Saturday, July 02, 2011

Teachers Could Defer Obama Support

Widespread unhappiness among teachers about President Barack Obama's education policies is threatening to derail a National Education Association proposal to give him an early endorsement for re-election.

The political action committee of the NEA, the nation's largest union, adopted a resolution in May to endorse Mr. Obama. The proposal will come before the NEA's 9,000-member representative assembly on Monday at the union's annual convention here.

The union has never endorsed a presidential candidate this early in the campaign cycle, instead waiting to make the decision during the election year. But union leaders, anticipating a tough re-election campaign, wanted to bolster support for the president early on, a move that has run into opposition from union members.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the proposal has produced "lively debate" among the union's 3.2 million members. But he said conversations have focused mainly on whether to endorse the president so long before the election, rather than whether to support him at all.

"The next 18 months are going to be a toxic political environment, and it is really important for us to help balance the message," Mr. Van Roekel said. "President Obama has been a champion for education and for the right of middle-class Americans to bargain and have a voice. I think it's important to support him now."

Whether the rancor over the early endorsement will have long-term consequences is unclear. At some point, the NEA is likely to endorse Mr. Obama, as the union has never endorsed a Republican.

The NEA convention comes after teachers unions spent the last few months fighting nationwide efforts to scale back their power. In several Republican-controlled states, including Idaho, Ohio and Wisconsin, lawmakers severely restricted union collective-bargaining rights.

Organized labor, a power base for Democrats, could be crucial to Mr. Obama's re-election bid, especially in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said in an email that the campaign welcomes debate about education policies. "But there's no doubt about the president's commitment to education," he said. "The president increased access to higher-education funding at a lower cost to taxpayers, boosted early-childhood education funding and provided incentives to strengthen elementary and secondary education."

Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have had a testy relationship with teachers unions. The unions don't like the administration's embrace of charter schools—public schools run by non-government entities—or its support for the dismissal of ineffective teachers in low-performing schools.

NEA members have been particularly hostile to Race to the Top, Mr. Obama's initiative that awarded grants to states that embraced education overhauls such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. At last year's convention, NEA delegates gave the initiative a "no confidence" vote. One speaker was Diane Ravitch, an education historian critical of Obama's education policies.

This year, Vice President Joe Biden is one of the speakers who will address the convention.

Many delegates voiced displeasure as they gathered for this year's convention. Even some who said they planned to vote for the endorsement offered tepid support.

"The Obama administration does not deserve this endorsement now," said Fred Klonsky, an elementary-school teacher from outside Chicago. "We need to vote it down and send a message that this teacher-bashing campaign has got to stop."

Lynnette Teller, a delegate and school librarian from Rochester, Mich., said she supported Mr. Obama in 2008, but hasn't decided yet if she'll support the endorsement. "I'm not convinced he's supported teachers as much as he could have," she said.

The California Teachers Association, which has 1,100 convention delegates, also has wavered. Last month, the California State Council of Education, a smaller group of teachers that advises the delegates, voted the endorsement down. The full caucus has yet to take a position, but during a caucus meeting Thursday, a speaker won applause when she attacked the early endorsement.

Dean Vogel, chairman of the California delegation, said the State Council vote reflected antipathy toward Mr. Duncan, not Mr. Obama. "That vote signaled absolute discouragement and anger with the policies of the U.S. Department of Education," he said. "But I think we need to look at the big picture and see Mr. Obama is good for education."

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Mr. Duncan, acknowledged "differing views" between unionized teachers and the administration. "But, on the whole, our partnership with labor is having a positive impact on student learning and the teaching profession," he said.


British youth can't read or write, business leader claims in immigrants jobs row

Too many young people are unable to read, write or communicate properly and do not work hard, a business leader claimed, as mass immigration is named by the Government as the biggest threat to challenging the benefits culture.

The Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost, said business leaders knew there was a problem with youth unemployment but they could not afford to ignore cheaper skilled foreign workers.

Mr Frost said employers needed the "best people" and identified what he said were the problems with too many of Britain's youth, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said businesses expected "young people to come forward to them who are able to read, write, communicate and have a strong work ethic and too often that's not the case".

He added: "There's a stream of highly able eastern European migrants who are able to take those jobs and that's why they're taking them on. "They are skilled, they speak good English and, more importantly, they want to work."

His comments were in response to disclosures ahead of a speech by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, which is expected to urge business leaders to take on young people coming off welfare and "not just fall back on labour from abroad".

Mr Duncan Smith will say the Coalition’s attempts to get millions of people off benefits are being undermined by immigrant employment. He will add that tighter immigration controls are vital if Britain is to avoid “losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness”.

He says only immigrants with “something to offer” should be allowed into the country and that too often foreign workers purporting to be skilled take low-skilled jobs that could be occupied by British school leavers.

He warns David Cameron that a “slack” attitude to immigration will result in the Coalition repeating the mistakes made under Labour, when the vast majority of new jobs generated before the recession were taken by immigrants.

His comments represent the strongest criticism of immigration since Downing Street strategists advised that the Government should be tougher on the issue. They will be seen as a warning to Mr Cameron not to allow the Liberal Democrats to dictate a softer policy on the issue.

Mr Duncan Smith, who is in charge of a shake-up of the welfare system, will make his comments in a speech in Spain and they come as official figures show that the UK population is growing at its fastest rate for 50 years, driven by immigration.

“Even as our economy starts to pick up, and new jobs are created, there is a risk that young people in Britain won’t get the chances they deserve because businesses will continue to look elsewhere,” he will say.

The Work and Pensions Secretary will tell his audience that, before the recession, foreign nationals accounted for a “significant portion” of the rise in employment in Britain.

He will add: “And as we come out the other side we are seeing the situation repeat itself, with more than half of the rise in employment in the past year accounted for by foreign nationals. As a result of the last government’s slack attitude to immigration, it has become easy for businesses to look abroad for workers.” Mr Duncan Smith believes that some companies are using immigration as “an excuse to import labour to take up posts which could be filled by people already in Britain”.

He will say: “That’s why we must take tough action on this to tighten the rules on immigration across the major entry routes — work, student visas and family settlement — so that only those who have something clear to offer to the UK are able to come in.” The Coalition is placing a limit on the number of non-EU workers allowed into the country each year, but Mr Duncan Smith believes that companies and immigrants are still abusing the system

He will say: “I think there’s been a red herring in this debate around skills. A good proportion of foreign nationals in jobs in the UK are in semi or low-skilled occupations.

“And we know that a significant proportion of those coming into the UK purporting to be high-skilled workers have actually been doing low-skilled jobs once in the UK.”

He says Britain needs an immigration system that gives the unemployed “a level playing field”. “If we do not get this right then we risk leaving more British citizens out of work, and the most vulnerable group who will be the most affected are young people,” he will say.

“Controlling immigration is critical or we will risk losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness.”

The warning from Mr Duncan Smith is timely. Recent polling by No10 indicates that immigration, welfare benefits and crime are key concerns for voters.

Frank Field, the Labour MP and a government adviser on poverty, recently uncovered figures indicating that, in the first year of the Coalition, 87 per cent of the 400,000 newly created jobs went to immigrants.

Mr Duncan Smith had already unveiled plans to simplify the benefits system with a single universal credit designed to ensure that those in work were better off. He also introduced a work programme under which private firms were paid to train and return the long-term unemployed to the workplace.

In a rare speech on immigration earlier this year, Mr Cameron said he wanted to bring annual net migration down to just “tens of thousands” by 2015.

In 2009, Sir Terry Leahy, then the chief executive of Tesco, said the standards of too many schools were “woefully low”, leaving employers to “pick up the pieces”.


An Australian teachers' union defends credentialism

They've got a vested interest in believing that their teacher qualifications are worth something

The Northern Territory Education Union has slammed the Territory Government over its plans to employ people who are not qualified teachers to teach in Territory schools.

Teach for Australia is a program that began in Victoria last year and will now be introduced in the Territory. Under it, anyone who has graduated from university in any field can apply for a position as a teacher.

The Teacher's Registration Board recently ruled there was nothing in the Education Act to prevent people who have not had formal teaching qualifications from teaching.

In Victoria, people who take part in the program receive fortnightly visits by university tutors to check on their progress.

Matthew Cranitch from the NT branch of the Australian Education Union says there is no way that will happen in the Territory, given the remoteness of many schools. "They will literally be thrown in the deep end," he said. "These schools, these remote schools, they are very hard to staff for a reason." Mr Cranitch described the plan as a bandaid fix.

The union says Katherine High School and Barkly College are two schools where the program may begin next year.

Education Minister Chris Burns will not say which schools are being considered, but insists it is not about a teacher shortage. "It is all about attracting the brightest graduates, people who are very committed, as an alternative pathway to teaching in the Northern Territory and I think it's a positive thing," he said. "I don't really feel the union should be opposing it. I want to enter into constructive discussions with the union."

Mr Burns says he believes the program is a good idea. "This is not a blanket permission by the Teacher's Registration Board for bulk graduates for Teach For Australia to come to the Northern Territory," he said. "The important thing to emphasise here is there is less than 1 per cent vacancies in the Territory. "We are attracting quality teachers here."


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