Friday, March 02, 2007

More thoughts on Randi Weingarten and the teachers unions

I received this email from a friend who was a TFA corps member in Harlem not too long ago.  His friend is still there and, through him, got a copy of a letter Randi sent out a week ago to teachers in response to Bloomberg and Klein's reforms.  I'm sure you will be shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to hear that she hates the proposals and her letter is filled with vitriol and utter nonsense.  I'm tempted to go through it line by line, rebutting all the inaccuracies, as I did with that ridiculous NYT editorial on Sunday, but is it really necessary?  Any sensible person can recognize this for exactly what it is -- plus my friend does a nice good job of giving it the ripping it deserves:

My friend is a TFA corps member now teaching in Harlem.  Like yourself, he and I have discussed at great length the incredible new reforms recently revealed by our Chancellor.  Needless to say, we're all very excited about these plans and hopeful they will make a meaningful impact on the system.

To little surprise, Randi Weingarten doesn't share our enthusiasm.  I'm not sure if you've already come across this, but in a recent letter to the UFT members, Ms. Weingarten boldly criticizes Klein's initiative.  Here are a few (mind-boggling) excerpts:

  • "By now you know the mayor and chancellor are planning yet another top to bottom restructuring of the school system, designed to dismantle the bureaucracy and transfer all responsibility for educating children onto the shoulders of principals"
  • "[The plan] sets schools adrift, privatizes many essential services, cuts funds for successful schools, limits parent voice even more and strikes fear in the hearts of new educators.  In general, it appears to be an abdication of the DOE's responsibilities to its schools and to our children…"
  • "We are also concerned about the negative image the chancellor is again projecting about our members and his use of the reorganization and the tough-on-teachers routine to avoid responsibility and distract from the DOE's failure to address critical issues.  Take teacher quality.  More than a third of new teachers leave in their first three years.  Rather than working to support and retain the great new teachers we've recruited, the system is discouraging and frightening them with threats about tenure"

I'll spare the commentary on the quotes (and rest of the letter, which I've attached for you), as I'm sure the same thoughts are running through your head.

A couple points that need rebutting (I can't help myself):
A) Randi says that using student test scores to evaluate teachers "deters teachers from working with the most challenging students".  This is completely wrong -- in fact, given that teachers will be rewarded for GAINS in student achievement, the new system will, if anything, give teachers INCENTIVE to work with these students.  It's FAR easier to take a kid in the 20th percentile to the 40th percentile than one from the 65th percentile to the 85% percentile.
B) It's misleading to dismiss the "fair student funding formula" as a "neo-con" idea, as Randi claims.  While the Fordham Foundation originated the idea (I think), it's been embraced by a wide range of people and organizations such as EdTrust (see page 7 of this report: and the Center for American Progress (
C) Randi complains "about the negative image the chancellor is again projecting about our members", but there was nothing of the sort in Klein's written materials or speeches about the new reforms.  Indeed, he praised good teachers and highlighted their overwhelming importance when it comes to student achievement. 
He did, however, highlight and lament that there are too many lousy teachers and vowed to: a) set up systems to determine which teachers are good and which aren't; b) reward good teachers; c) not grant tenure to bad teachers; and d) remove the really bad teachers, even if they have tenure.  Isn't this what ANY good organization should do?
More broadly, to the extent that teachers have a negative image, it's due primarily to two things: a) the behavior of the union, which much more closely resembles that of, say, the longshoreman's union rather than a professional association like the American Bar Association (if Randi wants teachers to be treated and paid like professionals, a good start would be for the teachers union to start ACTING like a professional organization!); and b) every sensible person knows that there are WAY too many lousy teachers, which reflects badly on ALL teachers -- and especially the union that fights fiercely to protect even the very worst teachers.  If Randi really wants to improve the negative image of teachers, then she should EMBRACE the new reforms (which will happen on the day pigs fly and hell freezes over)...

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