Al Franken Speaks to AFT Meeting in Minneapolis

Hillary Clinton spoke to the national meeting of the American Federation of Teachers in Minneapolis yesterday. She appears not to have tripped any plagiarism alarms, but she did give charter schools another positive mention (come on, Hillary—cut it out!).

Minnesota’s U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken both warmed up the crowd for Clinton. Senator Franken’s speech made several points, by turns sharp, funny, and touching, about education. Here’s the video of his speech:

For just a moment, let us gaze longingly across the Big Stone–Pipestone border and wish that any of our South Dakota delegation had the intelligence and flair to deliver a speech this enjoyable and informed from handwritten notes on a yellow legal pad.

Now, some highlights:

  • Senator Franken said “the only thing I liked about No Child Left Behind was the name. The name was o.k.” He said he heard from constituents that NCLB tests were “autopsies”, providing useless aggregated data after school was out.
  • Senator Franken said NCLB testing forced a “very perverse… race to the middle” in which teachers didn’t make the same effort for kids safely at the top or too far at the bottom as they did on kids who were close to the arbitrary “proficiency” cut-off line.
  • Senator Franken cited “McNamara’s Fallacy“: “The things that are easy to test will be tested. The things that are impossible to test, you won’t test. The only things that become important are the things that can be tested.” Senator Franken said employers want critical thinking, collaborative skills, and creativity, things that are really hard to test and thus are not measured. “So instead of letting teachers teach, teaching the way you know how to teach, teachers were reduced to drilling and killing and then were blamed when the NLCB, the results they wanted weren’t achieved.”
  • Senator Franken closes with some fond comments about his grade-school teachers, then tells a great story about an e-mail from another student of his fourth grade teacher at Cedar Manor in St. Louis Park:

Dear Mrs. Moline:

I was a student of yours in fourth grade at Cedar Manor, and I wasn’t a very good student. That’s because there was stuff happening in my home, and also your spelling tests were really hard. But I’ll never forget one day your staying… after school with me. You saw… that I like art, and I will never forget your painting a window with me after school.

I’m now a fourth grade teacher in Red Wing. I try to make every kid feel the same way you made me feel: loved. Loved [e-mail from a former student to her former teacher, relayed by Senator Al Franken, speech to AFT national meeting, Minneapolis, 2016.07.18].

Senator Franken understands how teachers make a difference. Standardized tests and the charter-school model will never figure in any grateful former student’s letter to a former teacher. Inspiration comes from teachers acting as loving professionals. As Senator Franken suggests, good policy gets out of the way of those loving professionals and lets them do the job they know how to do.

One Response to Al Franken Speaks to AFT Meeting in Minneapolis

  1. Carol Hayse, LCSW

    I am here at the AFT convention. It is certainly being carefully managed to 1) support Hillary, 2) paper over the horrendous flaws of the new education act (ESSA) which may harm education nearly as much as Race To The Top and NCLB, 3) present the AFT as a friend of labor. Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, has, or had, a reasonable shot at being Hillary’s VP. So you can imagine that about 10 minutes after Hillary announced her presidential run Randi announced that she had polled AFT members and they were all Hillary supporters. No one has met anyone who was polled..if the polling actually happened.
    To summarize–the AFT is a friend of labor in some ways, certainly. But in others, it is simply a huge organization headed by operatives in the service of a neoliberal world view (privatization, “free market”, smaller government, etc.)