"With us, not to us," was the slogan on buttons worn by a capacity crowd at the American Federation of Teachers QuEST conference, and when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan arrived for a town-hall-style Q & A hosted by AFT President Randi Weingarten, he pinned one on too.
The buttons captured a promise made by President Obama and reiterated by his education secretary: Educational change must be made with teachers and their unions, not done to them.
In response to a question about the Obama administration's push for "pay for performance," Duncan said: "You have to do this with teachers. You have to bargain it with the union. You can't do it unilaterally. That's the first thing."
Duncan fielded questions on a range of topics, from charter schools ("To be clear, I'm not a fan of charters. I'm a fan of good charters") to stimulus funds to No Child Left Behind, a legacy of the Bush administration.
Duncan said NCLB was "very, very loose on the goals and they were very, very tight on how you get there. I want to fundamentally flip that."
Hundreds of NYSUT members from public and charter schools took part in the two-day professional issues conference in Washington, D.C.
NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, who spoke with Duncan during an AFT reception for charter educators, told him about New York's gains in academic performance and its commitment to progress, adding: "I would urge you to come to New York and see this for yourself." NYSUT has kept a focus on ending the achievement gap front and center as a key statewide priority.
In her address to more than 1,500 QuEST participants, Weingarten issued a rousing call for educators to lead and shape change that is "good for kids and fair to teachers."
"We're taking President Obama and Secretary Duncan at their word," Weingarten said. "When we work collaboratively, we can build the school and larger communities that envelop our children, giving them the time, attention and care that they need."
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira led a panel discussion on strengthening education for students of low income and high ability, one of several strands offered on the theme: "Investing in Our Future."