Randi Weingarten Unplugged

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

So I guess when Michelle Rhee writes a piece like this it’s bound to spark a response.  But, Randi Weingarten’s NY Daily News op-ed about the DC contract is surprising.  Weingarten is in an earned place where she can rightly claim credit for helping forge a few genuine accomplishments over the last few months – Colorado where the AFT courageously broke from the NEA to support the Johnston bill, New Haven where the new contract paved the way for a new evaluation system, and D.C., which is a big deal in terms of the combined elements of that contract. Though her most ardent critics won’t acknowledge it, those are real.

Yet The Daily News piece is at once small (I don’t remember Weingarten patronizing the folks in New Haven for that contract being the first for their leadership, and was New York really all Bloomberg? I thought there was some guy named Klein who was involved there somehow…), it’s needlessly revisionist in its history of D.C. to the point that anyone who has been paying attention to school reform there sees right through it, and most importantly it is bound to blow-up down the road as soon as other districts – for instance New York City – start proposing the same reforms that are in the D.C. contract.  Suddenly I don’t think we’ll be hearing the minimalist language anymore and the argument about inapplicability doesn’t even pass the smell test.

Weingarten should be taking a deserved victory lap right now because she  moved her union in a way many doubted she could.   This diminishes that.

24 Replies to “Randi Weingarten Unplugged”

  1. I think it’s really scary that, according to Rhee, the new DCPS contract permits teachers to be fired immediately upon receiving an ineffective rating from their principal, and that teachers cannot grieve the rating (except for procedural reasons). If this is correct, it gives principals unprecedented power over their teachers and I’m concerned it would lead to principal’s harassment of teachers (sexual or otherwise) and general nepotism and playing favorites by principals. For example, a friend of mine who worked as a teacher in New York State (untenured, because she had recently been hired) was fired by her principal only to be replaced immediately by the daughter of her principal’s friend. These types of things can happen all the time now in DCPS now that tenure has been effectively eliminated: All the principal needs to do is rate a teacher ineffective (which rating cannot be challenged for any substantive reason) and then fire them. I’m glad I’m not a teacher in DCPS right now!

  2. I understand your fears but they seem unfounded. Yes there are isolated examples, but is there any evidence that these abuses would be widespread? As your example illustrates, this kind of stuff is possible now, even with tenure!

    Also teacher evaluations are not based completely on principal’s input so to say they could single-handedly rate a teacher ineffective is misleading.

  3. Randi is a brilliant and cunning woman so it’s hard to believe that she facilitated a contract like this. Perhaps she suspects that after the November elections, the only viable part of the contract will be the salaries! I wouldn’t count this woman out quite yet.

  4. As a former teacher, I saw so many instances when a principal’s opinion of a teacher was based on factors other than the teacher’s teaching ability: personality, style differences, etc., in addition to the more blatant issues like the favoritism I described in my above example. In most school systems, once a teacher has tenure, they have certain rights with regard to being terminated (along with grievance procedures if a union is in place in that district).

    My concern for teachers (versus other employees) arises in part because teachers, if terminated mid-year, will have little chance of finding employment again until the next school year. And if their principal fired them based on a trumped-up evaluation, they will have difficulty finding a new job because EVERY school to which they apply will want their old principal as a reference. Unlike most jobs in the private sector, where an employee may have two or more supervisors (for example, their direct boss and the division head), teachers are always evaluated by their principal, which may make it difficult to find a new job if they receive a negative evaluation (even an exaggerated or fabricated negative evaluation).

  5. if it is any wonder why weingarten might patronize, look no further than michelle rhee’s own patronizing:

    “Use Randi Weingarten. I don’t like to get in the middle of someone else’s negotiation and I know that there is a long and complicated history between Weingarten and Klein. However, based on my experiences negotiating with Weingarten, she is very much able to see the direction the nation is heading in and the fact that unions need to be a part of the solution. Both Klein and Mulgrew should lean on her.”

    seems a bit small of rhee, no? “i don’t like what i’m about to do, but let me do it anyway…” – what kind of professionalism is that?

    at that point any response from weingarten would have be appropriate in my mind.

  6. Weingarten claims DC has “a school culture defined by education fads and a complete lack of trust,” and that it’s somehow different from that of NY. As someone in the system for all of Bloomberg’s tenure, I fail to see why.

    Weingarten is very good at noting what’s coming and embracing it early. On the other hand, death is coming too , but I’m not inviting it over for spaghetti anytime soon. I guess you need to be a union president to have that sort of foresight.

  7. The difference is that Congress has said that evaluations in D.C. aren’t negotiable. Play out the chess game and everything else flows from that horrible reality.

    Jeff, nobody claims that no principals will have the moral courage to not misuse test score growth. But to use Soros’ illustration, if I have eight bottles of water, and only one is poisoned, all are useless. Who will teach in an inner city school if you have a 15% chance PER YEAR of your career being damaged or destroyed through no fault of your own?

    Not every principal will try to fire every teacher just because a primitive statistical model says the teacher is ineffective, just because he or she teaches in an ineffective school. But remember, the principals will be in an even worse and more unfair situation. Real world, being indicted by a growth model as ineffective will be tantamount to a conviction in many schools. Otherwise, principals will be saying that the teachers were ineffective in meeting growth targets not because they were ineffective teachers, but because principals enforced ineffective policies. In most cases, it the administrtors above the principals that mandate policies that make t impossible to meet growth targets, but you can’t expect principals to say that out loud. And the administrators often establish policies that they don’t believe in because of the political constraints they face.

    Gosh, you all have to know that. Its a first rule of bureaucracy, “The feces rolls downhill.”

    Randi is going to continue to roll with the punches, and when these latest technocratic fads are thrown on the junkpile of the history of social engineering, she’ll be there for the unlovely but necessary task of keeping the systems from crashing.

  8. The only sensible defense teachers have during this “crazy” time is to apply only in affluent, high-scoring districts. If that’s not possible, they should consider working in a private or parochial school until a public school position opens up. Another possibility is to retrain to be a speech therapist or something else where the need is so great that the teacher will be treated with gratitude and respect.

    During my career I was more than happy to work with the children who needed me most, but I’m sorry to say that I wouldn’t do it today. Even a teacher has a right to self-preservation.

  9. I agree, Linda. I made the decision a long time ago that I would be a career NYC teacher, working in one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city. Now, I regret it. For the most part, my students do well on the state exams. A few years ago, however, several of my students bombed the ELA. I had zero support that year, we had (and still have) NO curriculum, and requests from help from the coach and lead teacher went unanswered (I had a new baby at home and grappling with the lack of curriculum and texts made things MUCH harder.) Some random person who had never set foot in my classroom all but said it was a shame I couldn’t be fired (and this same person blew sunshine up my rear a year later when my kids’ gains were among the highest in the city- oh, the irony). I am going to be doing a lot more test prep, and I already do quite a bit.

    Jeff, is there any evidences that abuses would NOT become widespread? And there are plenty of ways for principals to stack the deck against teachers- giving them the most challenging students, for examples. Not providing support, as I described above. (After all, the principal is supposed to be the instructional leader, despite being recast by Klein, Rhee etc as a CEO.)

  10. Trixie, there is good news today. See Valerie Strauss (Washington Post) article on a letter written to President Obama by the National Council of Christian Churches. As I’ve said many times before, the American people will not put up with this teacher-bashing and other nonsense for very long. In the meantime, I suggest you protect yourself by doing your own thorough evaluation of each child in the fall and again in the spring so you can prove progress. If possible, have another teacher help with the testing and keep careful records. Involve the parents because they make good witnesses. Once teachers are dismissed on the basis of low test scores, I predict many will contest it in courts of law. Most testing experts will support teachers.

    Hang in there!


  11. I dont’ understand why a principal would want to fire a good teacher. If their job is also based on the school’s performance, wouldn’t they do everything they can to keep them?

  12. Cindy Says:
    June 21st, 2010 at 10:18 am
    I dont’ understand why a principal would want to fire a good teacher.

    I’ve seen principals do this. It is because the principal is incompetent, petty, and human.

  13. Cindy, I would like to answer your question based on my own experiences:

    First of all I believe that in most schools in our country, the teachers are accountable to the parents. Parents (and other teachers) know who the ineffective teachers are and these people are often “counseled out” during the first five years of employment. They are usually listed as “resignations” and not “terminations” because teachers are contracted workers whose contracts are not renewed at the end of the year. They are seldom “fired.”

    As an example of the above, my younger son once had a very weak newly-hired teacher. By the end of September about ten parents (myself included) pulled their children out of the class. By October the teacher resigned. From my experience, middle-class parents are very good at making their displeasure known when a teacher is ineffective. The administration is often forced to respond to the complaints of these parents.

    Now let’s go to a very low-income school in an “inner-city.” In this school (Think Central Falls, RI) almost all the children are below grade level. The principal might be under tremendous pressure to fire some or all of the teachers. It will be extremely tempting for her to get rid of the outspoken teachers, the expensive ones, and the ones that she simply does not like. The parents at such a school are likely to be uninvolved so the principal knows she can get rid of her least favorite teachers without anyone putting up much of a fuss. Because almost all the children have low test scores, it isn’t clear who the weak teachers are.

    This is basically what happened at the school where I last taught. The principal had to transfer one teacher out of her school so she chose the union representative who “made waves.” This is the very reason that teachers were given “due process” in the first place. Teaching is a very political job.

    I don’t know if I’ve made my point clear, but in a low-achieving school most of the students in most of the classes have similar test scores so it might not be easy to select the weakest teachers. In this case the principal might find it easier to target the people she doesn’t like. In my experience, that’s what happens.

    No one wants a weak teacher in the classroom. After all, teachers are parents too! All we want is a fair evaluation process, for all teachers, but especially for the teachers of the poor and the disabled.

  14. Linda: Good response. I think many people in the general public assume that principals automatically can identify the “good” teachers and are motivated to fire only the “bad” teachers. In my experience, this is far from the truth. Not only is it difficult for principals (who often observe an individual teacher for only one or two periods each year) to determine who the high-performing teachers are, but principals are people, and their judgments are often influenced by personal likes and dislikes, and which teachers make life easier (or harder) for the principal.

  15. “First of all I believe that in most schools in our country, the teachers are accountable to the parents.”

    Yeah, that’s right… every parent who has a child stuck in a failing school has the teachers of that school answering to them?

    I’ve got some bridge I’d like to sell you if you really believe that statement you wrote…on second thought, how about some Lehman Brothers IPO?

  16. If you reread my post, you will see that I based my comments on my own experiences.

    My sons were never “stuck in a failing school.” Do you know why? Because my husband and I did not allow that to happen. I do not know of a SINGLE friend or relative who has a child “stuck in a failing school.” I am referring to middle-income people. Even my cousin who sent her children to a one-room schoolhouse in Long Island told me how the parents got together and forced out a teacher that did not meet their standards. According to Education Week the majority of American parents are very satisfied with their child’s own school. I doubt we’d get this statistic if parents felt powerless.

    Do you want to know the “secret” that many parents have? We are involved in our children’s schooling and would not allow them to attend a failing school under any circumstances! If it happens, we make changes. Hey, that’s what America is all about! Many of us still see it as the land of opportunity. I know I do.

    Are there children stuck in failing schools? Yes, and we need to do our best to help those children to get the education that they deserve but it can’t be accomplished by scapegoating teachers. This is a complex social problem that we all share. Basically the problem is this: How do we help children whose parents are not advocating for them?

  17. I wonder if a school staffed with only teachers that the principal liked would be more effective than one staffed with teachers who didn’t have a good rapport with the principal. Obviously I don’t have your teaching experience, so i’m interested in what you think Linda, Ed.

    In most industries it’s assumed that most employees will get along with their boss.

  18. Cindy, I do agree that it’s important for teachers and principal to work well together. I had some excellent principals during my long career. The best ones knew how to create a collegial working environment where almost everyone worked well together. You are right, this is very conducive to an optimal learning environment for the children.

    In my opinion, teachers are different from emloyees in most industries because teachers are the people who provide the primary service of a school. A teacher is to the school what a doctor is to the hospital or a lawyer is to the law firm. In all these cases, management has the responsibility for facilitating the work of the professionals who provide the primary service. An excellent administrator supports a teacher in the work that she does. I always felt that I was at my very best when I enjoyed the support of a skillful principal. Many people do not see the teacher as the primary professional in the school and that is why the expertise of teachers is often ignored. Look at it this way: if you have a very small school, all you need are teachers and students. That’s all that is required to have a school.

    The position of “principal” started out as “principal teacher” and is still considered as such in some countries. It’s unfortunate that the relationship between teacher and principal has turned into one of labor/management in the United States. This adversarial relationship has been very detrimental to students. I always viewed my principal as a head teacher and instructional leader and never saw him or her as “the boss.” To me, that implied a relationship that was less than professional.

  19. So the logical next question is, does having a union ameliorate or inhibit the the labor/management relationship?

  20. When teachers started the National Education Association, it was a professional association. The goal was for members to make decisions about curriculum, instruction and entry into the profession (similar to the American Medical Association). However, legislative bodies would only allow this organization (and subsequent ones) to bargain for working conditions. Thus the organization became a labor union. In my opinion, teachers’ unions have inhibited labor/management relationships in the same way that management has. This adversarial relationship is not beneficial to students. On the other hand, teachers would be at the mercy of management without representation. During this recession we are reminded of what happened to teachers when they had no unions.

    Personally I’m hoping to see the unions evolve into the professional organizations that they were intended to be. In this way teachers would “own” the profession in the same way that college professors do. Principals would once again be “head teachers” and be part of the faculty in the same way that the chairman of the English department at a college is. Each school would have a governing body of teachers similar to the governance used in higher education. Once teachers make the decisions about who gains entry into the profession and who gains tenure, I think we’ll have fewer ineffective teachers. Also, with full decision-making status, teaching will become completely professional and that will make it more appealing to a larger and more talented pool of perspective candidates.

    Teaching is not yet a full profession but I believe it will be so in the near future.

  21. I totally agree. My question is how do we get there? From my perspective the public system is too dysfuncational and broken to ever get to what you’re describing. I believe that charters hold greater promise to redesign school management. It’s a shame that more charters haven’t had the vision to do so!

  22. Yes, I agree that charters can lead us there but only if they are organized and run by teachers. I am very much opposed to profit-making charters, as I believe they will lead us to a Wall Street type fiasco. The public schools, charter or traditional, belong to the American people and must remain so.

    In my opinion, where we go from here depends on the economy. As long as it stays as it is, teachers will be at the mercy of those who want to force the business model on schools. However, when the economy improves, I predict there will be a huge teacher shortage as the baby boomer women retire and there is no one to take their places. At that point, prospective teachers will be in a position to bargain for what they want and I’m hoping that will be full professional status.

  23. What do you think is stopping teachers from taking over the “charter movement”? Obviously starting a school is a huge undertaking. If there were more support or organizations dedicated to helping teachers start school, would it help? I wonder if there is anyone who could play that role

    (PS: Thank you for your prompt and thoughtful responses. Too often comments on this blog are so snarky!)

  24. Thank you, Cindy. I appreciate your responses also. You sound like a person who wants to improve education for the sake of the children and not for any ulterior motive. Authentic reform will likely come from you and other people with pure and selfless motives. I think almost all of us agree that a good education for every child will ameliorate many of our social problems.

    I can’t speak for other teachers in answering your question: “What do you think is stopping teachers from taking over the charter school movement?” I have asked myself that question many times and can’t come up with an answer other than “I don’t know.” But I can tell you what I think:

    Teaching is a profession that can, and does, consume a person’s life. For many of us, it becomes our life. There is a reason why teachers were once required to quit when they got married. It was assumed that they could not carry out their responsibilities of teacher once they had a family.

    I loved being a teacher and spent most of my days teaching or thinking about teaching. Like many of my colleagues, I arrived at school at 7:00 in the morning and left around 4:00. After a break of a few hours, I’d start with lesson plans and correcting papers again and keep it up until I fell asleep. Weekends were consumed by “getting ready” for the next week. Summers were a time to “get ready” for the next year. Many of us would show up in August to start decorating our rooms for September. When my boys were little I handed over the tasks of bath and story time to my husband. My older son still remembers how I dragged him to Teacher’s Supplies on Saturday. Naturally now I regret it; not for my sons who turned out great, but for me, who missed out on so much time with them. Like a lot of “older and wiser” people, I now make up for it by enjoying every moment with my grandchildren. But, as you can see, I am still very passionate about education. I truly want to see every child provided with the opportunity to receive an excellent education.

    So I believe that most teachers are just too consumed by the job to start a charter school. As you say, it’s a huge undertaking. Still, why aren’t our association leaders taking this lead? How about university professors? I am perplexed, as you are. Perhaps the vast majority of teachers just don’t like the idea of charter schools. There is some indication that this might be the case. In my state, charters have earned a bad name because of “misappropriation of funds” or “budget problems.” That’s the sort of thing that would frighten teachers, who are generally a very honest group. Also, there is some indication that teachers are overworked in these schools. I’ve often wondered how teachers can plan their lessons if they work to 4:00 each day. I always felt that careful planning was the key to a successful school day. Planning takes lots of time and teachers need more, not less, time to do it. As an interesting aside, did you know that teachers in high-performing countries give their teachers much more time to plan than we do. American teachers spend more time with their students than teachers in most other developed countries.

    Still, I know quite a few teachers who ARE interested in starting a charter school. And, yes, I do think they would respond to support from organizations designed to help them. Maybe people like you will help them.

    Thanks for asking.

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