Teachers unions have been clashing with the Obama administration over its support for charter schools and its push to use student test scores as part of teacher evaluations, a relationship that further frayed after Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke in support of a California judge's ruling last month that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state's public school teachers.
"We need a secretary of education who walks our walk, and fights our fight for the tools and resources we need to help children. And we are deeply disappointed that this Department of Education has not lived up to that standard," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a speech at a union convention in Los Angeles.
She said the judge's decision in the California case "presupposes that for kids to win, teachers have to lose. Nothing could be further from the truth." She added that Duncan needs to listen to parents and teachers "rather than dismissing their concerns."
Education Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said in an email that "the transformation that educators and policymakers are leading to prepare all students for college and careers is incredibly difficult, and too often the adults fight about how to best help the kids."
"Secretary Duncan has said before that he doesn't get involved in union politics," Nolt said. "He is hopeful that after AFT wraps up their meeting, he and the organization can continue to work together to prepare all students for college, careers and life."
Earlier this month, delegates of the largest teachers union the National Education Association called for Duncan to quit. That action underscored the long-standing tension between the administration and teachers unions, which historically are strong Democratic allies.
The landmark California ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu could influence the debate over tenure across the country.
Siding with the nine students who brought a lawsuit, he ruled that California's laws on hiring and firing in schools have resulted in "a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms." He agreed, too, that a disproportionate number of these teachers are in schools that have mostly minority and low-income students.
The judge stayed the ruling pending appeals. The case involves 6 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade.