, On Remarks by Secretary Duncan to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

For Release: 

Monday, November 9, 2009


John See

Education Secretary Arne Duncan outlined the administration’s education policies today at the release of “Leaders and Laggards” at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Leaders and Laggards,” a joint project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and the American Enterprise Institute, evaluates state education systems’ readiness for the challenges that lie ahead.

WASHINGTON—Secretary Duncan has thrown down the gauntlet to the American business community—and the community at large—by calling for an end to the demonization of teachers and their unions, and noting that “we have thousands of terrific schools with union teachers and thousands of underperforming schools without them.”

In calling on business leaders to view unions as partners rather than scapegoats, Duncan said that today’s labor leaders are increasingly aware of their obligation to lead school improvement efforts.

As Duncan has seen firsthand in school visits across the country, schools succeed where there is collaboration, cooperation and a culture that respects teachers’ and parents’ views. Duncan also has seen AFT local, state and national leaders not just responding to change but driving it. We are leading change at the local level through new and expanded approaches to collaboration with districts, parents and community organizations. In addition, the recently initiated AFT Innovation Fund is providing grants for groundbreaking, teacher-led measures to improve our schools. Local and state unions are leading the way by actively seeking to improve outdated teacher evaluation and compensation systems, and by aligning them to what is both good for kids and fair to teachers. AFT members are doing more than ever before to make a difference in their classrooms and communities.

While Secretary Duncan offers a constructive and thoughtful vision for better schools, the new “Leaders and Laggards” report disappoints by offering old-hat, top-down measures that have failed to transform our schools, most recently from the impact of certain harmful aspects of No Child Left Behind. The report’s recommendations are little more than a defense of the factory model of education, which has of late turned schools from havens for learning into test-taking factories.

Secretary Duncan’s approach is right on target. It is time to end the finger-pointing, set aside differences and start working together on behalf of our students. When schools work, it is because the entire community—businesses, teachers, their unions, kids and parents—has a stake in that success. The AFT brings to the table the instructional wisdom of our members and the firsthand knowledge of what works in our schools and classrooms. We are prepared to be active partners and leaders for excellence on behalf of our students.

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.