Sen. Kennedy and the Teachers

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 27, 2009 1 min read
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Back in 2006, at the American Federation of Teachers’ convention in Boston, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy made an appearance and absolutely electrified the delegates.

AFT delegates are, generally speaking, a much quieter bunch than National Education Association delegates, but on this occasion, they leapt to their feet, swarmed the stage, and took pictures. With all the hullabaloo, I couldn’t see anything except Kennedy’s shock of white hair from where I sat in the press gallery. It took a good 20 minutes or so to get things settled down to the point where Kennedy could actually make his address.

There’s no doubt about it, Kennedy was extremely popular among teachers and teachers’ unions. AFT actually made him a lifetime honorary member a few years back, and according to a release from the union, was sometimes called “the senator from AFT.”

At the time of his death, Kennedy was also pushing hard on the health-care front. A health-care reform bill is probably AFT’s biggest legislative priority this year, now that the Employee Free Choice Act and No Child Left Behind renewal have seemingly been put on the back burner.

Given all that, it’s interesting to reflect that NCLB probably would not have passed, at least not as we know it now, without Ted Kennedy. As a number of obituaries have pointed out this week, President George W. Bush reached out to Kennedy in 2001 to help get the law through the Senate.

(It’s worth pointing out, too, that a lot of the bill’s tougher provisions actually came from the Democrats, not the Republicans. Rep. George Miller, for instance, pushed to require a school to make “adequate yearly progress” for all the different subgroups, in addition to the school as a whole; Bush’s original proposal would have required the disaggregated reporting, but only held schools accountable for subgroups of disadvantaged students.)

Will the next chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee be as well received by the AFT?

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., right, reads a book to children at the Head Start Center in Boston in 2003. Children’s book author Rosemary Wells is at left. Photo Credit: Chitose Suzuki/AP-File

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