Obama Administration Angers Its Friends in the Teachers Union by Supporting Anti-Tenure Court Decision


The recent landmark California court decision in Vergara v. California – which ruled the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional – is exposing a growing rift between the Obama administration and the teachers unions that twice helped to elect him.

President Obama, through Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has continuously pushed for increasing teacher accountability and other education reforms unpopular with the teachers unions, but Duncan’s recent comments applauding the results of the California case is sending the unions and their allies over the edge, Businessweek reports.

Duncan said the Vergara case “presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect, and rewarding careers they deserve,” according to the news site.

But American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda Weingarten took Duncan to the tool shed over his take on the case in an open letter that “was clearly meant to gird her members for battle,” Businessweek reports.

“Teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children,” Weingarten said.

From Businessweek:

“It is unexpected to see a top Obama administration official staking out a position so at odds with teachers unions. They are, after all, a key part of the Democratic Party’s base. But Duncan’s praise for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu’s June 10 decision speaks volumes about the ruling’s potential to change the public education system in the U.S.

“Treu tentatively ruled in favor of nine California students – backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and his nonprofit organization Students Matter – who argued that they were deprived of their right to a quality education because of state laws granting tenure to teachers after just 18 months on the job. The judge accepted the plaintiffs’ case that too many underperforming teachers wind up in low income and minority schools and can’t easily be fired. Treu rejected the argument made by unions that tenure is simply the right to due process; he noted that tenured instructors in California are rarely dismissed.”

Union officials typically refrain from speaking publicly about the obvious political connection between the teachers unions and their beneficiaries, but unflinching union apologist Dianne Ravich didn’t hesitate to admonish Duncan for betraying his supporters in the Democratic Party.

In a post on her website, Ravich chastised Duncan because his statements contained “Not a word about the real causes of unequal opportunity: poverty and segregation.”

“Who would have believed that a Democratic administration would … hail a court decision removing due process from public school teachers? Mitt Romney’s Secretary of Education (had he won) could have issued this press release.”

What Ravich and Weingarten don’t address is that the Obama Administration drifted away from the more-money, no-reforms mentality of the teachers unions almost immediately upon taking office. The president pushed states, through his Race to the Top reform initiative, to embrace linking student test scores to teacher evaluations, increasing administrative control of teaching staffs, fostering charter school growth, turning around failing schools by firing underperforming teachers and other measures typically opposed by the unions.

Duncan’s support for revamping teacher tenure rules that hurt student learning shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Education Secretary outlined two scenarios on how the new ruling could play out:

“One possibility is a series of appeals, probably stretching across years, and similar suits in other states and districts. Both sides have the millions such a fight would require. Improvements for teachers and students would be slow coming,” Duncan wrote, according to Businessweek.

“There’s a second path – which is for all involved to recognize, as the court did, that the status quo is broken, and to get to work on alternatives that serve students well – and respect and value teachers and the profession of teaching.”

While most Americans would obviously hope for option two, the unions’ ugly history of fighting against any measure that would put students before teachers indicates they will most likely pick door number one.


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