media
March 19, 2009

Iannuzzi: Obama administration and teachers unions are in sync with better learning

Author: President Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: Times Union

iannuzziIn an opinion piece in the March 19, 2009 edition of the Times Union (Albany), NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi embraces President Barack Obama's recent call for education reform.

Oh, yes. Obama also spoke of innovative ways of rewarding teacher excellence and not rewarding failure, of charter schools that work, of holding teachers more accountable, and of promoting innovation and excellence. Those are subjects our critics consider taboo for teacher unions," says Iannuzzi. "The fact is that we have been speaking of the same things. The difference now is that someone is talking with us - not at us. The President and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are inviting us to the table to be part of the discussion, not pushing us away and demonizing our role in the education process."

The complete piece follows and is also available online at http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=781415.

In sync with better learning

By RICHARD C. IANNUZZI

First published: Thursday, March 19, 2009

President Barack Obama has made it clear that education would be a priority in his administration, and that everyone has a responsibility to make our education system work.

So it came as no surprise when the President made clear last week that the goal of his administration would be "to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they enter a career."

What also came as no surprise were the talking heads, the so-called chattering class, that tried desperately to turn the President's remarks into a battleground pitting teachers unions against the Obama administration.

The President called for a significant investment in early childhood education and pre-kindergarten programs - the years where research shows so much of what influences educational outcomes is formulated. Obama correctly noted that an investment here could save billions of dollars later on. He also called for "a race to the top" and the setting of world-class standards from kindergarten through high school graduation. And, finally, he called for opening the doors to higher education and the promise of college for more of America's students, preparing them for the economy of the future.

So, what's not to like?

Both national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, embraced the President's remarks. And New York State United Teachers, which represents 600,000 educators across the state, has been a consistent advocate for early childhood education, pre-school education, higher standards, and a major investment in higher education so that New York might finally have the community college, City University and State University systems it deserves.

Oh, yes. Obama also spoke of innovative ways of rewarding teacher excellence and not rewarding failure, of charter schools that work, of holding teachers more accountable, and of promoting innovation and excellence. Those are subjects our critics consider taboo for teacher unions.

The fact is that we have been speaking of the same things. The difference now is that someone is talking with us - not at us. The President and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are inviting us to the table to be part of the discussion, not pushing us away and demonizing our role in the education process.

As someone who taught elementary school for 34 years, in a school district where three-quarters of the children lived in poverty, my experience is that creating a successful learning experience for every child is a responsibility all teachers must take very seriously.

The record clearly demonstrates the commitment of teachers unions to improving the education system.

Under the leadership of Albert Shanker, the AFT was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the standards movement, peer review, experimental charter schools and national board certification for teachers who wanted to measure their skills against a very high bar. These and other reforms led by teachers unions are now well-established in the educational infrastructure. Under the leadership of its current president, Randi Weingarten, the AFT has launched a $1 million innovation fund, with matching funds from philanthropic donations and money from some of the nation's premier foundations, designed to implement sustainable, innovative, and collaborative reform efforts developed by AFT members.

In New York, four NYSUT local unions - in Dunkirk, Fredonia, Utica and Newburgh - have begun taking part in a pilot program funded by the NEA, to develop "learning communities" that focus on ending the achievement gap. Innovation and creatively will be encouraged and, most importantly, teacher collaboration and leadership will be recognized as key to success.

At stake is the future, and teachers aren't going to sit on the sidelines waiting for others to lead reform on issues we know the most about.

The President defined the current state of educational debate as "more money versus more reform, partisanship and petty bickering, but little recognition that we need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we are going to succeed in the 21st century."

Teachers unions have moved and are prepared to move further. Isn't it time our critics leave the trenches and join us?