A Balancing Act for Obama

By Vaishali Honawar — November 10, 2008 1 min read
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So much has been said about President-elect Barack Obama’s admiration for Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the District of Columbia schools, and we now hear that Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York City schools, is being considered as a potential pick for the new education secretary.

Which makes me wonder: How do the teachers’ unions feel about all this love between the president-elect behind whose election they threw all their might, and the two education administrators they have battled most furiously in recent times?

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers worked hard and deployed record numbers of volunteers to help get Obama elected. Together, they raised and spent $18 million on the election, including millions for radio advertisements in key states.

At the same time, the unions and their affiliates have been engaged in furious battles with administration forces in New York and the nation’s capital. Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT who is also president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York, has clashed with Klein often and hard over the past few years. And there is now an ongoing war between the Washington Teachers Union, also an AFT affiliate, and Rhee over a radical performance-pay plan the chancellor has put forth.

As he begins his work in Washington, Obama will need to do a spectacular balancing act between working with the administrators he admires to the satisfaction of the unions to whom he surely owes some debt of gratitude.

This should be an interesting one.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.