Weingarten serves two masters
Why did Randi Weingarten, the energetic and thoughtful president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticize Terry B. Grier, the energetic and thoughtful superintendent of the Houston schools, for endorsing her ideas last week?
Get used to it. It will happen again. Weingarten is serving two constituencies---her members, many of whom don't want to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, and American voters, many of whom do. The dust-up at last week's Houston school board meeting is a perfect example of what happens when a creative leader tries to keep both sides happy. I think she is moving in the right direction, but it is dizzying to watch all that necessary dodging and weaving.
Judge for yourself. Here is what Grier said in a letter to Houston teachers and supporters before the Jan. 14 board meeting: "Let me answer the most frequently asked question right away: We will never remove teachers from the classroom based solely on their students' standardized test scores. Period. I made that promise to you last year, and it's still true.
"I also want to emphasize that our goal in strengthening the evaluation process is not to remove more teachers. To the contrary, we want better evaluations so that we can give teachers the feedback they need to be successful in the classroom. But meaningful feedback is impossible without an honest assessment of each teacher's contribution to student learning. Standardized test scores give us one important indicator of how much students are learning, but it's only one of many different components we are proposing to include in a teacher's evaluation. And the idea of using standardized test scores in evaluations is increasingly accepted—earlier this week, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten endorsed the idea in a major speech."
During the meeting, board members tentatively approved Grier's recommendation that they add to their list of reasons a teacher could be dismissed "low student value-added test scores." Grier said during the meeting the president of the local teacher's union, an AFT local, passed out a letter from Weingarten saying Grier had her wrong.
"Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier is deliberately distorting the proposals I made this week for a new path forward in American public education," said a copy of the statement sent to me by an AFT spokesman. "Despite what Superintendent Grier and others might be saying, let me be absolutely clear about what I proposed. I outlined a comprehensive plan for improving schools, ensuring high-quality teaching and raising student achievement—of which one element is a multi-faceted teacher development and evaluation system.
"Yes, students’ test scores on valid and reliable assessments could be one element of this comprehensive evaluation system. But here is exactly what I said: Such scores are just one factor among many others in a system that would be based on clearly stated professional standards. Other factors in the evaluations I envision would include measures of students’ real growth in a teacher’s classroom, self-evaluations, in-class observations, portfolio and lesson plan reviews, and consideration of students’ written work and other projects."
Maybe I'm dense, but it seems to me they are saying pretty much the same thing. That's good. I am not a fan of merit pay for individual teachers based on student scores, but I think smart people like Weingarten and Grier can figure out a way to use students' results intelligently in teacher assessments. They seem to be on the same page. I don't care if Weingarten tells her members she is not on the same page as long as that is one of the things she has to do to find some way to make sure only effective educators teach our kids.
Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
| January 20, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Randi Weingarten, Terry B. Grier, education labor disputes, teacher evaluations, teachers union
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