The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Convention: Days 1 and 2: Hillary, Randi, ESSA, Governors, Senators, Debate and Guests.

Wow!! What a day…

Sunday night: The convention begins with a Progressive Caucus meeting; over a decade ago there were opposing political caucuses within the AFT, currently the majority, the vast majority caucus is the Progressive Caucus. Although the Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) defeated an incumbent slate in Chicago, at the AFT most of the Chicago delegates are in the Progressive Caucus, the same for the Los Angeles (UTLA), the union president defeated the incumbent slate; however, at the AFT his local is inside the Progressive Caucus umbrella. About 2/3 of the delegates are within the Progressive Caucus – the opposition caucus, from what I can see representing teachers in Berkeley and a few in Detroit is very small in number; although, they speak on the floor every chance they get. The Progressive Caucus took positions on about a dozen of the ninety-one resolutions.

Monday morning: A UFT delegation breakfast meeting at 7 am over watery scrambled eggs and lukewarm bacon Mulgrew gave an update and a preview. The union and the Department still have to negotiate a teacher evaluation plan, without the use of student test scores in grade 3-8 by the end of the year, or, lose half a billion dollars in state aid: probably SLOs, MOSLs and the like … Although there are now almost 150 PROSE schools many other schools struggle with school leadership, especially school leaders who fail to include the union chapter in the planning of educational policies – the union contract, Article 24, calls for mediation if the school leader fails to involve the chapter – the clause was only used three times last year. The union will pursue a major initiative to increase teacher participation at the school level.

Off to the first convention session: Randi Weingarten’s State of the Union address. One of Randi’s best speeches, she spoke about her path to becoming a passionate advocate, the role of her mother who was a teacher, her father who was laid off from a job as an engineer, and introduced her partner, Sharon Kleinbaum, the rabbi at the largest LGBTQI congregation in the nation. For those of you who have heard Randi speak at times she begins to shout, almost shrill, she simply said that’s the way she is … and wondered whether male speakers received the same criticism. The core of the speech:  the most critical election of our lifetimes.  Watch and listen to the speech on the AFT.org website.

Off to the Divisional Meetings, the AFT represents, in addition to teachers, health care workers, colleges and universities, school-related personnel and other public employees. Linda Darling-Hammond, at the K-12 session, hopefully the next Secretary of Education in a Clinton Administration described her new gig – CEO of the Learning Policy Institute : the goal is to publicize evidence-based approaches to the major issues confronting schools, authentic assessment of student performance as well as teacher assessment/evaluation.

The Learning Policy Institute has been created to answer this new moment’s call to action. The Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness.

Next, the thirteen committees meet to debate the ninety-one resolutions. This year the Education Issues committee attracted about 800 delegates, I chair the International Affairs Committee, usually quite rambunctious, this year much milder. The committees concur, concur with amendments or recommend non-concurrence to the convention and select the three priorities that will be debated on the convention floor.

Waiting for Hillary:  the 4:30 Hillary speech is delayed, she is coming from the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati. About an hour later the Minnesota Senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobushar speak to the convention – both played major roles in dumping NCLB and crafting the new ESSA law. BTW, they’re wonderful speakers – Franken is self-deprecating, and, as you would expect, funny. Klobushar’s mother was a union teacher in Minnesota who worked as a classroom teacher until she was seventy!

We later find out Hillary was meeting with the family of the food-services worker, Phil Castillo, who was murdered at a traffic stop in St Paul, before her address to the convention. As I entered my hotel I was amazed by a sign. “No firearms allowed on this premise,” Minnesota is a concealed carry state!

Hillary’s speech was “workmanlike,” she covered all the bases, addressed every issue, and was interrupted endlessly by spontaneous applause. At the beginning of the speech some Black Lives Matter folk, it turns out guests, not delegates, were chanting slogans. My Bernie friends were totally on board, the critical nature of November was apparent to all. The convention endorsed Hillary with enormous enthusiasm; with the Republican convention in the process of endorsing Trump a Hillary victory is clear to everyone. Whatever reluctance or Bernie pangs are gone – the defeat of Trump is the goal.

The convention adjourned about 8 pm – a long, long day.

 

Tuesday: Day 2

 

The Tuesday agenda: speeches, videos and business.

 

Governor Mark Dayton – a wonderful governor who has been a spectacular supporter of public schools with a close relationship with the teacher union in Minnesota – a merged NEA-AFT state. Leo Gerard, the president of the Steelworkers Union, the AFT and the Steelworkers are working together on infrastructure projects around the nation. School building average age is 43 years – Gerard supports a major investment in school infrastructure.

 

Representatives from organizations with which the AFT collaborates spoke and gave examples of collaborative initiatives across the country: the Color of Change http://www.colorofchange.org/about/ and the Alliance to Reclaim Our School (AROS).

 

A resolution to endorse Hillary Clinton: speaker lined up at the eight microphones with passionate plea after plea – a generation defining election. One speaker, a teacher from Detroit, opposed endorsing any candidates and I think supported militant, disruptive opposition. The resolution passed with only a handful of dissents. Some of the most adamant Bernie supporters gave vigorous endorsements to Hillary.

 

A couple of committees reported out and we adjourn – closing in on 7 pm – another long day ends.

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