Teachers’ Union President Calls For New Evaluations And New Process For Removing Ineffective Teachers

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten

Teachers’ unions have a reputation as recalcitrant protectors of the education status quo, which is a perception that they need to remedy. In a speech today, American Federation for Teachers president Randi Weingarten tried to do just that, laying out a strong reform agenda, and calling for, among other things, the use of student data in teacher evaluations:

Yes, we must use good and meaningful data — but the real value of data is to show us what is working and should be replicated, as well as what isn’t working and needs to be abandoned. We propose rigorous reviews by trained expert and peer evaluators and principals, based on professional teaching standards, best practices and student achievement. The goal is to lift whole schools and systems: to help promising teachers improve, to enable good teachers to become great, and to identify those teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom at all.

Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta said that Weingarten “continues the process of throwing her personal stature and the weight of the American Federation of Teachers behind the need to reform.” “I’d like to commend Randi for her courageous leadership and willingness to challenge status quo policies when they don’t work well for students,” he added.

The system we currently employ to evaluate teachers is undeniably broken, and as New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, trying to evaluate teachers without student data is “like saying to hospitals, you can evaluate surgeons on any criteria you want, just not patient survival rates.” To see Weingarten step up and acknowledge this, while pledging to be part of the reform process, is an encouraging sign.

As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote, “Ms. Weingarten’s ideas for upgrading the teacher evaluation process are good ones…The point is not just to get rid of failing teachers, but to improve the skills and effectiveness of the millions of teachers who show up in the classrooms every day.” A good system will not only tell us which practices should be tossed aside, but which actually do work in improving teacher performance, which is data that can be applied elsewhere.

In her speech, Weingarten also announced that she wants to develop “a fair, efficient protocol for adjudicating questions of teacher discipline and, when called for, teacher removal,” a response to the often-heard critique that bad teachers are impossible to dismiss. Ken Feinberg, most recently the Treasury Department’s Special Master for Compensation, has been tasked with crafting such a system.

This is only one speech, of course, but the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews wrote that education reformers should be taking Weingarten seriously:

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.

Education reform will only be successful if all of the interested parties come up with a new, workable system together. Hopefully reformers take Weingarten up on her offer.


Education Week and Eduwonk have more.

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