Randi’s Catching a Wave

The Times had some kind words for Randi Weingarten yesterday in an editorial called “Reform and the Teachers’ Unions.”

It praises her and her union, the American Federation of Teachers, for having “wisely chosen to work with state legislatures and local school districts” in releasing “a plan for speeding up disciplinary hearings.” (See here.)

The Times calls this “a good starting point for more discussion.” And indeed it is. In fact, teacher training and evaluation is at the center of Race to the Top incentives and many states have worked with unions to break the “firewall” between evaluations and student performance. But, says the Times,

many members of her union are resistant to the idea of accountability systems, which they say can be far too easily manipulated.

That may be, but readers should read Weingarten’s January 12 speech, “A New Path Forward: Four Approaches to Quality Teaching and Better Schools,” to get a flavor for the politics of the thing.  She takes right out after the “Industrial Age model” of educating and says that NCLB “has made it worse, creating the equivalent of a factory—reducing the learning experience to a conveyor belt of rote prep sessions and multiple-choice tests.”  (So, the problem with NCLB is that it was too much like the model the teacher unions have been defending for these many years?)

There is the perfunctory “don’t get me wrong” sentence; Randi actually does believe in “high standards for students and teachers” and the need “to shine a light on the students and schools that have been left behind for too long.”

But – and that’s what she says:  “But in a global knowledge economy.…”

I suppose the speech is worth reading—and I do plan to do so—but  that “but” (and I would bet that this is the education-policy world’s most favorite conjunction—I’ve used it here seven times!) and that phrase immediately following it are usually a sign that we’re stepping back into squishy middle earth instead of moving toward real and effective accountability.  (These things are not so evident when you watch the video.)

We shall see.  If the devil is ever in the details, though, you’ll find him lurking in the weeds of teacher evaluation and discipline.

—Peter Meyer

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