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Ed. Equality Project's 'Cheap Shot' at Unions

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American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten told me today she is “really pissed” about the anti-union bent of yesterday’s Education Equality Project event.

While the Democratic National Convention here in Denver is supposed to be about uniting the party, Weingarten said that yesterday’s “Ed Challenge for Change” forum, sponsored by the Democrats for Education Reform, and a press conference before promoting the Education Equality Project, was more about creating division than showing leadership on school reform.

Some big-city mayors, including Washington’s Adrian Fenty, and Newark’s Cory Booker, along with Washington schools’ Chancellor Michelle Rhee, took the unions (which they sometimes called “special interests”) to task for standing in the way of education reform. They were promoting their Education Equality Project, which demands more accountability and solutions from schools for lifting student achievement.

“It was a cheap shot,” Weingarten told me today, after a joint AFT-National Education Association luncheon honoring woman governors wrapped up. She added that union members weren’t even invited to join the conversation. By contrast, she pointed out that two rising Democratic stars—Govs. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Napolitano of Arizona—used their speeches at today’s luncheon to talk about the importance of partnerships between policymakers and teachers and their unions.

“This was a couple of mayors, and I very much appreciate their efforts. But they’re tearing down the people who they need to lift up,” Weingarten said.

Today’s two-hour luncheon, held at Mile Hile Station in downtown Denver, also honored outgoing Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. Washington’s Chris Gregoire and Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm, the only other female Democratic governors, did not attend.

--Michele McNeil

15 Comments

I just posted about this on my blog!!

Washinton City Paper posted on the event as well.

Why would a Dem sit on a panel like this?

I think the Democratic party is missing the mark and allowing mayors with a personal agenda to control the schools spilt. The Equality Project seems to want to use the teachers as scapegoats in achievement. Why not hold the Mayors accountable for not proving all schools with equal resources and staffing to teach in an environment conducive to learning. If Mayors want to run the schools then D.C Mayor should be sued by parents for not providing all schools with the same materials and resources. If you are going to measure all with the same tool then provide the same resources.

As a parent of 3 with 16 years experience in some of the best public schools in America, I am overjoyed that the Democratic party is FINALLY getting serious about teacher quality. Expecting teachers to be treated like professionals is NOT scapegoating. Teacher's job performance needs to be part of their job evaluation. And I don't mean just test scores. Peer-review, individual student improvement, principal evaluations, many things, in addition to test scores, can be part of the professional evaluation process. But currently there is no meaningful evaluation process for teachers once they achieve tenure. Seniority and degrees are all that matter for promotion and pay increases. I've only seen teachers removed from their job if they physically assault or molest a student. My children have had some wonderful teachers in the public schools, but they have had wasted years with incompetent, incapable teachers who were protected by tenure and are STILL 'teaching'. Our public schools cannot improve until teachers are treated like professionals.

I completely agree with publicschool parent. I will not support any additional tax funding for education until there is an easier way to get rid of incompetent teachers. The quality of the teacher makes a huge difference, especially for elementary kids. We must find a way to financially reward the good teachers, which will attract the best to stay in teaching, without giving an across the board pay raise for good and bad teachers alike.

Accountability does need to start with the Professional Educator. Accontability must be placed in the hands of the adult in ther classroom to teach, to meet the needs of their students; not to meet the needs of a union or school corporation. Professional Educators put their students needs as a top priority, nothing else. The unions may have worked at one time, but no longer. They are based soley on monetary means and student success is not at the top of their priority list. I am "really pissed" that Randi Weingarten is in my profession. Seems all she is looking for is an opportunity to complain and whine. If a professional in the business world is not performing and meeting the demands of thier job, what happens...they're fired. This needs to be the case of the professional educators. Stop standing behind a union so you don't have to perform at the highest expectation becuase you have "tenure". None of that spells student success.

I totally agree with mayors and the last two commentators here. More than 90% of problems in education come from incompetent teachers and unions are becoming the mediocrity's advocate. Unions are against differentiated payment for math and science teachers; and this is not in student's interest. As a result of these actions of unions there are too many teachers, majored in social sciences, teaching math or sciences; subjects that they hated most when themselves were students and probably they still hate. What results can you expect from this and how is this in students' interest? All unions care about is keeping the status quo, changing too little too slow, and of course spending too much money; while other nations spending much less per student as US does, and still their student are significantly more proficient than ours, especially in math and sciences. Unions pretend to represent teachers' best interest but, instead, they are harming education in this country tremendously. And in fact they are not looking out for kids, for the future of this country, but for their own big interests.

I agree with the Mayors. Yes, the teacher unions are more a part of the problem then the solution.
I have worked and/or visited schools in dozens of states and many countries. Both in my role as a Colorado State Board of Education member, and a staff person at the Education commission of the States.
The teacher unions were needed and did a good job starting decades ago. Yet, they hurt children, taxpayers, and themselves by not 'policing' their own ranks.

Even if bad teachers are only 10% of the total they diminish the trust, confidence, and respect that the public holds for all good teachers.

NEA and AFT contracts were designed on the UAW model, and thus teachers work to rules more like an assembly line worker than a true professional. European teacher unions weed out the bad teachers, as a union of proud professionals.

Until the public sees the bad teachers retrained or replaced they will increasingly turn against public education, and rightly so.

Teacher unions do a great job protecting incompetent teachers and the mediocre. Great teachers don't need a union.

My goodness! Ms. Randi is "really pissed." Perhaps she needs to understand that there are many educators who think the teachers' unions are a major hindrance to ed reform. A teacher for 27 years, I recently wrote an op-ed in which I claim that not only are the unions an impediment to reform, they are also in many cases anti-teacher. I'm sure Ms. Randi will be even more pissed should she read it. http://www.edspresso.com/2008/06/are_teachers_unions_antiteache.htm

As a professional educator, I perceive the issue of teacher compentency from a different perspective. Compentency should be evaluated often by varied means. A teacher should not be fired or retained by a single measure. The need for tenure should not be confused with compentency. Good superintendents will require building administrators to fairly evaluate teachers frequently. Good school boards will support superintendents who demand compentency and effectiveness from their teachers. Unfortunately, not all school systems operate under the umbrella of "good and right" and evaluate employees fairly.

As a teacher in a small, rural system in the southern part of the United States, I still have to be concerned about my job every day. Tenure does not guarantee me a job nor does effectiveness in the classroom. In my part of the world, if a school board member wants a family member to have a job they can pressure an administrator to get rid of a non-tenured teacher. I have seen it happen and it was not pretty. Two qualified teachers (new to the profession as of last Decemeber) were not hired in my system this year because of strings being pulled on behalf of other candidates. These two teachers had worked last semester as teacher's assistants and substitutes in hopes of gaining a positive evaluation which would help them be first in line for a full-time position this year. No luck! Even with two principals asking for them to be placed in their buildings, the "powers that be" assigned other "new" teachers to those positions. Now, my system is being labled as a "you gotta pull strings to get a job" system. So what does this say about compentency and the need for tenure? Just imagine what influence the community could have on the retention of an excellent teacher (test scores, evaluations, peer reveiw, etc.) if he/she failed the football quarterback or the star point guard!! We need tenure but we need administrators who don't hide behind it.

As a teacher for 14 years I have watched fads come and go. If you force me to use a program and then hold me accountable for my students improvement then you are handicapping me before I start. As a special ed. teacher with a masters degree I understand how to teach my students. I do not need some publisher trying to make money selling my district a program that doesn't work and forcing me to use it when I know what will work for my students.
Leave me alone and let me do my job and you will see the growth in my students.
Pat

All this talk about "incompetent teachers" being protected by unions misses the larger point. Incompetent administrators are the ones responsible for not removing non-performing teachers. The unions are there to make sure that due process is followed and that basic rights are protected. Sure, the process can be flawed, but incompetent teachers remain because of incompetent, unprofessional administrators. I am very tired of the unions being consistently assaulted for this single, narrow issue when inadequate funding, poor quality professional development and the lack of a systematic, national approach to authentic ed reform. A reform effort that is not based on the knee jerk reaction to test scores or the rampant cronyism of the current adminsistration, that is. Time to start involving the dedicated, professional educators that are most teachers in the conversation rather than poorly informed politicians with no real stake in the outcomes beyond re-election.

Its time for all of us, educators and all other stakeholders in the future of this country, to cease the blame game and look at hard cold facts. Let us begin by asking questions and using analysis that does not manipulate the truth to favor one's political philosophy. Your assignment is the following article by Lawrence Mishel and Richard Rothstein, both well regarded economists with the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisian, not-for-profit organization.

http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_viewpoints_schools_as_scapegoats

I take possibly a typical swing-voter position where the key issue is education:

If the Booker-Rhee Democrats win I'll go with them, otherwise I'll bide time with the Republicans. John McCain got quite a roar at Saddleback when he said bad teachers need to find another line of work.

Swing voters don't understand why concepts that they deal with every day in their own working lives (merit pay, lack of tenure) are such problems for teachers, especially when teachers cluster at the very bottom of those with graduate degrees in terms of their GRE scores, suggesting they're hardly the brightest bulbs as a group:

GRE scores by intended graduate discipline

Just for some teacher-firing context and how laughable the Weingarten position is:
John Stossel, How To Fire An Incompetent Teacher

PDF Teacher-Firing Graphic by Terry Colon

If the shoe fits.............

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