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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Randi Weingarten's Misguided Lament

I dont get it. I really dont.

Effective educators are led - and rely on - the UFT and NYSUT to defend their rights at U-rating appeals and in 3020-a, and then are stunned when the Reps (UFT) and Attorneys (NYSUT) dont deliver.

We all remember the many times that a member questioned this loyalty when he/she tried to call the representative/Attorney to discuss a hearing, find out what to do after getting the result of 3020-a and it was not a good one....and there was no answer from 52 Broadway, etc., etc. At the bottom of the re-posted article below, retired UFT member Norm Scott cites the recent Delegate Assembly for not allowing a vote on teacher evaluations. In 2008, the result of the arbitration on Article 21G was that the right to grieve material that was unfair or false in a personnel file was taken away from members, but no other right. What other right would be more important than to grieve false claims?
Randi Weingarten in Washington DC

Drop-out Nation: "From where Weingarten sits, teachers with whom she agrees believe in doing more than just be consumed with” testing, competition and measurement rather than on teaching and on sustaining and scaling what works” — or what she really means, holding those in education accountable for performance, expanding school choice, and using objectively-measured student achievement data in providing more-honest and valuable evaluations of teacher performance." From Betsy Combier: NYC educators and UFT members do not like Randi Weingarten.

Randi Weingarten’s Misguided Lament (or Why the Voices of Teachers Aren’t the Only Ones that Matter)

December 29, 2012
A conceit among education traditionalists is the idea that the “voices of teachers” are the most-important — and, in many cases, the only ones that matter — when it comes to structuring American public education. Partly based on the belief that supposed experts in education (including principals and superintendents) should be the ones to make decisions in schools and districts, as well as driven by the efforts of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates to maintain their declining influence (as well as maintain the grand bargain of sorts between the unions and its members that drive NEA and AFT revenues), traditionalists tend to argue that the perspectives of teachers are the ones that matter most. So teachers should be the lead decision-makers in education (and in the minds of the most-radical, the only people who should make decisions at all).

The latest version of this argument came courtesy of AFT President Randi Weingarten, in an e-mail response to a piece by Thomas B. Fordham Institute research czar Michael Petrilli naming Karen Lewis, the notorious and tragedy-politicizing head of the union’s notoriously bellicose Chicago affiliate, as “Education Person of the Year” for rallying the more-radical of traditionalist forces to her side during the union’s strike action earlier this year. Taking a bit of offense at Petrilli’s statement that reformers should use Lewis’ challenge as an opportunity to win teachers over to systemic reform, Weingarten declares that Petrilli and others should “change course” and “try listening to what Karen and the Chicago educators are saying about how to improve schools”. Why? From where Weingarten sits, teachers with whom she agrees believe in doing more than just be consumed with” testing, competition and measurement rather than on teaching and on sustaining and scaling what works” — or what she really means, holding those in education accountable for performance, expanding school choice, and using objectively-measured student achievement data in providing more-honest and valuable evaluations of teacher performance.

Weingarten continued railing against systemic reform isn’t all that surprising. After all, the AFT (along with the NEA) have lost influence because accountability, choice, and teacher quality reform efforts continue to shine light on the failed policies and practices they defend. But Weingarten’s argument that reformers should listen to teachers is based on the false notion that the school reform movement pays instructors no mind. More importantly, her view is driven by a conceit about the expertise of teachers that isn’t even close to reality.

Here’s the thing: Reformers listen to teachers all the time. In fact, a driving force of the school reform effort is the belief, based on three decades of data, that high-quality teaching is the most-critical aspect of building the cultures of genius that that helps all kids succeed in school and life. Making teachers real players in shaping what happens in schools and districts is as critical to doing that work as overhauling teacher evaluations and launching performance-based pay plans. Considering that the vanguard of the movement includes such teacher-driven outfits as Teach For America, Teach Plus, and TNTP — as well as organizations such as Educators 4 Excellence (which succeeded in winning seats on the governance board of the AFT’s Los Angeles affiliate) — reformers give plenty of regard to the views of teachers, especially those who are dissatisfied with how their views are represented by NEA and AFT affiliates. This isn’t to say that reformers have always done a good job in reaching out to teachers incorporating those perspectives; the Chicago strike made this clear. But to say that reformers have ignored (or even demonized) teachers, especially when one looks at the record, is to be intellectually and factually dishonest.

Certainly reformers may not pay as much mind to the views of NEA and AFT leaders as Weingarten and her allies may like. But one can actually ask this question: Why should they? After all, Weingarten and her colleagues have shown through their deeds that they are more-concerned with the concerns of the dwindling numbers of Baby Boomers within the rank-and-file (as well as the perspectives of retired teachers who no longer work in classrooms) than with addressing the concerns of younger, more reform-minded teachers who now make up the majority of teachers in classrooms. It is hard to take Weingarten’s arguments about “listening” to teachers seriously when her own union continues to defend quality-blind seniority-based policies such as Last In-First Out layoff rules (which protect longtime veterans at the expense of younger teachers in the ranks), and affiliates such as that in New York City structure voting rules to ensure that retirees and Baby Boomers are better-represented in leadership than younger teachers. The fact that the NEA and AFT also ignores those longtime veterans who also want to revamp and ditch aspects of traditional teacher compensation — and that the two unions fight vigorously to keep in place laws that force teachers to either join NEA or AFT locals, or pay union dues to them no matter their preference — also belie claims about wanting reformers to listen to the views of teachers. If anything, reformers may do a better job in attending to the views of teachers than the old-school unions that supposedly do the job.

As with the oft-rehashed posturing by traditionalists that reformers “bash” and “demonize” teachers, the claim that reformers don’t listen to teachers is based on the unwillingness of traditionalists to admit these facts: That there are laggard instructors in our classrooms who shouldn’t be there. That America’s ed schools are doing an abysmal job of recruiting and training aspiring teachers. That the traditional teacher compensation system, focused on rewarding teachers based on seniority and degree attainment, is ineffective in spurring student achievement fails to reward good-to-great teachers and keeps laggards in classrooms to continue educational malpractice. And that keeping things as they are is too costly for students, families, high-quality teachers and taxpayers alike.

Meanwhile Weingarten’s statement fails to keep this important matter in mind: The perspectives of teachers aren’t the only ones that matter — or even the most-important — when it comes to overhauling American public education.

For one, there is the simple fact that American public education is a collection of systems financed by taxpayers and voters of all types. These taxpayers, who are also the customers and clients of schools and districts, have the right to play roles in how districts and schools serve their children. This includes companies, who are dependent on districts and schools to provide high-quality education to the men and women who will run their C-suites and staff their operations, as well as venture capitalists and other investors who are looking to back the next generation of entrepreneurs and builders of economies. It also includes governors, legislators, mayors, and city councilmembers, whose long-term fiscal prospects in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy is dependent on highly-educated young men and women.

Most of all, it includes families, whose children they love attend schools and districts, and whose learning they entrust to teachers and school leaders. The views of these mothers, fathers, and caregivers — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — have long been condescended and ignored by American public education. But considering the failure of schools and districts to provide children with high-quality education, families (and others) can and should no longer just leave education decision-making in the hands of others. They must become active players in shaping education for their children, ask tough, thoughtful questions about what is being taught in classrooms, demand information on the quality of the teachers working in classrooms, and play stronger roles in shaping the overhauls of traditional district schools (and in the operations of charter schools serving their kids).

Sure, the views of teachers are important. But the views of those who pay the bills and entrust the futures of their children to districts and schools are even more important. Considering that districts and schools have been their children (and taxpayers) for at least two generations, simply trusting teachers just isn’t good enough. Which, in turn, hits upon another reality: That not every view of every teacher is worthy of consideration.

For one, the view that the views of teachers matter most is based on the false notion that they have acquired expertise that those outside of education don’t have. This ignores the reality that teachers often don’t really know what their colleagues do because they often work as solo practitioners in classrooms with little interaction with colleagues outside of teachers’ lounges. The fact that many teachers come into the profession with little in the way of subject-matter competency and training in classroom instructional methods — a fault that lies largely with the failures of the nation’s university schools of education (who are aided and abetted by the NEA and AFT) — also means that not every teacher has the expertise needed to offer a thoughtful view on policies and practices.

Certainly as famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman has noted in Thinking, Fast and Slow, those with hands-on knowledge are likely to have a more-comprehensive view on what can and cannot work. But Kahneman also points out that expertise can only be gained in stable, predictable environments where professionals can learn from prolonged practice and lots of feedback. Those aren’t the circumstances in which many teachers — especially those working in massive failure mills such as Detroit and Philadelphia — are toiling; so it is unlikely that many teachers have acquired enough expertise in the first place. And considering the low-quality of subjective classroom observations that are the norm for traditional teacher evaluation systems, the state laws and collective bargaining agreements governing teacher performance management discourage school leaders from providing more-ample feedback, and that the use of objective student test score growth data is just coming into play, few teachers have gotten the kind of feedback needed to build such expertise in the first place.

(This fact, by the way, explains why the peer review method of evaluation touted by traditionalists is not an effective alternative to performance-based measurements based on objective student test score data. Teachers are more-likely to base their evaluation of peers on their own subjective biases, giving thumbs up to those who fit their view of what teaching should be than on whether they are actually effective in improving student achievement. It is also why subjective classroom observations by school leaders also tend to be ineffective.)

These facts hit upon a much more important point: The “experts” in education (including many teachers) really don’t know what they are doing. After all, it is the decision by experts to push ability-tracking and the comprehensive that have led to the low-quality teaching and curricula to poor and minority students that is a culprit behind the nation’s education crisis. It is the work of experts that has led to such practices as the overuse of suspensions and expulsions, and the overdiagnosis of learning disabilities (especially among young black men, whose reading deficiencies are often diagnosed as being special ed problems). And thanks to experts, we have a system of teacher training that, as former Teachers College President Arthur Levine and others have pointed out, has been ineffective in recruiting and preparing aspiring teachers for classrooms.

An over-dependence on experts who aren’t does not make for smart reform. This isn’t to say that the perspectives of high-quality teachers aren’t critical in advancing the overhaul of American public education. It is. The key is listening to good-and-great teachers (as well as school leaders) who bring strong mastery of their profession to the table.

In fact, one of the dirty secrets in education is that those very voices are the ones that are often marginalized within cultures of mediocrity and failure that are often the norm in districts and schools, thanks to policies that fail to reward and recognize good-and-great teaching, place bureaucratic obstacles to fostering this work among colleagues, and protect laggards from losing their jobs. The plights of legendary math teacher Jaime Escalante, famed instructor John Taylor Gatto, are just the most-visible examples of what happens when good and great teachers either shine too brightly, or challenge the views of laggard teachers and school leaders who would rather hide in plain sight.

This is why overhauling how we evaluate and compensate teachers, as well as revamping how we recruit and train school leaders, is so important. Performance-based evaluations based on value-added analysis of objective school data allows for districts and schools to recognize and reward those teachers who are doing good and great work. This, in turn, helps districts retain those teachers and, along with other efforts, build cultures of genius that make life better for children and teachers alike. It is why more districts should copy comprehensive evaluation systems such as D.C. Public Schools’ pioneering IMPACT regime, as well as use the lessons about the importance of high-quality feedback and performance management in evaluating principals and other school leaders. And when we bring strong school leaders into buildings — and give them the power to hire, fire, and reward teachers — we are helping good and great teachers gain the backing they need to do their best for our kids.

There is no question that everyone — including reformers — should pay attention to the perspective of teachers who work in our classrooms. But the views of our good-and-great teachers should matter more than those of colleagues who don’t make the grade. More importantly, the views of teachers cannot be the only ones that predominate in education decision-making. We need everyone to play their part in transforming our super-clusters of failure into systems fit for the futures of our children.

A NYC educator comments:

Teachers in the classroom today have very little voice. I know, have seen (Ithrough mentoring and intervisitations) and work(ed) with great teachers. I have also seen a handful of poor teachers (most of whom move on). The great teachers have gone through teacher education institutes for five to six years or more. They come in new and grow as does anyone in any profession. I have had little concern for the Teaching Fellows, usually older people who change career. Most of them want to teach and find their niche as a second profession. They become good to great teachers. Those who come in through TFA are another story by and large. They usually have another agenda going and it is not to be a career teacher. I have not had the occasion to work with E4E folks, but was not very impressed with their thinking in conversations recently at a rally in City Hall Park. All of us, veterans and newbies, have had our creative voices silenced with the advent of the common core, poorly written text books, scripted learning materials and test prep. The "art of teaching" is barely seen these days. That is demoralizing for teachers who have been around for 25 years and for those who come in with a fresh sense of enthusiasm and a lot to offer children.

Now as to administrators: I have only seen a handful in my 30 years of teaching (20 in the NYC public school system) who were/are great or good even. I can count on one hand the excellent administrators I have met (and I have been in a lot of schools). They were usually the ones who stayed in the classroom for 20-30 years and worked their way up. They were the ones who didn't forget what it was like to be in a classroom. They were the ones who gave support and advice, but also gave you space to teach and grow in the profession without dictating your every move Today most administrators have either not been in a classroom or were in and out within a few years. They walk into classrooms and do not have a clue as to what they are observing, let alone know how to help or rate a teacher. They use pat evaluation forms for everyone, often just reiterating what they saw. Then they try to give suggestions which are not helpful or useful. Randi Weingarten was barely in a classroom She probably couldn't spot a great teacher or a potentially great teacher if she tried.

In order to lure people back to teaching and administration- people who are experts and want to be in the field - the system, the stakeholders have to make it worthwhile to come in. Salaries and benefits that respect the professionals we are will be enticing; that goes without saying. but respect for what well trained teachers do, how they relate to their students (not their clients) and allowing the art form to flourish is what will make people want to become educators again.

I find this article demeaning to teachers as individuals and to the profession. I am all for a relationship with the parents and community, but if parents can't "trust" their children to those who are educating their children then we have a problem. Education is not a business (although the "reformers" would have us believe this).Education is a social service that provides children with an academic, artistic and social/emotional experience. Children grow and learn at various rates. They are human beings, not products that we (teachers) make and turn out like cars on a production line. We do need to be listened to by the society at large who has ignored many of the needs of its people and ultimately its children by allowing poverty and segregation to continue to exist; denied or delayed assistance to those most needy. There have been erroneous errors and mistakes, but by and large teachers have the best interests of their students in their hearts. We are often not heard when we ask for money for supplies and books, smaller class sizes for our learners and needed interventions; learning environments that are child and parent friendly and enough staff to relate to the needs of every child.

If students are happy, flourishing at his/her own pace and wants to go to school each day, then whatever term you want to label a teacher "good" or great" (we are individuals to with various talents) we are doing our job, the job we trained for and wanted to do. We do know what we are doing and what we want - just listen to instead of bashing us

From retired teacher Norm Scott:

There is much irony in this article. That groups like E4E which bans any dissenting view gives teachers more of a voice. And Randi arguing for teacher voice when she and her crew deny rank and file teacher voices all the time -- like at the recent Del Ass where they argued against allowing teachers to vote on any eval agree even though it is a contract item and required by UFT by-laws.