Stiff Cup Of Joe

AFT President Randi Weingarten had a lively apparence on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning.  I think she lost Carl Berstein!

21 Replies to “Stiff Cup Of Joe”

  1. Joe Scarborogh was correct in comparing Randi to a recording executive on the eve of Napster. The same applies to reporters and newspapers in the age of the Internet. She didn’t answer their questions. She never explained why due process rights are good for kids because they are absolutely required to retain teaching talent.

    The old-fashioned New Deal institutions are going to be overwhelmed. But if we don’t find a way to protect the property rights of artists, journalists, and teachers, the free lunch that some are enjoying now will be lost.

    I got a little encouraged at the end when they gave Randi a second chance by talking energetically with her and she demonstrated a little of the teachers’ skills of handling multiple issues at once. Had the interview begun that way, and had she answered their questions rather than sticking to her soundbites, I bet they would have listened.

    She leads the union, not me, and I trust her. But its one thing for Duncan to just stick to his talking points, we need to engage the public.

    As I read more RttT proposals, I get a sinking feeling that too many states are ready to go to Court. They’ll lose, and teachers will “win,” but that will just reinforce the anti-union sentiment. Somehow we need to explain to the public, before we have to explain this to the judges, that we can’t turn around our toughest schools by turning teachers into second class citizens.

    It is a fundamental principle of America that the government can’t deprive an individual of life, liberty, or proporty without due process and evidence. You can’t improve teaching and learning based on generalized statistical engineering. You can’t fire an individual without showing that the numbers spit out by a black box have a connection to that teacher’s performance. You can’t recruit talent to inner city classrooms when a teacher, regardless of their performance, each teacher has a one in six chance or so PER YEAR of their careers’ being destroyed by chance.

    BUT we stand ready to compromise and design efficient and fair methods of terminating teachers. The charter issue is more complex, but neither is it a mortal threat to teaching. The chances are that SUCCESSFUL charters don’t abuse their authority over teachers. But if teachers lose their rights to protect themselves against abusive management, students will suffer.

    But there’s always tomorrow and I bet Randi gets em next time.

  2. “…we can’t turn around the toughest schools while turning teachers into second class citizens.”

    John, beautifully stated. This gives me an idea for an inexpensive way to improve education:

    People in leadership positions, such as “Eduwonk” can say something positive about our teachers as frequently as possible. In this way maybe talented young people, men and woman, who are reading this blog might want to enter the profession and stay. Also, Teach for America teachers might want to extent their tour of duty without feeling the shame or embarrassment of a “not quite good enough for a Yale graduate” job.

  3. “It is a fundamental principle of America that the government can’t deprive an individual of life, liberty, or proporty without due process and evidence.”

    Um, John, I think the 5th amendment refers to the government in its judicial capacity, not as an employer.

  4. GGW,

    I hope you don’t teach social studies. Let me try again.

    In an at-will state, if the employer wants to fire employees based on a statistical model that kicks out names randomly and there are no relevant laws or contracts, that’s probably legal. If the employer wants to arbitrarily fire those employees because that think the acronym of “VAMS” sounds cool, then that’s probably legal.

    But if the employer claims its firing a worker for cause based on a VAM, claiming that that product of the VAM reflects on that individual’s performance, then that raises other legal questons.

    Legal questions are settled in court, hence the Constitution.

    If that VAM was tested on elementary schools, in schools with average poverty rates, and in environments designed to minimize selectivity, then they will need evidence that those models are valid for secondary school, high poverty schools, and schools where selectivity is higher? Those teachers have the right to cross examine the developers of growth models on why in the world their statistical engineering is relevant to those individual teachers effects on performance.

    That’s why the TNTP wants new laws for one-day one-stop terminations.

    And how close to valid is good enough?

    Let’s just say the employer was seeking to fire docors whose cancer patients had worsened white blood counts in the 4th year than in their first three years, don’t you think those doctors would confront their accusers in court?

    No evidence is perfect but notice the ballpark figures and ask if such a primitive tool would be used for other professions. In one sense the question is whether a measure must be 90%, 80,%, or 70% valid or whatever to destroy the property right which is a teacher’s career. In another sense – the sense in which RttT is operating – the question is whether a model must be 70%, 80%, or 90% or whatever valid in order to force teachers to abandon their due process rights. So if its only 10 to 30% of teachers who effectively lose due process, that’s no biggie.

    Think of Tennesssee which proclaimed its goal of removing 30% of teachers. Although this is not a legal issue, Tennessee clearly makes a mockery of Duncan’s professed goals of not using a single measure. If everyone who doesn’t meet that measure is removed from teaching, isn’t that the use of a single measure?

    And shouldn’t teachers use the Tenn RttT in Court? When administrators are under the gun, at risk of losing their jobs if they don’t implement the state evaluation tool and reduce their teachers who do not measure up, does that effect the motive and the judgments of those evaluators?

  5. John,

    At the end of the day what I feel that you are losing sight of is that public school teachers work/serve at the pleasure of the voting public through their representatives.

    If a majority of citizens in a state – through their elected representatives – desire to have teachers evaluated and rewarded and yes potentially fired based on VAMs or any other metric that the public wants, I see no reason in a democracy why teachers (who are public employees) should not be judged on that metric.

    You are right that they may win in the Courts as the law is currently written. But, the argument here is that if enough people in a state want to change teacher tenure and include VAMs as and underlying feature of rewarding tenure, the state legislature should be able to change the law to make teachers responsive to the public.

    It’s a government job and that means the taxpayers are paying for teachers to have gainful employment. Everyone always talks about “the teachers voice,” but at the end of the day schools are agencies of government, and in a democracy if the people want merit pay, rolled back tenure, or charter schools galore, then they ought to have them.

    I cede the point that teachers brought in under a contract need to have their contract honored. However, the legislature has every right to change the game for teachers hired in the future. Regardless of whether you, or I, or any individual citizen thinks changing tenure is good or not, if a majority of the people want THEIR public schools to function differently, the union or the public sector bureacrats’ voices shouldn’t drown out the people. Most surveys I look at show upwards of 60 percent favoring changes to tenure and introduction of merit pay ideas based on student performance (PEPG surveys are one among many I have seen).

  6. The hart,

    Of course youre right. And if the People want to go on record for taking our rights away, they can. But let’s then stop the rhetoric that this isn’t about firing teachers and/or breaking unions.

    If you want to help kids, however, let’s put all the soundbites away and acknowledge the full range of realities – legal, social, economic, and cultural, Let’s make practical compromises.

    Let’s adopt The Grand Bargain. I disagree with Duncan on charters and turnarounds but you don’t see me making a big deal about them. They are not about the life and death of my profession and my union. For instance, I don’t demand that teachers in “dropout factories,” like the one I teach in, have job protection during turnarounds. That would give us more rights than factory workers. And regarding charters, they will make us work harder at organizing but I’m willing to do that.

    But if management seeks to use growth models, in the hands of management, to indict a teacher as ineffective so that he has to prove himself not guilty, then I want my union to litigate to the end.

    On the other hand, place those VAMs in the hands of peer review committees, and we’ve got a deal.

  7. I didn’t intend to “union bust” with my proposal. all i am saying is this: if the public and parents who pay taxes that fund public schools want the teaching profession to be evaluated on the basis of how much students learn (whether that be VAM, a portfolio, AP tests, or minimum competency tests), the public has a right to that.

    since the research is clear that it is hard to predict what makes a teacher great on the front end, but we can indeed observe great variation in teacher effectiveness (as defined by growth in test scores) on the back end, then the logical solution is not to spend the rest of eternity (not to mention millions of dollars in trial and error) trying to figure out what makes a great teacher, but instead make common sense decision in hiring, but then largely have a system that is high risk, high reward so that the stars stay, and the average performers leave, but then reward those high-performers.

    we can work out the nitty gritty details of who holds in their hands the power over VAM. I would like to see manager (principals) have their salary and job security tied to all of this. in that case, principals will not play favorites because if they do their ass is on the line too. if the principals are in the hot seat, they will make damn sure that they are doing evaluations in a way that actually favors good teaching (they would be irrational not to do so in this scenario).

    at the end of the day yes job security will change, but my sense is that the American people (and the evidence for this is that many on the political left are no longer towing the union line), are growing impatient with the union rejoinder that there is no fair way, and that it is some how an abridgement of civil liberties, to evaluate teachers on the basis of growth in student learning and that teachers who don’t do well on these measure are ultimately not renewed.

    public school teaching is one of the only professions i can think of where employees have a major hand in selecting their own managers (school boards), in negotiating the rules on which they are held accountable, and then are able to stand back and demand that “the teacher voice” or a committee of their very own teachers ought to be the ones to sit in judgement come evaluation time. i can’t think of a single other profession in the U.S. that gives employees that much power in adjudicating the terms of their employment. It would be egregious in the private sector, and to me it is even worse when this is a democracy in which public school policy (and that means teacher policy) should conform to what the public wants, not what a more politically active public sector bureaucracy deems better for their union.

  8. The Hart,

    Of course you are correct in stating that the voters can decide how teachers will be paid and evaluated. However, all true professions (law, medicine, university teaching) control who enters the profession and are “the ones to sit in judgement come evaluation time.” When K-12 teachers are fully professional, then we’ll see the quality that everyone desires. And, of course, the students will be the winners. Many people see teaching as “labor,” and not a profession, and that’s one of the reasons we don’t attract the talented people who are so desperately needed in urban schools. As John suggested, the best thing we can do for education is to raise the status and working conditions for teachers, and not diminish them.

    Everything depends on the economy. If it stays bad or worsens, I expect legislatures and districts will find many ways to get rid of expensive veteran Mrs. Jones and replace her with young Mr. Smith. However, if the economy improves, and the expected teacher shortage materializes as the Baby Boomers retire and woman choose from among many fields, we’ll probably be back to a situation where urban districts literally beg people to apply and to stay. Time will tell.

  9. “However, all true professions (law, medicine, university teaching) control who enters the profession and are “the ones to sit in judgement come evaluation time.”

    Doctors and attorneys may have power to influence who enters their profession, but they do not, for the most part, have power over whether they stay employed in the profession.

    You want to talk about unfair dismissal and being fired on a whim? Just ask some of my friends who are lawyers whose firm let them go because a client complained with the service. A doctor cannot stay in business if the consensus in his/her community is that he/she is not a great doctor.

    There is no analog in public education. If the consensus is that Teacher X is not getting the job done, and the data indicate that teacher X is not getting the job done, can a parent, voter, or majority of the school board fire the teacher? No, instead they get to go have professional development to “get them up to speed.”

    Every time that I hear a teacher bemoan that they are not considered real “professionals” I wonder if they really know what they would face if they were evaluated and compensated like “real professionals.” Sure the pay would be markedly higher. And I think it should be for teachers. But on the flip side, accountability and evaluation would be tied to market satisfaction with the product. If you’re clients aren’t happy you don’t get to keep your job, you don’t get promoted. “Evaluation” of professionals in the workplace is 1000 times more capricious and inexact compared with even the *minimal* evaluation systems that reformers want to install to measure educators with- attorneys and other white collar private sector employees would be thrilled to have their own promotions and evaluation tied to precise measures rather than at the whim of their boss/manager. But, if that system is good enough for 90 percent plus of the American workforce, shouldn’t something half as nebulous be good enough for employees whose boss is really the public?

  10. Doctors and lawyers are often in medical or law groups and make decisions about who stays and who does not. These are the people I was referring to and not those who are employed by large companies or HMOs. If the physican loses patients and the lawyer loses clients, the group will ask him or her to leave. College and university teachers also serve on committees to evaluate their colleagues and determine who gets tenure and who does not. This is what I’d like to see for teachers and I predict it will happen.

    Remember that almost 50% of all teachers leave during the first five years of employment so a case could be made that there is more of a natural attrition in teaching than in any other profession. Many of these people know they aren’t suited and others are counseled out by administrators. It’s entirely possible that there are more “bad” doctors, lawyers and university professors because most of these people DO stay.

    Only one time in my long career was I carefully evaluated. This was when I applied to be a Mentor Teacher for my district. Because the funds for this came from the state, I had to be evaluated by a committee of my peers. First I had to go before a group of teachers who subjected me to an oral examination. Next I had to submit to several classroom evaluations and had to show evidence of student progress. Although I was awarded the position, many other teachers did not get it but they were able to try again the next year. Some never made it.

    One thing people fail to understand is how the economy relates to teacher evaluations. For much of my career, “inner-city” districts were so desperate for teachers, that the word “evaluation” was never even mentioned. It is a matter of record that most administrators gave almost everyone good evaluations and still do. When I quit my first position, the principal cried, not because I was good (I wasn’t) but because she was afraid she wouldn’t get anyone to replace me and would have a string of substitutes for the entire year. After all, I DID show up each day. This is the way it was for all my co-workers and a few were pretty bad. The only teachers who were fired committed crimes or failed to show up for work. I just don’t see this as a union problem.

    It’s my opinion that once teachers have peer assistance and review the profession will rid itself of the ineffective teacher. We all agree that there needs to be a better system of attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers for all our schools.

    I do agree that the public should determine how teachers are paid and evaluated. In my state teachers are highly regarded (second only to the clergy) and voters have consistently rewarded schoolteachers with special job protections, probably in gratitude for the work they do. Hopefully teachers will continue to enjoy the trust of the American people.

  11. The commenters here are ignoring the many laws passed in the last century to protect workers from firings for unfair reasons. It is why employers build elaborate paper trails to document firings. America has labor laws, civil rights laws, and due process laws. So no great principle is at stake if schools are able to streamline the process for terminating bad teachers. They will still enjoy many rights and protections. Common sense changes aren’t “union busting.”

  12. Pete Z,

    We’re not ignoring those laws. We’re celebrating and defending them. Yes, we want to help create common sense changes to streamline the process of terminating bad teachers. We have been making those proposal for twenty years. But if “reformers” reject those offers, we’ll just have to fight it out in court.

    And as I said, I’m glad that Randi is stressing the collaborative. If reformers really want to help kids, however, they need to play out the chess game in advance and not stumble into a legal Battle of Verdun.

    the Hart, your comments strike me as a good faith effort for discussing the nature of social change. I strongly disagree with your statement that “principals will not play favorites because if they do their ass is on the line too. if the principals are in the hot seat, they will make damn sure that they are doing evaluations in a way that actually favors good teaching (they would be irrational not to do so in this scenario)”

    How’s that rational model worked out on Wall Street?

    Yes, the overall job market has become less secure and more capricious. Do you think that’s good?

    I’m with Linda in celebrating the excellence produced by traditions of peer review and the balance the grew out of the New Deal, and the dynamism of our post-war economy. She’s also right about the inner city world that was left behind.“inner-city” Inner city districts are so desperate for teachers, that the word “evaluation” is never even mentioned. I’ve never met a principal who didn’t spend weeks or months at a time without letting classroom instruction entering their consciousness. When would they have the time? Any inner city principal must be afraid she wouldn’t get anyone to replace teachers and would have a string of substitutes for the entire year. This is not a union problem.

    Let’s remember what caused our problems. The biggest controllable factor was the rapid deinstrustrialization of America, made worst by the abandonment of the balanced institutions that grew out of the New Deal. Together, we must negotiate new institutions for addressing the irrationalities that featherless bipeds share.

  13. Some posters don’t seem to accept the importance of due process laws for teachers. I’ll try to give some specific examples of why these laws are necessary:

    In my state new teachers are “at will” employees for two years. That means the district can fire them “without cause.” Basically they tell the teacher that her contract will not be renewed and that teacher is not even entitled to a reason for her “non-renewal” (the word “fired” is infrequently used in education). If the teacher is a minority or a handicapped person or a “whistleblower” and believes she was “non-renewed” for that reason, she can contest her termination. Otherwise, she can do nothing. This is the law.

    I’ll admit that a good number of these new teachers are dismissed for valid reasons by effective principals. However, many others are not. This is what I witnessed at my former school within the last fifteen years:

    A principal promised a job to a “friend” in Canada. The friend wasn’t able to make it in September because of immigration problems so he (principal) had to hire another teacher, who was excellent. At the end of the year he let the teacher go, so he could make room for his friend. The excellent teacher had no course of action because she was an “at will” employee.

    Another principal had an affair with a first grade teacher. The teacher got into an argument with another teacher, who was in her second year. The principal’s friend threatened the new teacher with these words “I can have you fired.” And she did.

    An excellent new teacher was let go at the end of the year. No one could understand why and the teacher was not given a reason. The next year her position was taken by a former superintendent’s daughter and then we knew. I suppose in this case the teacher could have challenged it, but by the fall she had another job.

    A third grade teacher became active in the union and accompanied an experienced teacher to a board meeting. The experienced teacher gave a speech that offended one of the board members. At the end of the year the third grade teacher was dismissed and the veteran was given a low evaluation by the angry principal. To this day the veteran teacher is being harassed but is protected by due process laws. Her bad evaluation was overthrown by the court. The district took this case all the way to the state Court of Appeals, where the judgment for the teacher was upheld. (This is exactly the sort of case that is blamed on “the unions” because this is what administrators tell the media. The district will insist that they tried, and failed, to fire a “bad” teacher because they are not going to admit to any other reason. )

    These are the very things that happened to teachers before the enactment of due process laws. If we do away with these laws, teachers will be let go for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which will be the relatively high salaries for the experienced. I know some people say “Well this is the way it is for the rest of us” and that’s true, but traditionally it’s been very difficult to hire and retain well-qualified teachers and that’s basically why these protections are needed.

    Our discussion shows that we all agree there needs to be a streamlined system for dismissing ineffective teachers. But (hopefully) few people want to go back to the days when a teacher had no employment rights and could, and often was, dismissed to make room for the board member’s relative.

  14. The Hart,
    Your comment about “…Teacher X not getting the job done can the teacher be fired? No, instead they get to go have professional development to “get them up to speed” “is really disturbing! First understand that professional development is to help you develop your profession, your subject matter, your skills and etc. It allows you to stay current with the ever-changing world, ideas, methodologies and etc. Many “true professions (law and medicine)” have development training just as there is in the teaching professions. They may not be called professional development but these professions still have to continue to develop their professions. They have to stay abreast to many changes with them their field. They attend many conferences and presentations to help them develop their skills, professions and etc.
    Now on the other hand, I do agree that teachers should be held accountable for our children. Teachers need to be evaluated every year in order to be made aware of things that need to be improved to better themselves and to be more efficacy and effective.
    I agree that once teachers have peer assistance and the profession will rid itself of the ineffective teacher. However, many teachers’ unions have many laws that protect these ineffective teachers. I think that unions should re-evaluate their laws and worked with the administrations on how to help these teachers that are not effective. Many unions concern is all about the teacher’s well-being but what about our children? Hopefully, unions would come aboard and hold teachers accountable for our children academic success.

  15. AS4, you’re missing the analogy. A professional that repeatedly fails to carry out his/her duties may be rightfully dismissed. There’s not going to be a professional development seminar to try and boost his/her effectiveness after the fact.

  16. Chris Smyr:

    When a person reads critically, he or she infers the author’s purpose. That means the reader forms opinions in his mind according to the words used, as well as the context of the text. Many other things are involved also, including the background knowledge of the reader along with that person’s personal views on a subject.

    So when I make comments about Rotherman’s blog, I read “between the lines” and form my opinions. Many times his comments have an anti-teacher bias to them. If you notice, I’m not the only one who interprets his words this way. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration sees it this way too, if it already hasn’t. Duncan is now talking about collaboration with “the stakeholders” (as in teachers). Now that’s a beginning!

    If Rotherman simply wrote “It’s a nice day today” very few people would take that literally. Many would ask “Now why would he say that?” These people would be making inferences based on their knowledge that he has never made a statement of that kind. Some might even jump to the conclusion that he meant “good news” or “There isn’t much going on so I might as well talk about the weather.” The more literal types might find out where he lives to see why he’d comment on the weather.

    So the “evidence” for my opinions are the statements that Mr. Rotherman frequently makes that are not favorable to teachers. From what I know of him and some other reformers (and also by strong reactions such as yours) I suspect ( that is, it is my opinion) that his eyes are on the money and not the kids. Is this libel? If so, he has my permission to delete any of my comments.

  17. 1) You realize you’re agreeing to being intellectually dishonest and libelous with your post, right? You are accusing your opponent of doing something that you yourself have inferred, and incorrectly inferred as well.

    2) There is no “anti-teacher bias” to his words, either, unless you want to “read between the lines” again.

    3) You assert that he makes statements unfavorable to teachers, but really, you haven’t shown even that. All you’ve shown is that he makes statements unfavorable to you and those that share your perspective, as I guarantee you there are teachers that have different perspectives.

    4) My “strong reaction” is because you keep peddling these accusations on the comment threads here and no one really catches on (or wants to catch on) to how morally bankrupt it is to do so. If you disagree with the guy, that’s one thing, but it’s another altogether to claim that he hates teachers.

  18. Chris Smyr,
    I did not miss the analogy at all. I completely understand that teachers should be held accountable. However, professional development training is used to help develop the teacher’s skills to aviod from being unsuccessful with the students. There may be teachers who do not take these training seriously and then fail the students, that when the union should get involve! The union should set some guidelines and requirement for teachers in order to keep their job not protect them and allow them to continue to perform bad.
    All I am saying is that all professions have some kind of training and it is up to the person to take serious or not. If the doctor or lawyer do not take the training serious than they will fail at their profession same is true for teacher as well.

  19. I still think you are missing the point. Professional development is important, however a more likely option for professionals who consistently fail is just to replace them; there doesn’t have to be a PD option after they have failed. It’s not so in teaching, and bad teachers will often be treated with respect and additional chances to succeed, bars will be lowered, success redefined, etc. etc.

  20. Agreed, Chris. PD can be valuable. Plenty of professions require ongoing training. But, for example, no one in law seriously believes that CLE (continuing legal education) courses have a serious impact on a lawyer’s abilities. They’re mostly just refreshers and opportunities to keep attorneys aware of new wrinkles in the law. The real “PD” (if it can be called that) that helps professionals develop is a combination of experience, observation of those who are successful and mentorship from more senior members of a profession.

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