Why the AFT should be an afterthought

“How much attention should we pay to AFT?” queries Mike Antonucci. His answer: not much. Since the reign of Al Shanker, we’ve regarded the American Federation of Teachers as the more open-minded of the two national teachers’ unions. (“Open-minded” being a relative term here.) Sure, it has only a quarter as many members (it claims 1.4 mil; Dept of Labor says membership was 889,347 in 2009) as its sister National Education Association, but that hasn’t stopped current AFT prez Randi Weingarten from making her voice heard in the national education reform conversation. But turns out that a whopping two-thirds of AFT’s membership is in New York State alone. Furthermore, AFT affiliates are mostly located in big cities, such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and of course, New York City, which means that these big locals tend to overshadow, and overpower, the state affiliate. The NEA on the other hand has a hierarchical structure, where policy comes from the top and filters down to the local groups through the state branches. So what does this mean? Antonucci explains: AFT locals don’t need the parent organization to survive, so what Weingarten says and what her locals do are two completely different things. Can’t say we’re quite ready to put our reform faith in Dennis Van Roekel.

How much attention should we pay to AFT?,” by Mike Antonucci, Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué, February 22, 2010