AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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AFT president Randi Weingarten discusses the importance of utilizing globalization and the global flow of information to improve educational models and opportunities around the world.

Global Models Advance Profession

by Randi Weingarten

The colorful former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was known for pointing out that “all politics is local,” and this phrase has always rung true to me. However, in our modern world, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate local issues from global ones. Many of our most pressing current challenges, from the financial crisis to climate change to swine flu, are global in scope. Overcoming these challenges in our local communities will require us to take the broad view and work with allies around the world to share information, develop strategies and coordinate action.

The AFT has a long and proud history of international engagement in support of human and worker rights, and our commitment to solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world remains steadfast. We have also begun to broaden the scope of our international work to encompass an array of issues relevant to the AFT’s domestic agenda.

In addition to tracking emergency issues such as highly skilled worker migration and green jobs creation, our international work informs our efforts to promote high-quality public services. Employers are expressing greater interest in using international benchmarks to measure success. A recent report from the National Governors Association asserts that:

“We are living in a world without borders. To meet the realities of the 21st century global economy and maintain America’s competitive edge into the future, we need students who are prepared to compete not only with their American peers, but with students from all across the globe for the jobs of tomorrow.”

In such a context, it is essential that AFT’s advocacy for innovation and best practices extend beyond our borders. Not only must we know which countries are achieving the highest marks on international student assessments, but we also must be able to explain why. So too, many ideas currently on the reform agenda can benefit from studying international models. We are thus currently analyzing teacher evaluations and performance pay schemes in the United Kingdom; wraparound services being provided in a community school in South Africa; privatization movements and alternative management structures in many countries; universal, free early childhood education in France; nationalized healthcare models in many parts of the world; and a range of other important policies and programs.

For better or for worse, reforms undertaken in the United States make their way around the world, and models from other countries arrive on our doorstep. To track such developments and respond appropriately, the AFT is affiliated with two global union federations: Education International and Public Services International. These organizations provide an essential platform for learning what is happening in other parts of the world and assessing whether it is working.

In a March speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on a complete and competitive American education, President Obama asserted that “the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens.” The AFT has a long, proud history of not only believing that but of working toward it. And we know that to meet this challenge, we must stay abreast of international trends and position ourselves to provide world-class services and advocacy. In the 21st century, international engagement is necessary for advancing both our professional agenda and our social justice agenda. The AFT, as always, is firmly committed to each of these goals.