School & District Management

Death of Feldman, AFT’s Former President, Mourned

By Bess Keller — September 27, 2005 3 min read

Labor leaders, government officials, and educators last week mourned the death of Sandra Feldman, who headed the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union until cancer forced her into retirement in 2004. She died Sept. 18 at the age of 65.

5feldmans

The former president of the American Federation of Teachers led the 1.3 million-member union for seven years, as it played an influential role in shaping the federal No Child Left Behind Act and grew by thousands of teachers, teachers’ aides, and health-care and government workers. She succeeded the legendary Albert F. Shanker, whom she had also followed as the president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, which is the nation’s largest local teachers’ union.

Ms. Feldman was the president of the city union for 11 years before she was elected to lead the national union in May 1997—the first woman to hold the AFT’s top post since 1930. She took over as dissatisfaction with urban schools was intensifying, and she was a staunch champion of educational equality for the poor and minority children who are heavily enrolled in those schools.

“Sandy’s death is a great loss for the AFT personally and professionally and for the children of our nation,” AFT President Edward J. McElroy said in a statement. “Presidents, members of Congress, educators, and business leaders relied on her expertise and ideas to help forge their own opinions about how to help those who needed it most.”

Early-Childhood Advocate

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who consulted with Ms. Feldman on the No Child Left Behind Act he helped craft with the Bush administration in 2001, praised her in a statement as “one of the greatest and most effective champions the nation has ever had for equal educational opportunity for all children.”

A native of Brooklyn, Ms. Feldman grew up in straitened circumstances. During her college years she was drawn into the civil rights movement.

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, she taught 2nd and 3rd grade in a New York City public school. After three years at Public School 34, during which she led the faculty in organizing a chapter of the United Federation of Teachers, she took a job as a field representative for the union.

Ms. Feldman was considered an expert on urban education and also pushed hard for more and better early-childhood education, which she believed would help children succeed in school.

“If she had her druthers, this nation would have provided kids some type of educational experience all the way down to age 3,” said Nat LaCour, the secretary-treasurer of the AFT.

As a start, she proposed a program called Kindergarten-Plus that would provide learning opportunities for academically at-risk children in the summers before and after they attend kindergarten. New Mexico has adopted the program, and it is under consideration in several other states. (“Ahead of Their Class,” Aug. 31, 2005)

Ms. Feldman also worked to merge the AFT with the now 2.7-million member National Education Association. The smaller union approved the change, but the merger failed at the NEA’s national convention in 1998, despite the support of the larger organization’s national leaders.

Bob Chase, who served as the president of the NEA from 1996 to 2002, said he and Ms. Feldman cemented a friendship during that time and could disagree without ill will.

“She was an incredibly passionate person,” especially about the well-being of children, “which showed itself on a day-to-day basis,” Mr. Chase said.

In addition to leading the AFT, Ms. Feldman served as a vice president of Education International, a worldwide umbrella group of teachers’ unions, and as a member of the executive committee of the AFL-CIO.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2005 edition of Education Week as Death of Feldman, AFT’s Former President, Mourned

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

School & District Management Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals
Months into the pandemic, elementary principals say they still want training in crucial areas to help students who are struggling.
3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
Maria Casinos/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management 1,000 Students, No Social Distancing, and a Fight to Keep the Virus Out
A principal describes the "nightmare" job of keeping more than 1,000 people safe in the fast-moving pandemic.
4 min read
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School, in West Jordan, Utah.
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School in West Jordan, Utah, would have preferred a hybrid schedule and other social distancing measures.
Courtesy of Dixie Rae Garrison
School & District Management A School Leader Who Calls Her Own Shots on Battling the Coronavirus
A charter school founder uses her autonomy to move swiftly on everything from classroom shutdowns to remote schooling.
3 min read
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of School at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, Ind.
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of school at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, makes swift decisions in responding to the threat of COVID-19 in her school community.
Courtesy of Nigena Livingston