Dear Commons Community,
The Hechinger Report did a series of articles on the recent Democratic Convention. One of these entitled, Have Obama’s Education Policies Weakened The Democratic Party? considered whether Obama’s pro-charter school policies have weakened teachers unions and whether Hillary Clinton will continue along the same path. The Hechinger reporter interviewed teachers in Philadelphia where their union has seen its membership decrease in the last decade from 21,000 to 11,000 members. Those interviewed expressed concerns that a President Clinton might mean a further diminution of their ranks.
“Amy Roat, a teacher in Philadelphia and a leader in an activist caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said she’s reluctantly backing Clinton
“We are uninspired,” said Roat. “We endorsed Hillary Clinton before she went to the conference and said how great charters are. I’m going to hold my nose and vote for her…Democrats have let us down. I like our new Mayor [Jim] Kenney, but for him, too, show me the money. We are at a point where we are worried about potable water in schools and mold. We have beautiful parks downtown, but extremely underfunded schools.”
“Democrats could be doing a lot more,” she said.
Elisabeth Heurtefeu is a former principal from Chicago who also taught in France. She traveled to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this week to protest Clinton and support the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.
“I think she’s going to be like Obama,” Heurtefeu said of Clinton. “I voted for him, who I’ve been disappointed with since he appointed Arne Duncan, who charterized Chicago public schools.”
“Trump and Hilary are for privatization and school choice,” she added. “I wanted kids who could be critical thinkers. They just want kids who can work at Walmart and the other big corporations that give them money.”
Hillary Linardopoulos, of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, thinks former Gov. Corbett, who authorized deep cuts to education, is the primary culprit behind the Philadelphia union’s membership losses, not President Obama, but she’s hoping that a Clinton administration will take education policy in a different direction.
Terry Moe suspects that Linardopoulos’s instincts are right.
“Obama is a union supporter, and Hillary Clinton is a union supporter, but when it comes to education Obama is a reformer and Clinton is not,” said Moe. “Clinton is a teachers union candidate and Obama never was; he supported reforms the unions didn’t like, and Clinton won’t.
She’s their candidate and she won’t do things they don’t like.”
I am not so sure. Without a doubt, President Obama’s education secretaries (Arne Duncan and John King) have not been supporters of teachers or their unions. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was given a prominent speaking spot at the Democratic Convention, likewise has been very hard on public education and especially public higher education.
If Hillary Clinton is elected, we will see. It may be that teachers have no choice because they could never bring themselves to vote for Trump.