School & District Management

Former AFT Leader Dies of Cancer

By Bess Keller — September 19, 2005 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 1 min read

Corrected: The earlier version of this story gave the incorrect age of Sandra Feldman.

Sandra Feldman, who led the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union as it added thousands of new members and played an important role in shaping the federal No Child Left Behind Act, died Sept. 18 at the age of 65.

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The former American Federation of Teachers president had breast cancer, which forced her to retire in May of last year after seven years at the helm of the 1.3 million-member union. She succeeded the legendary Albert F. Shanker, whom she had also followed as the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest local teachers’ union, in New York City.

Ms. Feldman was the president of the New York City union for 10 years before she was elected to lead the national union in May 1997. She was the first woman to hold that post in the AFT 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.”

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

Ms. Feldman, a native of Brooklyn, taught 2nd and 3rd graders in a New York City public school before working full time for the city union. She was considered an expert on urban education and pushed hard for better early-childhood-education programs, which she believed would help children succeed in school.

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.

She is survived by her husband, Arthur Barnes, a senior vice president for external affairs of HIP Health Plans; a brother, Larry Abramowitz, of New York City; and a sister, Helen Berliner, of Wylie, Texas.

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