Ed McElroy sought to lay to rest perceptions that he has not been a reform-friendly leader of the nation’s more progressive teachers’ union in his keynote address this afternoon, saying he has continued in the “forthright tradition” of former leaders of the union, Al Shanker and Sandy Feldman.
“You will not find a more ardent supporter of our union or the larger labor movement than I am. But I have been pretty direct about the need for some of us to change our attitudes when it comes to the challenges we confront,” the outgoing president said in a substantive speech that spanned the spectrum from the U.S. presidential elections to NCLB to AFT’s role in the broader labor movement.
He voiced concerns over the No Child Left Behind Act, which he said was “flawed from the very start.” He did not spell out any changes he would like to see, however, indicating instead that he wanted something completely new. “We will work with the next president and the new Congress to create a new law ... that respects the knowledge of classroom professionals.
The union leader touched on performance pay, and although his concern over it was the same as that of the NEA’s—no merit pay based on student test scores—he made the AFT appear open to this controversial topic.
“The AFT has long-standing policy supporting professional compensation plans—including career ladders, mentor teacher programs, and other ways for teachers to earn more money by assuming additional responsibilitiesas long as those programs are agreed to at the bargaining table and not imposed upon members,” he said.
McElroy, a consummate labor leader, also talked about the dangers faced by private unions, which are facing declining memberships, and called on the AFT members to be active participants and leaders in the larger labor movement.
“We can—and must—pursue both the common good and our own individual goals,” he said.
McElroy, who relinquishes office as soon as the new president is announced Monday, did not give much indication of what he will do next, other than saying that he will “still be a foot soldier with you in the work before us.”
Referring to the changing leadership at the union, he said to the 3,000 delegates in the room: “Change can be unsettling, but it is an opportunity for tremendous good.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the NEA & AFT: Live From the Conventions blog.