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Union challenges Obama work with teachers

Image: Arne Duncan and President-elect Barack Obama
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, seen here with President Obama, told the National Education Association last week that the administration would collaborate with teachers to make reforms.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A teachers' union challenged the Obama administration Monday to live up to its promise of working with teachers and not against them.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her union will post a "collaboration meter" on its Web site to judge whether reforms are happening with teacher involvement.

"When it comes to making the changes that will make our schools better, do it with us — not to us," Weingarten said in a speech prepared for delivery to an AFT meeting in Washington.

She was playing off the words of Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan. Duncan told the National Education Association last week that change would be made with teachers and for teachers, not to them.

The AFT planned to remind Duncan of his words by wearing "with us, not to us" buttons when he appeared Monday at their meeting. More than 2,500 people were attending the meeting.

It was a friendly challenge from a union leader who makes a point of reaching out to the administration. Weingarten was meeting at the White House before her speech and was joining Duncan onstage for a town-hall style forum during his appearance Monday.

Controversial education goals
President Barack Obama has education goals that put him at odds with many teachers, even though their unions make up an important segment of the Democratic Party base. The AFT has 1.4 million members, and NEA has 3.2 million members.

Obama supports performance pay, the idea of linking teacher bonuses to student achievement, using measures that include test scores. He is asking Congress for a huge spending increase, from $97 million to $717 million next year, to spur schools to adopt performance pay.

Many teachers don't want test scores to be used because tests can be deeply flawed, and because kids aren't tested in every subject.

Obama also wants to expand charter schools, which are more autonomous schools that teachers have resisted because they usually aren't unionized and because critics think they drain money and talent from traditional schools.

The AFT is pushing for a bigger role in charter schools and has signed contracts with teachers at a few of them, most recently with Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a high school run by Green Dot, a nonprofit group that operates charter schools.

Weingarten: Collaboration leads to success
About 40 unionized charter school teachers from 10 states attended the AFT meeting.

During her speech, Weingarten showed members her new "collaboration meter," saying a series of questions would decide where it moves from "`Kumbaya' hot to I-never-want-to-speak-to-you-again cold."

"When education reform is done to teachers and their unions, it is doomed to fail," she said. "But when education reform is done with teachers, it is destined to succeed ."