The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

AFT calls for Education Secretary Duncan to submit to ‘improvement’ plan or resign

Arne Duncan and President Obama (Yuri Gripas/ Reuters)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s relations with the country’s largest teachers unions — which collectively have more than 4 million members — keep getting worse. Earlier this month, the nation’s largest teachers union called for him to resign. On Sunday,  the second-largest teachers union passed a resolution that stopped short of a direct call for him to quit but urged President Obama to put Duncan on an “improvement plan.” If Duncan doesn’t improve, he should resign, it says.

The obvious hitch: Obama hasn’t shown a single sign that he disagrees with Duncan’s education reform agenda, which is largely focused on using standardized test scores to hold educators accountable (a method that accountability experts say is unreliable) as well as implementing the controversial Common Core State Standards and increasing the number of charter schools.

The resolution passed by American Federation of Teachers delegates meeting in Los Angeles for the union’s 2014 convention calls for Obama to set up and implement an “improvement plan” for Duncan to hold him accountable for his job performance.  It says the plan should, among other things, require Duncan to enact specific school funding equity recommendations in a report issued by a congressionally charged bipartisan Equity and Excellence Commission, and end the “test and punish” accountability systems of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. If an accountability plan is not put in place and Duncan does not “improve,” then he should resign, the AFT resolution says.

The resolution passed earlier this month by delegates at the National Education Association’s convention in Denver calls for Duncan to resign, saying his “failed education agenda” has focused on high-stakes standardized tests and served to “undermine public schools and colleges.”

The anti-Duncan votes — which were passed by representative assemblies of both unions and not the entire membership — reflect rising anger at the Obama administration’s education reform policies that have led teachers to feel that they were being unfairly targeted by officials. The proverbial last straw for the unions may have been Duncan’s support for the verdict in Vergara vs. California, in which a judge tossed out California statutes that provided job protections to teachers. (The judge stayed his decision until an appeal can be heard.)