Friday kicks off the American Federation of Teachers’ biennial convention, and we’ll be bringing you the news from Los Angeles.
Let’s begin by reviewing why the AFT’s convention has such a different feel from that of its sister union. In comparison to the National Education Association’s annual gathering, the AFT’s convention is a lot less rowdy. Delegates sit in straight, orderly rows of chairs. There’s less pomp and circumstance, no confetti, no Cat in the Hat. Resolutions need a lot more support than 50 delegates to pass. Dissension is a lot harder to spot, partly a product of the internal factions that govern the AFT.
So what should we be looking for?
• The dominant faction in AFT politics is the Unity Caucus, based in New York City. But opposition groups, which generally think the AFT has been too compromising with “education reform” interests, control the union’s Chicago affiliate and are on the rise elsewhere; we may see some pushback on Unity positions. One wild card is the 600,000-member New York State Union of Teachers, which went through a bruising leadership civil war earlier this year.
• The Common Core State Standards were all but absent from discussion at this year’s NEA convention, but the common core stands to be a major topic at the AFT convention. Why? Well, first of all, the Chicago Teachers Union has submitted a strongly worded anti-CCSS resolution. Meanwhile, the AFT’s Executive Council has quietly—and probably not coincidentially—submitted its own common-core resolution, which is somewhat softer in tone. Committees determine which resolutions will be put to the delegates, and it’s not quite clear how things are going to go down in the one governing the K-12 resolutions. But the smart money says that the AFT-sponsored version will be advanced to the floor and the Chicago version won’t.
• Speaking of those internal factions, officers are elected as part of a caucus-sponsored slate, rather than as one-off candidates. In practice, this means AFT President Randi Weingarten is likely to be re-elected, along with whatever officers her slate puts forward.
• So far, the union hasn’t said whether it will seek U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s resignation, as the NEA did last week—but a lot of people, from education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch on down, are encouraging it to do so. Since the AFT’s resolutions deadline has come and gone, this would have to be pursued as a special order of business. If it is, expect the push to come from the California Federation of Teachers.
• In 2008, Weingarten declared that “nothing should be off the table” in education reform discussions. What a difference six years makes: In the wake of the federal Race to the Top, attacks on collective bargaining, criticism from self-styled reformers, and internal pressure, Weingarten’s rhetoric has become less nuanced and more critical of current reform trends, particularly with respect to test scores in teachers’ evaluations (e.g., “VAM is a sham”). Her keynote is bound to be enlightening.
Remember to use #AFT14 if you’re following the convention on Twitter, and keep tips, comments, and photos coming to @Stephen_Sawchuk and @TeacherBeat.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.