Teaching Profession

Feldman Takes Center Stage

September 01, 1997 1 min read

In her first major speech since becoming president of the American Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman called on members to “get out front and center on turning around or shutting down failing schools.”

If states or superintendents act first, Feldman told those attending an AFT educational issues conference in July, they will craft policies that punish teachers and fail to address the root problems. Feldman was referring to a radical and increasingly popular reform tool known as reconstitution, which involves closing failing schools, disbanding their faculties, and reopening them with new leadership, teachers, and programs. [See “Do Or Die,” March.]

Feldman specifically criticized reconstitution policies in San Francisco and Philadelphia, calling them cruel, rude, crude, and ineffective. “Reconstitution,” she said. “The word itself is ugly.”

Working together, Feldman said, unions and management can craft sensible and appropriate criteria for identifying failing schools. She also said that teachers can help create processes for helping such schools or for closing them down and redesigning them.

The union chief’s speech was the keynote address of the AFT’s biennial three-day QuEST conference in Washington, D.C. In May, the AFT’s executive council elected the 57-year-old Feldman to serve out the remainder of Albert Shanker’s term as president. Shanker died February 22.

Feldman is expected to stand for reelection next summer at the AFT convention in New Orleans. Like Shanker once did, she serves a dual role, remaining as president of the 125,000-member United Federation of Teachers, the New York City AFT affiliate she has led since 1986.

Several weeks before her QuEST speech, Feldman made a historic appearance at the National Education Association’s convention in Atlanta, becoming the first AFT president to address the NEA’s representative assembly. She and Edie Shanker, widow of Al Shanker, took part in a tribute to the late AFT president.

“Excellent education,” Feldman told the NEA assembly, “is the only winning strategy.”

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A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1997 edition of Teacher as Feldman Takes Center Stage

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