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Time to Set the Record Straight

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In this day and age, attacking educators seems to be the norm, but I took notice last week when a blogger attacked me for a badly worded presentation concerning a Connecticut law designed to empower parents to improve their children's schools. He had a point. The presentation, given at an AFT conference, was created and delivered by a staffer from our Connecticut affiliate--and was one of more than 100 conference workshops and sessions attended by more than 2,000 educators. The presentation did not reflect my views or those of the AFT, and we removed it from our website. More important, its sentiments ran counter to what needs to be done to ensure our children get the education they deserve: Parents and teachers must work together. That's why we apologized for both the PowerPoint and the concern it raised. Not wanting the facts to get in the way of their partisan narrative, however, some critics have accused the AFT of trying to shut parents out, discouraging them from being involved in their children's schools. For the record, nothing could be further from the truth. It's important to set the record straight.

Had those who attacked us actually bothered to attend the AFT's TEACH Conference, they would have seen the AFT in action: working in partnership with parents, teachers and others to improve public education. Had they attended the conference, they would have heard us call for educators to work with the community on the AFT's "Quality Agenda," and would have received the document accompanying that call, which promotes the fundamental belief that parents deserve great schools for their children, and the only way to make that happen is for parents, teachers, school administrators and the community to work together. This AFT "Quality Agenda" is broadly displayed on our website, but those who attacked us conveniently chose to ignore it.

Further, the truth is that the Connecticut law is a good one. It achieves the goal of empowering parents to influence the governance and direction of public schools in the state. But in the hot haze of the attacks, this important point was lost. It's unfortunate that those who editorialized against us chose to ignore it completely. The law sets up school governance councils that will be filled by a majority of parents. These councils will work with principals and other school administrators to make recommendations on hiring personnel, developing school budgets, offering suggestions on instruction and curriculum, and developing school improvement plans. The law sets up a real and abiding partnership, and it will help improve public schools across the state.

I'm not naïve enough to think that those with an ideological agenda will stop inventing fake controversies and omitting important facts, and that's why it is important to set the record straight, as I've done in this post. I regret deeply that they ignore the compelling human issues facing American public education--like budget cuts that threaten kids' education, economic distress that causes real hardship for children and their families, and child poverty that is above 20 percent in the country and tragically still rising.

During my 12 years as president of the United Federation of Teachers, I worked closely with parents and community allies to improve New York City schools through initiatives like the Community Collaborative to Improve District 9 Schools, a community-led school turnaround program in the south Bronx. As AFT president for almost three years, I continue to seek common ground on schools, and our members continue to make extraordinary sacrifices to serve kids through very tough economic times.

While I regret the incident at our TEACH Conference, in an ironic way, it has given me and the AFT the opportunity to promote our belief in working in partnership with anyone who wants to help improve public education. It is who we are and what we believe.