The HFT Is All About Professional Growth… Not

(This post also appears on Rick Hess Straight Up.)

I’m always surprised at how often teacher unions claiming to be agents of professionalism reflexively slash at measures (like responsibility for results and differentiated pay) that are part and parcel of most professions. Even so, it’s not every day that you see a union savaging an effort to promote professional growth as an anti-teacher conspiracy. Welcome to Houston Independent School District, where HISD superintendent Terry Grier is being mauled by the Houston Federation of Teachers… for proposing that principals work with all of their teachers to craft professional growth plans.

Yeah, I’m scratching my head too. What’s got the HFT really worked up is Grier’s proposal for “individual professional development plans.” Grier wrote to teachers last week:

“Last spring, we surveyed you to determine if you are getting the kind of support that you need to do your best work. We asked whether you receive accurate, useful feedback on your performance in the classroom, and whether your professional development is helping you meet the needs of your students. More than 6,000 of you responded, and the answer was a resounding ‘no.’

We heard you and we took action. This summer, we developed a process to ensure that you have regular conversations with your principal or appraiser about your professional goals…Your principal is now accountable for collaborating with you on your individual professional development plan (IPDP). This plan will clearly spell out your goals for the year and how your principal will help you meet them… I want to emphasize in no uncertain terms that the IPDP is not an appraisal document and it is not a “Teacher in Need of Assistance” Plan… All teachers will develop an IPDP in collaboration with their school leaders. The IPDP is designed to provide you with an opportunity to reflect on your professional goals, identify concrete steps you can take to achieve those goals, and ensure that your principal gives you the support you need to be an effective teacher.”

Did the HFT welcome the news that, in light of educator feedback, HISD principals will be working with teachers to support their professional growth? Not so much. Instead, it has blasted out under the headline “Urgent News….” a letter with the instructions, “PASS to all Campus Members or concerned Teachers.” The letter from HFT representative Kimbal Urrutia read:

“Don’t you just love this new bureaucratic speak, ‘conversations’? … I am getting many questions about ‘Conversations’ scheduled with appraisers on the IPDP. Here is my stock answer on why these are being called:

Because Dear One, it is a thinly disguised growth plan for every teacher in the district and they are supposed to be ‘collaborative.’ Put down what you want on it ahead of time, admitting to no weaknesses in your performance. DO NOT let TAKS or EVASS or VALUE ADDED appear in the “assess/impact” column. If they insists [sic] on putting things you do not agree with or direct you to sign that you agree to part of the evaluation being EVASS, TAKS, or Value Added, then sign the applicable line and give them a copy (Keep a copy and send one to us) of the form we sent out…

Many of you have wonderful principals. But they will be directed to attend ‘file reviews’ in the spring and bring all this, and the EVASS scores. They will be directed to recommend non-renewal of teachers based on EVASS (Value added), and then this little document will be added to the file as documentation to support termination. Do you want a document that they can point to and say, ‘See, the teacher even admitted they were weak in this area'[?]”

Hmmm…so much for professional growth. I can only imagine how the HFT would have responded if Grier had suggested, you know, an appraisal. And the AFT wonders why some of us are skeptical of its claims to be a champion of teacher “professionalism?”

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