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Resolution Outlines AFT's New Accountability Push

Los Angeles

American Federation of Teachers delegates have approved a resolution outlining the union's new stance on school accountability systems. 

The resolution seeks to replace a "disastrous shame-and-blame/test-and-punish" accountability system with a "support and improve" system. Among other statements, the resolution says that value-added measures and student-growth percentiles are "fundamentally flawed," that the past two decades of accountability have wreaked havoc on teaching, and that school turnaround programs "substitute test scores for teacher and student supports." 

A new approach, the union says, should identify schools needing assistance by "qualitative observation" as well as other multiple measures. Policymakers and administrators should be held accountable for giving schools enough funding and distributing it wisely, it says.

"It is time that parents know you can't send your kids to school tired and sleepy, that governments know that they need glasses. If we don't bring everyone in, they will continue to bring up different policies; [you will get] charter schools here, an ed-achievement authority there," said a delegate from Detroit. "It's time to work with public schools and teachers and decisionmakers so we can all stand proud to say we're educating students today." 

And here's what Louis Malfaro of Austin, the secretary-treasurer of AFT-Texas, had to say:

"Standards. Accountability. How is it that these have become dirty words to our profession? It's because other people are defining them. This resolution is nothing short of a total reboot of educational accountability." 

Of particular note, the union wants to maintain the disaggregated test-score reporting of the No Child Left Behind Act, but no longer require the testing of every student in grades 3-8 every year, as that law now stipulates. It says a sampling methodology should be used instead. (That would make NCLB testing similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.) 

The resolution isn't clear on the point at which districts should intervene in schools needing help, or what the remedies would look like. 

The resolution is essentially a fleshing-out of the system  that AFT President Randi Weingarten outlined in the Huffington Post with Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who apparently helped design it. (That's notable in part because at this same convention, the AFT passed a resolution that was pretty harsh about the edTPA performance-based teacher-licensing exam, which Darling-Hammond also helped craft.) 

The AFT has advocated changes to accountability systems for about a decade now. But the failure of Congress to rewrite the NCLB law (the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) means that the push is still ongoing. Meanwhile, this resolution was the top one reported out of the union's educational issues committee—even before the much-anticipated common-core resolution—which signals that it's a priority for the AFT's most powerful voting bloc, Unity.

Elsewhere, the AFT is already on record as disliking the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top initiative and its School Improvement Grants program (the latter was the impetus behind a major blow-up between teachers and management in Central Falls, R.I.). 

And what about the NCLB waivers? Weingarten told me some time back that she finds those waivers, granted by the Education Department, still too test-fixated. 

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