Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

New ideas from Weingarten

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, likes surprises. In a speech scheduled for this morning, she provides several, starting with what was, at least for me, an intriguing question she asked her members last summer:

"When your union deals with issues affecting both teaching quality and teachers' rights, which of these should be the higher priority--working for professional teaching standards and good teaching, or defending the job rights of teachers who face disciplinary action?"

Weingarten said 69 percent chose good teaching, while 16 percent said job rights. I find that surprising, though not because the teachers endorsed professionalism. Most of the teachers I know think of themselves in that way and those that don't probably knew what was the politic answer. What I didn't expect was a union leader willing to ask such a question in the first place. That is only the beginning of what Weingarten unloads in this speech, which she calls "A New Path Forward: Four Approaches to Quality Teaching and Better Schools."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning you can go on the union Web site and read the speech for yourself. Perhaps the newsiest part is her revelation that Kenneth Feinberg, the legendary mediator who seems to love jobs that make people yell at him (like deciding executive compensation at firms taken over by the government), has agreed to spearhead the union's effort, as Weingarten puts it, to develop "a fair, efficient protocol for adjudicating questions of teacher discipline and, when called for, teacher removal."

Lots of luck, Mr. Feinberg. Still, Weingarten is trying, and involving a serious person who cares about his reputation and won't put up with too much nonsense.

Her four initiatives include a new and constructive teacher evaluation system, a new approach to due process for teachers in trouble (Feinberg's project), a transformation of public school structures that gives teachers the "tools, time and trust" they need to help kids, and a new labor-management relationship that both unions and school boards could endorse.

Weingarten and the many educators and policy makers willing to work with her are furthest along in changing the evaluation system. There are many experiments underway, including the new IMPACT system in D.C. She states her objective very well:

"Classroom observations, self-evaluations, portfolio reviews, appraisal of lesson plans, and all the other tools we use to measure student learning—written work, performances, presentations and projects—should also be considered in these evaluations. Student test scores based on valid and reliable assessments should ALSO be considered—NOT by comparing the scores of last year’s students with the scores of this year’s students, but by assessing whether a teacher’s students show real growth while in his classroom."

Weingarten is a suffering New York Giants football fan who uses gridiron metaphors in her speech. This is my favorite: "Right now, this is how teachers are commonly evaluated: An administrator sits in the back of the classroom for a few minutes, a few times in the first few years of teaching. The teacher then receives a 'rating' at the end of the school year. That’s like a football team watching game tape once the season is over."

She wants teachers and their supervisors and mentors to be watching the tape throughout the season, which means looking at student progress and seeing where they have to improve.

You can see her try to appeal to both of her audiences, her members and the wider public, throughout the speech. Not everyone thinks she is sincere., She has not stuck her neck out very far, at least in public, in instances where her union is violating principles she endorses in the speech.

For instance, she mentions a previous speech "in which I said that anyone who advanced any idea that's good for kids and fair to teachers will find a partner in the AFT." That does not square with her union's surprise attack on one of the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools in New York City, pushing suddenly for unionization before any effort to seek a partnership with the conscientious teachers who founded and run those schools. I have the same problem with the line in this latest speech in which she calls for "a system in which teachers have time to come together to resolve student issues, share lesson plans, analyze student work, discuss successes and failures, and learn through high-quality professional development." That's nice, but she doesn't explain why her union has been doing its best to cut back on the available time for all of that in the KIPP school in Baltimore, the highest achieving in the city.

It is hard to satisfy everyone. Weingarten will never be able to do that. But she is giving it her all, with a lot of fresh ideas. Those of us who have our doubts about teachers unions' ability to bury bad old habits should keep an open mind about Weingarten and her team. The younger union members I know are particularly keen on showing how much they can do to raise the level of teaching for children who need it most. I think they will like this speech. But like most of us, they will wait to see how well this forward-looking leader follows up.

Read Jay's blog every day at

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on, Facebook and our Education web page,

By Jay Mathews  | January 11, 2010; 9:00 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Kenneth Feinberg, Randi Weingarten, rules for dismissing teachers, teacher evaluation, teachers unions  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Study shows how dumb we can be
Next: Silly but useful Fairfax hysteria


I vote to disband the union (and all unions for that matter) and rebuild public education from the ground up.

Posted by: hz9604 | January 12, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

If the union let me know so I can quit my job as a teacher. Without the union to protect teachers from out of control administrators there is no reason to be a teacher.

I'm tired of people trying to get rid of the union. Without the union teaching is not worth it. The pressure a teacher takes is terrible, and without protection there is no reason to stay.

Teachers do not stay long at charter schools - ever wonder why?

Posted by: resc | January 12, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

We need to start evaluating why teachers are not staying long at charter schools.

We also need to start evaluating abusive administrators.

Posted by: resc | January 12, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

The poster child of the teachers' union is Edna Krabappel, the jaded, self-centered caricature of American public schools in The Simpsons.

Posted by: Jerzy | January 12, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse


Charter schools are where teachers teach until they can get a union job. That's why charter schools have such a high turnover (as well sometimes lower pay).

I am human being. I don't deserve to be destroyed by an administration that has no controls on them.

I understand you want more power to go to the administration, but you have to understand quite often they abuse that power.

Without protection, there is no reason to stay in teaching. That is why charter schools have such a high turnover.

You can destroy the union, but if you do people will no longer go into teaching. It's not worth the abuse.

Posted by: resc | January 12, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Many years ago I represented registered nurses who had a collective bargaining agreement with their employer. They were fully supportive of collective bargaining for all the reasons cited above and in other websites. However, they told me, when incompetence was the charge against a nurse, merely to make sure that due process was followed, not to defend her strongly. They did not want to be working with nurses they could not trust to be safe.

Posted by: jane100000 | January 12, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

This tedious struggle with government ownership and operation (i.e. socialism) of schools must end. There is no reason that schools should not operate independently, like any other service business. The state should set chartering protocols, evaluation criteria, enforce equal opportunity in admissions, and provide tuition vouchers, but should stay out of the ownership of facilities, employment of administrators and teachers, and [ESPECIALLY] union negotiations. Parents (along with councelors for at-risk families) should decide where their child goes to school, and what curriculum, school calendar, etc best suits their needs. Real estate prices should not be tied to a [monopoly] school district; school facilities should not be maintained (or unmaintained!) separately from the school's other capital budget items. A [regulated] market can do so much better for less money and with fewer adverse indirect economic distortions.

That said, we are where we are, and therefore *desperately* need any options (charters, non-unionized schools, etc) that provide diversity and competition, to break up the govt stranglehold and the absolute human catastrophe that is the DC public school system. Michelle Rhee is an ANGEL OF MERCY for DC parents.

Posted by: jejonesdc | January 12, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

I thought it was a pretty good speech.
Direct link here:

Weingarten names systems (e.g., Detroit, New Haven) that have produced good, collaborative contracts and alludes to other systems (DC, obviously) that have not, because of a single minded focus on "bad teachers:"

"But others have ignored our offer to work in common purpose. They have chosen, instead, to fixate on the supposed silver bullet of doing away with “bad teachers.”

The problem with the so-called “bad teacher” refrain isn’t just that it’s too harsh or too unforgiving, or that it obscures the fact that ineffective teachers are far outnumbered by their effective peers. The problem is that it’s too limited. It fails to recognize that we have a systems problem.”
Her evaluation system sounds fair and comprehensive, with a focus on ongoing teacher growth, not simply praising good teachers and fingering bad teachers for dismissal. It doesn’t sound unrealistic either – other professional fields already operate that way. People who take pride in their work and routinely operate independently (like teachers in their classrooms) are usually eager to get useful feedback, no matter how long they’ve been at their craft.

Posted by: efavorite | January 12, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Gee, I really hope her union isn't "violating principals"--sounds bad.

Posted by: dpnichols | January 12, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Resc is correct that teacher turnover at charter schools is rapid. Teachers are expected to put in hours and hours without pay, and develop their own curriculum from scratch. It's something that dedicated teachers do for a couple years and then move on to an easier life in a comprehensive high school, as a rule.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 12, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

good catch dpnichols. I fixed it.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 12, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Weingarten's betrayal of teachers must have warmed your heart Jay. You didn't even mention that she's a lesbian this time.

Posted by: malcolmxmlk | January 12, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"Student test scores based on valid and reliable assessments should ALSO be considered—NOT by comparing the scores of last year’s students with the scores of this year’s students, but by assessing whether a teacher’s students show real growth while in his classroom."

The key question is validity. We know how to measure reliability of a test. The psychometricians are good at that.

But what about validity? What is is that we are trying to measure here? What are the complete goals fo schooling and for teachers? How do we VALIDLY measure that? We are not even close to valid measurements of the complete explicit curriculum we find in the standards, let alone the implicit curriculum that is universally accepted as important, too. (e.g. citizenship, integrity, teamwork, work ethic, etc..)

Posted by: ceolaf | January 12, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

No one goes to work at a charter school unless they have to. It's a last option for teachers. They don't want to be there. They just prefer employment to unemployment.

Posted by: resc | January 13, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Unless we are able to develop a reliable system for deterniming the amount of progress any given student could realistically make as a result of good teaching, it would not be possible to determine who is a good teacher, and who is not. Is a teacher good because she /he produced 12 students with "A's" and "B's, and bad because 12 students in the same class received grades of "D" and "F"?

Sometimes the students with the higher grades performed closer to 85% average, when with good teaching they should have attained an average grade of 95%. In this case, the teacher would have failed. However, if the poorer students (on the basis of grades) would have been expected to achieve an average grade of 52%, but they achieved an average grade of 54%, the teacher would have succeded.

In fact the teacher's efforts to improve the performance of the poorer students could have been responsible for the failure to get the better students to perform at a higher level. Is the teacher a good teacher, or a poor teacher?

Any teacher evaluation system that does not include for personal and professional development for teachers will not be successful if it relies purely on summative evaluations. A component of formative evaluation is essential to any successful teacher evaluation system. It is possible to design such a system.

Posted by: CalP | January 14, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company