WASHINGTON -- The nation’s largest teachers’ union wants Education Secretary Arne Duncan to quit.
Delegates of the National Education Association adopted a business item July 4 at its annual convention in Denver that called for his resignation. The vote underscores the long-standing tension between the Obama administration and teachers’ unions -- historically a steadfast Democratic ally.
A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.
Even before that, teachers’ unions have clashed with the administration over other issues ranging from its support of charter schools to its push to use student test scores as part of evaluating teachers.
The vote is a "venting of frustration of too many things that are wrong," said Dennis Van Roekel, the outgoing president of NEA. He said it wasn’t directed at Duncan personally, but was about teachers wanting what is best for students.
Duncan wouldn’t comment Monday to reporters at the White House, but said he wished the NEA’s new president "the best of luck." Van Roekel’s term ends Aug. 31. He’s to be replaced by Lily Eskelsen Garcia, an elementary school teacher from Utah.
"I always try to stay out of local union politics. I think most teachers do too," Duncan said.
Duncan said the Education Department has had good relations with the NEA in the past, noting that they’ve teamed up every year to put on a national summit.
The business item passed said it was necessary to call for Duncan’s resignation because of the "department’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."
Duncan served as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools before he took office in 2009.