Teachers Union Supports Member Evaluations Based on Test Scores

Union is also developing methods to streamline teacher disciplinary cases.

January 12, 2010, 1:30 PM

Jan. 12, 2010 -- American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten urged teachers today to support member evaluations linked to student achievement scores, a measure long opposed by many educators.

While Weingarten supports the use of test scores, she called for a teacher evaluation system that measures whether "a teacher's students show real growth" in the classroom, instead of simply comparing scores from one year to another.

The head of the 1.4 million-member AFT offered a harsh critique of the current teacher rating system, which she compared to "a football team watching game tape once the season is over."

"Let's think about that game tape for a minute," she said. "Coaches and players view it throughout the season and in preparation for every game. Why? To deconstruct and understand what's working and what isn't, so that necessarychanges can be made. The goal is constant improvement and, of course, winning."

The speech comes one week before the deadline for states to file applications for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top stimulus grant competition. In order to compete, states must be willing to evaluate teachers based on student test scores.

"Up until now, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has really had a corner on the market when it comes to discussing teacher evaluations," said Andrew Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education policy group in Washington, D.C. "Randi [Weingarten] is trying to create the opportunity to say that, 'No, unions have a big voice in this too.'"

Weingarten was also critical of the "fault lines in many labor-management relationships" exposed by the Race to the Top application process. "A program designed to put a premium on collaboration among stakeholders has, in too many instances, done just the opposite," said Weingarten, an attorney and former teacher who ran the New York City teachers union for a decade before taking over the national group last year.

In several states, such as Florida, Minnesota, Michigan and Louisiana, teachers have threatened to withhold support for their respective state's Race to the Top applications. The administration has placed a large emphasis on states gaining local support in order to compete and the lack of union backing could hurt a state's chance at the federal stimulus money.

Developing Protocol for Misconduct

Duncan, who was scheduled to attend Weingarten's speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., but backed out because of today's funeral for Vice President Joe Biden's mother, offered his support for Weingarten's call for better evaluations.

"Randi is really showing courage by raising these issues," Duncan said in a statement.

Although Weingarten outlined a detailed vision for teacher evaluations going forward, she stopped short of calling on states to link teacher pay to student achievement, as Duncan has called for in the past.

In addition, the AFT president also announced a new independent effort to develop protocol for handling allegations of teacher misconduct.

"Just as there is a need for due process when dealing with ineffective teaching, there is a need for due process in cases of alleged teacher misconduct," she said.

Weingarten made clear she has "zero tolerance" for teacher misconduct but noted "false allegations do happen, and they destroy much more than a teacher's livelihood. A false allegation can destroy a teacher's life."

Kenneth Feinberg, special master for Troubled Asset Relief Program executive compensation, has agreed to spearhead the effort to streamline disciplinary procedures.

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