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Teacher Evaluation, School Closure Resolutions Pass

The American Federation of Teachers' delegates just passed two important resolutions, on teacher evaluation and school closures, so let's take each of them in turn.

Resolution five, you may recall, codifies the AFT's evaluation framework and affirms that test scores, used appropriately and as one of several measures, can be considered in a teacher's evaluation.

It was expected to generate quite a debate and possibly even amendment attempts, but in the end, it passed fairly swiftly. A whole slew of candidates, including the presidents of major affiliates, spoke in favor of the resolution: Mary Cathryn Ricker of St. Paul, Minn.; Keith Johnson of Detroit; Brenda Smith from Douglas County, Colo.; Fran Lawrence of Toledo, Ohio; and Tom Dooher of Minnesota.

Those supporting the resolution said that it would create avenues to define the profession. They also invoked arguments of the if-you're-not-at-the-table-you're-on-the-menu variety:

Colleen Callahan, a member of the Rhode Island state affiliate, had this to say: "There are too many people who would like us to be silent on this issue. ... Teachers want us to take the lead and support them on their professional growth and development."

Lee Rutledge, from Baltimore, spoke directly to the student-achievement question, noting that the resolution requires districts to employ several methods for gauging the impact of teaching on learning. "If we leave [evaluation] to the states and districts, they will do it on the cheap. They will do it based on one test score," he said.

Still, two delegates out of the Chicago Teachers Union lobbied the body not to pass it. "The reason you're hearing so much from us is this: Arne Duncan came from our city. We know what the nation has in store for it," said Carol Caref of the CTU. "In Chicago, school closings and turnarounds have been going on for years, and the reason this [newly elected] Chicago delegation is here is because finally people in our union started fighting against them. This resolution does not take a strong stand against the use of standardized tests for evaluating teachers, and it needs to."

Right after that passed, the body considered, and passed, a resolution "opposing the unjustified closure of neighborhood schools." This one directs the AFT to oppose school closures based on "invalid measures that disregard the impact of neighborhood schools in the life of a community and do not offer solutions to improve teaching practices and supports for students," among other things.

I'll be eager to follow the results of that resolution in time, especially as the rubber hits the road on the School Improvement Grants. But in any case, the most interesting part of the debate was the addition of a significant amendment that contains some pretty harsh words about standardized testing. The amendment says that the union will now "expose the for-profit motives of high-stakes testing companies and end the improper use of test results which diminishes real learning and is used to punish students, teachers, families, schools, and districts, rather than build better schools."

Sounds like something the NEA, always more of an opponent of testing than the AFT, would have passed. And take note, it was supported by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, among other parties.

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