What are the unions doing on nclb?

by Rich Gibson

September 2007

Susan Harman, Bob Apter, and I just returned from a 2444 mile tour of California. We met with education activists, parents, some students, and antiwar organizers. We'll have a report as soon as we get our land legs again, but one thing that came out over and over was, "what are the unions doing?"

The unions, if we are to admit that the unions are controlled by their executives and not the rank and file, are supporting the essence of NCLB, while trying to convince their members (who pay the $450,000 salary of NEA boss Reg Weaver, but who unlike Reg, often live in trailers) that the unions are opposing parts of NCLB.

This is nonsense. The NEA and AFT demanded the NCLB. Proof is that they took out full page ads in the New York Tmes urging the creation of the act. Those NEA and AFT ads were also sponsored by the Business Roundtable and the US Chambers of Commerce. Top NEA and AFT leaders helped write the NCLB. And they helped NCLB get implemented by refusing to arm their members with the information they needed to fight it from the outset.

NEA and AFT are the key groups responsible for the NCLB because they are, purportedly, the only groups representing masses of people who could halt it, but NEA and AFT mis-leaders do not want it halted.

Why would the union executives who run the unions do this? Because they are on the other side. They are errand boys and girls for the rich. Why? Because they get paid plenty and do not have to go to work in classrooms. Where does their high pay come from? Partly from the profits the US wins in imperialist adventures overseas, which the union executives actively support through groups like the National Endowment For Democracy, a CIA front.

But didn't the California Teachers Association just oppose NCLB? No, they did not. They opposed parts of it, and far too late. CTA had plenty of time to mobilize direct action boycotts and other forms of dissent against NCLB, but they did not. They could  easily disseminate information to school workers about how to inform parents and kids of their opt out rights to NCLB exams.

But instead union bosses continue to funnel member action into cul-de-sacs like lobbying which the union executives know full well will go nowhere, but it gives the members a feeling that something is going on when nothing of importance is going on when poor people try to out-lobby or out-bribe rich people. Surely by now we can recognize every level of government as an executive committee of the wealthy, a weapon aimed at poor and working people--and not a neutral body influenced by reason.

NEA as a national group is only opposing NCLB on the question of merit pay. In other words, if the pay system is ok, then NCLB is ok: the ethics of concentration camp guards.

Some NEA and AFT locals are actively opposing NCLB, to their great credit, but always with sharp opposition from their parent bodies, just as NEA attacked Susan Ohanian for beginning a modest petition against NCLB.

NEA and AFT reject the obvious connections between imperialist war, inequality, segregation, and the regimentation of knowledge noosed by high-stakes testing that goes on in every school. Only the Rouge Forum (www.rougeforum.org) makes that vital connection. But NEA and AFT bosses reject it not only because  they are bought, but because their pay influences their philosophy. Now they reject even the main reason people join unions: employees and bosses have only contradiction in common. Instead, NEA and AFT executives tout "new unionism," the unity of labor, business and government, "in the national interest." That is about as close to Mussolini's ideas about the corporate state, fascism, as one can get.

Even if the labor executives were not corrupt and utterly dishonest enemies of working people (and they are), the structure of unions makes it impossible to organize unity among parents, education workers, and students---the key to making a fight.

So why work in the unions? Because a lot of people are in them and believe in them. We need to change their minds and at the same time make the kind of fight inside the unions that lets us organize beyond their boundaries.

Here is what a fellow who wrote a puff piece book on AFT boss Al Shanker says Shanker would say today:

* "No one can say for sure, but having spent the past several years researching and writing a biography of Shanker, I believe he would have backed the basic thrust of No Child Left Behind -greater resources in return for greater accountability - but would have fought to change several of the federal law's deviations from his original vision for standards-based reform." ? Richaard D. Kahlenberg, author of Tough Liberal, a biography of the late American
Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker. (September 5 <http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/09/05/02kahlenberg.h27.html>Education Week)

and here is a better piece on Shanker http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/SHANKER.htm

Below are some quotes from recent AFT material. Quote:

ON CAPITOL HILL, AFT MEMBERS DELIVER MESSAGE ON NCLB Congress must take the time needed to get the No Child Left Behind Act right. That was the message scores of classroom educators and AFT activists took to Capitol Hill on Sept. 20, in a day of frank discussions with House and Senate members from 15 states, including many members of the House Education and Labor Committee, the body charged with drafting the legislation. The lobby day activities were timely, since the committee in recent weeks released a 1,000-page discussion draft of the No Child Left Behind Act, leading to speculation that Congress might put the legislation on a fast track. This would be the wrong move, AFT executive vice president Antonia
Cortese told activists before they fanned out across Capitol Hill. When it comes to reauthorization, "the product, not the clock, should govern the process." The AFT is deeply troubled by many provisions in the discussion draft, which often identifies the right problems but offers the wrong solutions and includes many contradictory provisions. The lobby day was just the latest step in the union's top-priority mobilization effort around NCLB reauthorization; at the same time activists were meeting with their representatives, AFT leaders were engaged in discussions with the National Council of La Raza on testing of English language leaders, resources and other matters tied to NCLB. And on the day of the Capitol Hill visits, AFT activists conducted radio interviews to explain why it is so critical for Congress to take the time it needs to get NCLB right. Comments from AFT activists were fielded by 13 national, state and city radio networks, plus several news-talk stations, a potential listening audience of more than 2 million. AFT leaders can help spread the message and prepare for mobilization in the weeks ahead. Encourage members to mail NCLB post cards included in the last issue of
American Teacher and PSRP Reporter, and refer them to the union's <http://www.unionvoice.org/ct/h11UNt61yunA/fixNCLB>legislative action center on the Web to send a letter to their members of Congress.

Close quote

When you are in your classroom with an overseer with a clipboard watching your every move on the clock, and you are told your kids' test scores will be the benchmark of your pay or the existence of your school, and your union tells you to send a postcard to the people who are standing on your throat, you might evaluate the value of your union, and come help organize something where you can not only help connect reason to power, but where you can exert your own creativity and freedom in a group where you can trust your colleagues. The research about NCLB is long done. It is time for organization and direct action.

All the best, r