Today at the National Press Club AFT President Randi Weingarten is calling for reforms to due process for teachers. You can’t do much better than Sawchuk’s take on it here, but Washington Post and Jay Mathews, USAT, and Bob Herbert also write on it this morning. And although the text isn’t online yet here’s Weingarten herself over at the Huffpo. Update: Text on the AFT site now (pdf). Update II: Sawchuk has some must-read follow-up and implies that his MSM colleagues are easily fooled. Update III: TNR’s Darby is skeptical.
First the good: This is an important acknowledgement from Weingarten and one with some big implications. She deserves credit for that. For a long time the union line on all this has been that it’s not hard to rid the field of low-performers, the problem is lousy administrators and a blame the teachers mindset. This isn’t all wrong by the way, administrators are not just chompin’ at the bit to rid schools of under-performing teachers. The problems are systemic ones. But by laying this on the table Weingarten is opening the door on that conversation more than a crack and pulling the rug out from under a lot of folks. That’s important. By calling the process “glacial” the genie is out of the bottle, perhaps more than Weingarten herself may realize.
In addition, bringing in Kenneth Feinberg is important. He demonstrated an ability for reasonableness in thorny situations. And because he has no aspirations within education he has no reason to pull any punches. Perhaps most importantly, with Feinberg you get the sense that if this is all a big ruse, that will become clear. He doesn’t seem like someone with a lot of patience for misdirection plays and so forth. In other words, involving him increases the accountability.
Second the things to watch: Related to the question of accountability, this is hardly Weingarten’s first “it’s all on the table” style speech. In fact it’s becoming an annual event. And each time the press swoons and then moves onto other things. But so far not a lot has come from all this. The jury is out on New Haven (we should know more by summertime), Detroit was disappointment, and the teachers’ contract in DC remains unsettled despite how much rhetorical alignment there is between last year’s speech, this year’s speech, and what DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee says she wants to do. It’s unfair to lay all of these issues exclusively on Weingarten, but it does speak to the challenge she faces in moving teachers’ unions forward and also the dance she ends up having to do to balance public and private pressure on her. The question about those cross-pressures that Richard Whitmire and I asked last spring in TNR is still germane.
On the details, a few years ago the United Federation of Teachers in New York put forward a new rubric for evaluation that included using outcome data like test scores. The problem was that outcome data comprised a small percentage of the overall metric. Even now states are debating how much to use data like test scores in Race to the Top and many state and local teachers’ unions are hostile to even having outcomes comprise 50 percent of evaluations. So the devil will be in the details here.
Finally, it’s great that Weingarten is reaching out to different groups to be part of this effort, but watch if one, in particular, is involved — The New Teacher Project. They have generated more learning, data, and capacity on these human capital questions than any other organization in the country – and that includes the national teachers’ unions. Will be interesting to see if and how that is brought to bear.
Overlooked angle: Steven Brill can get things done…