Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weingarten shakes up the establishment

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten shook the education establishment last week when she announced to the national Press Club that AFT is launching its own massive school reform effort.

She laid out a new approach to teacher evaluation, saying that a strong teacher
development and evaluation system is crucial to improving teaching, and is
essential for a fair and efficient due process system. Weingarten said the union
is prepared to work with any district willing to take both steps: to create and
implement a real evaluation system, and to establish a due process system
aligned to it.
Critics immediately pounced on Weingarten's speech. From the right, union bashers decried her initiative as a fake reform aimed at appeasing reform advocates.

But even teachers reacted with concern when the news media portrayed her speech as an admission that teachers should be evaluated based on their students' test scores.

That was an oversimplification that undervalued Weingarten's effort. Leave it to an actual reformer, Diane Ravitch, to put Weingarten's speech in context and explain what it really means:

She laid out a far-ranging plan for evaluating teachers, which I suspect most
teachers would find fair and reasonable. Here is what she said:
First, states should set out clear professional standards that describe clearly what teachers should know and be able to do. Then, to determine whether teachers meet these standards, districts should use "multiple means of evaluation," including
classroom observations, self-evaluations, portfolio reviews, appraisal of lesson
plans," and a variety of other tools, including student test scores. But the
scores should be based on "valid and reliable assessments" and they should not
be derived "by comparing the scores of last year's students with the scores of
this year's students, but by assessing whether a teacher's students show real
growth while in his classroom."
In her speech, Weingarten gave a nod to the "value added" approach to evaluation that is favored by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama and Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek.

Thanks to efforts by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, our state's Race to the Top application describes multiple means of evaluation. Those include a value-added model as well as a Learning Environment Index that considers conditions outside a teacher's control, such as student poverty and school resources.

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