“Teachers union president sounds off”


On March 24th, American Federation of Teachers national president Randi Weingarten spoke at the New Mexico Roundhouse in a press conference, declaring, “No more cuts to education.” The Albuquerque Journal published an article about her statements and the response by the NM Public Education Department. This is my opinion sent to the Journal.

It is time for New Mexico to learn from the examples of the most effective educational systems in the world—Finland, Scotland and England come to mind—and have the New Mexico Public Education Department appointees work in concert with the elected representatives of the professional teachers’ unions: the National Education Association, New Mexico, and the American Federation of Teachers, New Mexico. Ms. Lida Alikhana, the latest in a constantly changing string of New Mexico Public Education Department spokespersons, accused the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten of “coming to New Mexico to grandstand. This is what New York union bosses do-parachute into states they know nothing about in an effort to score cheap political points. For all of the union lip service about local decision making, they never miss an opportunity to fly in from the East Coast and create a spectacle in front of the TV cameras.”

President Weingarten, a former attorney and New York City high school teacher, is one of the most highly respected experts on education both in the United States and the world. Because she travels extensively throughout the US, she is profoundly aware of the concerted efforts of national organizations to influence local education in this state as well as others. Witness the fact that Hanna Skandera was hired by Governor Martinez specifically to bring ideas from the Florida education system to New Mexico. This was despite the fact that local Republican (and Democratic) politicians suggested far less polarizing and just as knowledgeable nominees to be secretary of education. Since Secretary Skandera’s arrival, Florida has rejected and changed many of those old ideas.  Ms. Skandera was formerly head of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change (consisting of eight people), still an active participant in his Foundation for Excellence in Education endeavor, and is now the chair of the PARCC testing consortium, the latter position being ethically questionable since New Mexico PED is a client. Both FEE and PARCC’s stated purposes articulate their desire to impact every state (PARCC tests produced by global British company Pearson generate sizable profits). President Weingarten has visited New Mexico extensively over two decades and has studied our educational challenges—including poverty and high mobility rates among students– and victories in great depth.  Furthermore, the elected state representatives of AFT as well as teachers from across the range of New Mexican educational experience regularly communicate both face to face in multiple contexts and via a variety of media with President Weingarten. This is quite different than Secretary Skandera’s efforts to work “hand-in-hand with classroom teachers,” teachers who have all been handpicked by the PED, not elected as school or state representatives.

I believe that Secretary Skandera is sincere in her commitment to improve education in New Mexico. However, setting up numerous alternative teacher commissions and entities does not build the human capacity and investment in our children to the ongoing extent that working with our already fully committed unions can generate. Name calling union leaders as “bosses” and, in the past, “thugs,” is petty when union members are devoted, experienced proven educators dedicated to our New Mexican students. Accusing unions of only being concerned with adults and accusing a respected national union president of only coming to New Mexico to score cheap political points nurtures division instead of the unified purpose and vision that will help us raise up our educational outcomes in this state. The process of working together will only help each and every student to succeed.

 

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