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Improving Teaching: A Union's Leadership Speaks Out

For teachers tired of having those outside the classroom wax philosophical about what happens inside the classroom (see Teacher blogger Anthony Mullen's recent blog post), this might be of interest. United Teachers Los Angeles Union president A.J. Duffy, and vice presidents Julie Washington and Gregg Solkovits wrote an opinion piece that appears in today's Los Angeles Times on how to improve the profession from those who know first-hand.

The op ed appears against the backdrop of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent signing of an education reform bill that ties student testing data to teacher performance, thus allowing the state to compete for Race to the Top funds.

Duffy, Washington, and Solkovits stress professional guidance over review. "If we truly want to have an impact on teaching and learning, more effective evaluations alone aren't enough. Teachers need better training programs, better professional development and additional peer support."

They call for an overhaul of teacher and administrator evaluations, suggesting it should be a two-way street: Teachers should have the opportunity to evaluate their administrators. Teacher evaluations need reform, but they write, "the process must include a plan to provide the support and resources an educator may need in order to improve."

Citing the local peer review program that the union helped establish in 1999, Duffy, Washington, and Solkovits suggest instituting a mandate that would force struggling teachers to receive help from their best-performing peers.

The authors also call for more professional development support; a say in the hiring of new colleagues; and a revamping of teacher training programs, particularly in difficult situations, like student discipline and parent-teacher interactions.

"If we use this moment as the chance to look at the big picture and make system-wide changes, we will be helping not only those students who are in our classrooms now, but generations of students to come," they conclude.

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