Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

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

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

By Jay Mathews  | 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  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Do federal education dollars work?
Next: Senate shock could affect schools


The issue isn't intelligence. Usually the issue is control. Management doesn't want to share it. If administrators want to be alone in using growth models to terminate teachers, we must fight that forever. If they agree to peer review, that's different.

Grier could have read her speech and honestly charecterize it if he was in the mood for solutions. You say he's creative what do you base that on? What evidence does he base his proposal on? You'd never work under a contract like Grier proposes. Why should teachers swallow their self-respect? That's a reminder of how review works. Start with evidence, not the boss' whims.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 20, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

I agree, Jay, you're not dense, assuming you're presenting the salient facts correctly and are not leaving out something major. (I'm not fact-checking this time.)

Maybe Grier read the Washington Post editorial that distorted what Weingarten said, and maybe he read some of the pro-teacher blogs that did the same. People do seem to get carried away and it doesn’t help when the mainstream media leads the charge. Thanks for trying to straighten things out.

I do have one area of disagreement. I like to think that Weingarten is motivated by wanting to do the right thing, not by trying to serve two masters and keep both sides happy.

Posted by: efavorite | January 20, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews, has anyone ever considered polling students that are currently enrolled in public schools?

Test scores and data are often disputed or even skewed but words from students could provide a great deal of insight on what works and what doesn't.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 20, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

for efavorite, Grier told me specifically that he read our editorial. Was it that distorted? seemed okay to me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 20, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Jay - I can see how Grier could get the wrong idea just reading the first few sentences of the editorial: “IT TAKES GUTS for a labor leader to concede how hard it is to get rid of union members not doing their jobs. It takes even more guts to admit just how wrong that is.”

That’s pretty sweeping and not reflective of Weingarten’s speech, I don’t think, which said: “Collective bargaining isn’t only a vehicle to protect employee rights and ensure workplace fairness—it’s a
vehicle for both sides to improve teacher quality, ensure school improvement and establish rigorous academic
standards. In city after city, we have seen that better relations among adults lead to better results for students. Important efforts by labor and management, working together, are under way—in various stages—in a number of places….”
“Some [school districts] took us up on that offer, and in those places, we’re seeing teachers, administrators, parents and elected officials work side by side to help their students reach greater heights. 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.’”

I hope Grier didn’t depend strictly on the WaPo editorial (or any secondary source), to determine the meaning of Weingarten’s speech. Talk about not using critical thinking skills!

Please give him the links below and ask him to read the materials – it should only take about 15 minutes and will be much more valuable than continuing to attack Weingarten and defend his position. The first one is a pdf of Weingarten’s speech. The second is a link to the comments section of the Post editorial. Please ask him to especially read the comments of marksimon1, kronberg and efavorite on page 2 and attorneyDC on page 1.

Posted by: efavorite | January 20, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

marksimon's comment on the Post's depiction of Weingarten's speech is so good, it deserves to be re-read here:

marksimon1 wrote:
The Post Editors evidently misread Randi Weingarten's speech, as if it was about getting rid of bad teachers. In fact, the AFT president was criticizing those misleaders, like the editors of the Post, who "fixate on the supposed silver bullet of doing away with "bad teachers." The speech was emploring policy makers to look at the systems -- superficial evaluations, incoherent standards, lacking professional development, decaying facilities, large class sizes, lack of time for teachers to work in teams and imact eacher others' work, a culture of trust and respect, as well as due process procedures that take too long and need to be expedited. The Post missed it because your editors, as Randi says, perpetuate a myth that the problem is bad teachers. Her point was to challenge policy makers to work together on the shoddy systems of support behind all teachers. The Post, by not getting the main point of the speech is therefore, part of the problem. The least you could have done is to accurately portrey what is in the speech. The fact that you could only see it through the blinders that prevent you from understanding the points she was making is quite exasperating. We in the public deserve better than the tired, fixated repetition of your line, over and over.
-- Mark
1/14/2010 9:18:06 AM

Posted by: efavorite | January 20, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse


Your scoop says volumes. Grier read the editorial. And the editorial said little more than "although she provided little detail on how this would work." For the details, as efavorite said, she needs the news section AND social science literature.

What are the chances that Grier has followed the scientific debate on VAMs? And even if he hasn't read the Widget Effect, he's read the TNTP's spin. But has he checked the footnotes of the Widget Effect. Has he asks why the statements in its text are contradicted by their own footnotes? Has he asked why the TNTP continues to publish falsehoods about peer review and the Toledo Plan? Has he even read The Grand Bargain?

Had Grier read The Grand Bargain, he would have read the facts about Toledo and other peer review plans. He would had gotten a nice primer on the validity of growth models. And then he would have known how to understand Randi's speech. Or he could have just read Teacher Beat, which also provides links to the evidence.

Or he could go to today's thisweekineducation, and follow the links to the social scientists.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 20, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Weingarten made it quite clear that she would countenance use of test scores for teacher evaluation only if they were "valid" and "reliable." These words actually mean something. Did Grier conduct an analysis of the validity and reliability of using what he calls "value-added test scores" (on state tests which even Arne Duncan routinely derides and which were not properly constructed to meaure growth) for assessing teacher performance, say, by having a credible psychometrician lend her stamp of approval to it? Uh, no.

So what Grier is doing is playing the same old political game, twisting Weingarten's words, to get his way and use test scores in some stupid, scientifically invalid way. This is precisely the kind of behavior Weingarten challenged management to move beyond.

Posted by: dz159 | January 21, 2010 12:15 AM | Report abuse

A brilliant young econometrician, Jesse Rothstein, (with creative colleagues) didn't need to know much about education to have a look at value-added-models. (VAM) So, with much wit, he identified students' NEXT YEARS teachers as a predictor of LAST YEARS' purported /reported /tested student academic growth. He used a very large data set and found big "effects". In other words, the future was ESTIMATED to predict the past.
Now, that should undermine belief in large AND CERTAIN "teacher effects" estimated by other researchers, principally other economists similarly ignorant of the diversity of classroom learning (and teacher assignment). And it should lead them to question the assumptions of their models. But, it hasn't.
Education psychologists, exercising the same insight teachers and lay people have, know that even with the wealth of data they have long had access to, it is impossible to differentiate the "EFFECT" of the presence of a particular teacher from the "EFFECT" of particular students and the dynamics of particular classroom teachers and student combinations.

It is fundamental to good management that it enables people to work together, including those in classrooms so they all succeed together. That is what Weingarten understands, not least from her education in Industrial Relations a long time ago.

Posted by: incredulous | January 21, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

In my experience of teaching at a Houston public high school for fifteen years, the district does not provide adequate discipline enforcement and pressures teachers to inflate grades.

We know the ingredients of stong public high schools in the urban context: high standards, consistently enforced and effective discipline and removal of students who won't behave.

I am all for more accountability if you provide a safe, orderly school environment and allow students to give honest grades.

After ten years of teaching Advanced Placement courses, including years when I had 28, 22 and 16 kids pass AP exams, the best record of any teacher in a minority-majority school in Houston at that time, I was reassigned when Irefused to reopen grading for six seniors who had failed.

Academics and discipline have been driven by the goal of lowering drop out rates at all costs.

If HISD is going to tie our hands on grades and discipline, how can they pressure us to raise student test scores.

Posted by: JesseAlred | January 21, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

In my comment above, I meant "teachers should be allowed to give honest grades," a Freudian slip as well as a typo rooted in my experience with grade inflation pressures in HISD.

Posted by: JesseAlred | January 21, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

It is a shame that Jay Mathews did not check all of the facts in Houston before writing his column. The Houston local has no issue with the appropriate use of student achievement as a component in evaluation. However, that is not what is happening here.

In spite of Grier's rhetoric, what he brought to the board was a policy that allowed teachers to be fired on value added scores. There was no mention in the policy of taking several years of scores and no mention of assistance to the teacher. The district already had a policy that allowed for termination for lack of student performance "attributable to the teacher." The new policy moved off of student performance to a value added number that is calculated in a black box and understood by no Houston teacher since the formula is not accessible.

The value added number is derived from the results of our state accountability test and the Stanford 10. It has a few kinks including the fact that half of the teachers in the district are not in tested grades or subjects - yet they get a score somehow. High school teachers get a departmental score.

Grier used Randi's statements incorrectly. He ignored the main concepts and excerpted her statement on test scores and attempted to apply it to his perversion of test score accountability. He distorted her position as well as that of the union Houston local. This is a pattern of behavior with Grier and may explain why your "thoughtful and energetic" superintendent has been either fired or bought out by almost every one of the 7 districts he has headed in a very short period of time.

Gayle Fallon, President
Houston Federation of Teachers

Posted by: gayle2415 | January 26, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company