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 http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
| 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
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