Why NEA Wants Arne Duncan to Resign

Partly due to the Education secretary's comments in support of a court decision that struck down tenure protections for California teachers, the National Education Association wants Arne Duncan to step down. But that's not the only issue involved.

Still smarting over the education secretary’s comments last month supporting a court decision that struck down tenure protections for California teachers, the National Education Association wants Arne Duncan to step down. But that’s not the only issue involved.

With a vote at its annual meeting in Denver on the Fourth of July, the National Education Association made a bold statement against the country’s top education official.

Although departing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the vote wasn’t a personal attack on Education Secretary Arne Duncan, delegates at the meeting approved a measure calling for Duncan’s resignation, citing the U.S. Department of Education’s “failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading, and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

Whether or not the vote against Duncan was symbolic, it nonetheless came at a time when relations between the Education Department and teachers’ unions are shaky. More details:

The tipping point: Last month’s decision in Vergara v. State of California, a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling that struck down teacher-tenure statutes in the state as unconstitutional, drew a statement of support from Duncan. “My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical, and swift,” he said at the time. “Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.” Although the decision has been stayed pending an appeal by the unions, it was fresh in the minds of NEA delegates as they voted last week.

Frustration with “corporate reformers”: The decision to push back against Duncan highlights a simmering anger against what Van Roekel described in a keynote speech as an “incredible onslaught of corporate reformers” and “the overwhelming amount and the offensive misuse of scores from high-stakes standardized tests” as the primary metrics for evaluating success in public education. He went on to say: “For the delegates in this hall, for our members back home, the feelings generated by these and other issues are strong and they are real. I’ve seen them. I’ve heard them from you. And I share them with you.”

Brushing off the criticism: Duncan spokeswoman Dorie Nolt appeared to brush aside the call for his resignation. “Secretary Duncan looks forward to continuing to work with NEA and its new leadership,” Nolt said. In a press briefing at the White House on Monday, Duncan distanced himself from the vote, saying he was “trying to stay out of local union politics.” And though he may have lost NEA’s support, he stood with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Monday when discussing new strategies to get higher-quality teachers into schools with a large proportion of low-income students.

But last month, Weingarten had joined NEA in criticizing Duncan’s comments on the California ruling.

“You added to the polarization,” she wrote to Duncan last month, according to the Los Angeles Times. “And teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed.”

(Christina House/via the Department of Education's Flickr page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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