How to solve teacher shortages and 3 other takeaways from the AFT convention

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Abortion rights, teacher shortages, community schools – all are priorities for the American Federation of Teachers next year.

Over the course of four days, delegates from the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union discussed these and other issues at their convention here. They meet every two years to pass resolutions and elect officers. (AFT President Randi Weingarten, along with Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus and Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram, ran unopposed this year.)

Between votes, attendees heard from first lady Jill Bidenseveral Democratic politicians and labor organizers, including AFL-CIO President Elizabeth Shuler and Amazon Union President Chris Smalls.

Here are four things to know about what happened at the AFT convention. (The other national teachers’ union, the National Education Association, met earlier this month – find out what happened at their representative assemblytoo.)

1. A working group has reported on how to solve teacher shortages.

While teacher shortages are an ongoing problem in hard-to-fill subjects or places, educators fear they will get worse. Administrators report having a harder time than normal filling key vacancies, and the current supply of teachers could be threatened. Significant percentages of teachers said they were likely to stop at the end of the past school year, although it is not yet known how many have done so— and the percentage of future teachers entering the profession has been steadily declining for years.

AFT convened a task force of 25 state and local affiliate leaders to recommend ways to address these shortages. Their report proposes increasing salaries and benefits, reducing class sizes, reducing the amount of paperwork teachers have to complete, reducing the number of standardized high-stakes tests, and expanding the scope and scope of collective bargaining in restricted states or districts.

Additionally, the report calls on all teacher education programs to ensure candidates have at least one year of clinical experience before becoming a full-time teacher.

“Teachers and staff aren’t getting the tools, the confidence and the time they need to do their jobs,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, New York’s teachers’ union, at the the presentation of the report to the delegates. (Mulgrew co-chaired the task force.) “If we don’t change dramatically, we’re going to lose. We will lose public education. And if we lose public education, we lose democracy.

The adoption of this report by delegates, Mulgrew said, is the first step in “beginning to take back our profession and say to those who have never set foot in a classroom, ‘Shut up! You are just ruining everything.

2. Delegates passed resolutions on issues ranging from abortion to fossil fuels.

Delegates passed approximately 30 resolutions during the convention. AFT resolutions, which are usually introduced by local or state affiliates, are debated and fine-tuned at committee meetings before being presented to convention. (Not all of them make it out of committee.) As a result, most resolutions pass with strong support.

Delegates unanimously passed a measure, submitted by the AFT executive board, committing the union to work with lawmakers to defend abortion rights, following the recent Supreme Court ruling of the United States to cancel deer v. Wade. The union will call for a “week of action for reproductive freedom” in September to mobilize members to participate in seminars, sit-ins, walk-ins and other rallies and demonstrations, the measure says .

Delegates also passed a few resolutions related to pensions and climate change. Many pension funds are investing in fossil fuel industries, although some are beginning to divest from these companies, including the New York City Teachers’ Pension System.

The AFT will urge boards managing members’ pension funds to divest the assets of companies that “mine, transport, market or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas”, a resolution says. Another asks AFT to identify and develop investment opportunities in clean and renewable energy. And AFT’s climate justice working groups will work to identify ways to divest union assets from fossil fuel companies and reinvest them in workers and communities.

AFT delegates also passed resolutions condemning legislation that restricts transgender student participation in sports; support legislation that provides all students with free school meals; and promote vocational and technical education, including student internships and teacher internships.

3. AFT calls for safer schools, despite ‘criminalization’ concerns.

Delegates also approved a resolution calling school and community violence a “national crisis.” The resolution called on the National Teachers Union to lobby state and federal lawmakers to allocate federal funds to:

  • school counselors and social workers with a defined workload;
  • providing schools with “sufficient security personnel who will also be trained to gain the trust of students to report any concerns”;
  • community groups that work with students to prevent violence; and
  • additional security measures for any school or district that requires it.

The resolution, which was submitted by the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the New York State United Teachers, passed with at least two-thirds of the vote, despite some dissent. A delegate said he was concerned about the use of federal funds to add more police to schools, given the potential harm to students of color. Black students are arrested in school at disproportionately high levels.

In an interview, Weingarten pointed to the AFT poll which shows 71% of educators support increasing the number of security guards and armed police in schools. The survey, which was conducted in June, was carried out by approximately 2,400 AFT members, including 1,340 working in PK-12 schools.

“I think it’s a community-by-community decision, and I think it depends on a lot of different factors,” she said. “But mostly when people oppose armed security, what they’re really saying is they oppose the criminalization of children.”

She added: “Where I got to on this, security is really important, but we also have to make sure that those who protect us are sufficiently well trained and sufficiently understand the basic decency of humanity. [so] that they don’t discriminate and that we don’t criminalize our children.

4. AFT calls for fewer evaluations, more community schools.

Delegates passed a resolution saying that The union will create a national assessment task force to develop goals for changing federal assessment requirements and to provide professional development for teachers on culturally appropriate assessment practices.

Annual testing in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school, is mandated by federal law. But the resolution tells the union to ask the US Department of Education to advocate for changes to federal testing requirements and to allow multi-year testing, i.e. once at the elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school. The AFT has called for this change in the past to reduce the burden of testing, but other education groups (including the Education Trust) have said extensive testing comes with its own set of problems.namely a lack of objective data to see how students learn.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 education law, has been up for reauthorization since December 2019. However, Congress is unlikely to rewrite it anytime soon.

In another resolution, AFT is committed to promoting the community school model. Community schools are working with local partners and organizations to provide more holistic supports for students, including access to food and health care. Delegates who work in community schools said they have seen an increase in teacher retention and student achievement.

“Community schools are centers that support communities, help rebuild and deepen relationships within and beyond school, and empower teachers to teach and kids to just be kids,” said said Weingarten in his opening speech.

Biden administration awards $68 million in grants to community schoolsand proposed $438 million in new funding for its community schools program in the fiscal year 2023 budget. (In recent years, the Department of Education has committed a relatively smaller amount, ranging from $5 million in 2009 to $17.5 million in 2018, to community schools.)

AFT says it currently supports 700 community schools across the country and aims to expand to 2,500 over the next five years.

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