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The past two decades have been rough times for the two big teachers’ unions. Republicans have demonized them. The Obama administration courted their support but did little to help them as they were attacked by the right in Republican state houses and the Courts. Duncan gleefully promoted the misguided use of test scores to evaluate teachers, despite repeated warnings by eminent researchers that the methodology was flawed. In fact, eligibility for states to compete to get more than $4 billion in Race to the Top funding was contingent on states enacting laws to do exactly that. “Value-added measurement” flopped; it was not only a costly failure but it was enormously demoralizing to teachers. When the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post published the VAM scores of teachers, Duncan applauded them.
As a candidate, Joe Biden made clear that he’s not only pro-teacher, he’s a union man. Whether or not either will be chosen, the names of the leaders of the NEA and AFT have been floated as possible choices for Secretary of Education. This would have been unthinkable at any time in the past 20 years.
Politico suggests that the Biden administration heralds a new day for the unions. Certainly they worked hard for his election. He is listening to the unions in a way that Obama never did. The pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform is not happy with this development.
The president-elect benefits from witnessing the union blowback against Obama, who enraged educators when he publicly supported the firing of teachers at an underperforming Rhode Island school in 2010. The National Education Association — Jill Biden’s union — even called on Obama’s first Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign amid fights over academic standards, public charter schools and testing, though tension faded when Obama in 2015 signed bipartisan legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind.
By contrast, Biden is starting off with a plan that his wife, while pointing to herself, likes to say is “teacher-approved.” He has pledged to nominate a former teacher as his education secretary and told union members, “You will never find in American history a president who is more teacher-centric and more supportive of teachers than me.”
But within the Democratic party, the spectrum of ideology on education issues is far more complex than “pro-teacher.”
Biden will need the support of teachers and Congress as he tries to meet his goal of safely reopening most schools in the first days of his administration. But he will also need to navigate sharp divisions that remain within theDemocratic party on charter schools and student assessments — both flashpoints during the Obama administration as well.
The president-elect has been critical of charter schools. And the Democratic Party platform — written with input from teachers unions — argues against education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores, stating that high-stakes testing doesn’t improve outcomes enough and can lead to discrimination.
But it’s an open and pressing question whether Biden’s education secretary will waive federal standardized testing requirements this spring for K-12 schools for a second year or to carry on, despite the pandemic. Teachers unions say it isn’t the time, but a host of education and civil rights groups say statewide testing will be important to gauge how much students have fallen behind during the pandemic…
Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, said she does not expect the Biden administration to recycle the education policies of the Obama years.
Biden has called for tripling federal spending on low-income school districts, boosting funding for special education, increasing teacher salaries, helping states establish universal preschool and modernizing school buildings. His education plan also calls for creating more community schools, with expanded “wraparound” support for students — a big priority for unions.
“The Biden administration is going to support public schools, which means not only turning away from the policies of Betsy DeVos — that’s a given — but also turning away from Race to the Top,” she told POLITICO before the election.“It’s going to be very different.”