The AFT, the nation's second largest, and traditionally more thoughtful, teacher's union, gathered in Washington, D.C. last week for their biennial convention. The big news was the election of Edward McElroy to replace the departing Sandra Feldman (TQB Vol. 5, No. 12) as the organization's president. Mr. McElroy, who previously had served twelve years with the national union as secretary-treasurer, gave a disappointingly predictable acceptance speech calling for higher salaries and improved working conditions in order to better retain teachers, claiming "the United States has a well-known teacher shortage." He characterized the current goals of NCLB as "arbitrary and unattainable" but told members he would work with the Department of Education and the Congress to "fix what is wrong with this law . . . " Mr. McElroy also urged the AFT to "stand together" with struggling industrial unions that helped the AFT in its earlier days.
In his July 17 communiqu? from the AFT convention, Education Intelligence's Mike Antonucci asserts that this final point reveals Mr. McElroy's deep and sincere commitment to the labor movement. According to Antonucci, this sentiment is not and would not be voiced by the president of the AFT's larger counterpart, the NEA, which "want[s] to be associated in the public's mind with doctors, lawyers, and engineers ? not truckers, mine workers and longshoreman." How this affects the future of the AFT remains to be seen. According to Antonucci, there are some rumors that McElroy won't remain President long enough to make it matter. Evidently, many believe McElroy is merely serving as a placeholder for Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers and TQB regular. If only we could make Joel Klein Secretary of Education, we wouldn't need cable T.V.
In other AFT convention news . . . after skipping out at the last minute on the NEA conference to announce John Edwards as his veep pick, Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, did address this convention of 3,000 delegates, who earlier had endorsed him for president. Throughout the speech, Senator Kerry toed the line between his base-pleasing funding message (he promised to "fully fund" the law or, in other words, spend as much as NCLB allows ? an investment that could cost up to $27 billion) while reiterating, in slightly more opaque terms, his more centrist reform messages (differentiated pay, easing teacher firing, etc.).