Thursday, July 07, 2011

Union Shifts Position on Teacher Evaluations

The union bosses of the longshoreman's union -- ooops, I mean the NEA -- finished their annual confab and my overwhelming take is that they're stuck in the past, without any recognition that the ground beneath them has massively and permanently shifted.  At least the AFT, under the leadership of Randi Weingarten, who does, in fact, have a few reform bones in her body (if you examine the x-ray really closely), appears to have a (grudging) recognition of the unions' true situation, but the NEA doesn't appear to. It is a wonderful thing for we reformers when our primary enemy is a lumbering, bureaucratic dinosaur, fighting the last war with outdated, thuggish tactics, and little real appreciation for the true state of the battlefield. That said, a large, wounded, enraged, self-pitying beast can still do a lot of harm...


(Forgive my sardonic tone about the NEA, but it disgusts me how a great and noble profession -- my parents were both briefly members of the teachers union in New Haven right around the time I was born -- has been corrupted and turned into little more than the longshoreman's union.)


Amidst its sea of cluelessness, the NEA got at least one thing very right -- endorsing President Obama (you see, I DO agree with the NEA on something!).  Here's the Center for Education Reform's comment on this:

NEA'S ENDORSEMENT FOR PRESIDENT.  NEA endorses Obama. Surprise, surprise, surprise. The Chicago Tribune tells us this is the earliest endorsement in a presidential – the union didn't even wait for the GOP to narrow its list of presidential contenders. Instead, it threw its support behind Obama and company despite disagreements over education policy, especially charter schools and high-stakes standardized testing. Most likely, the NEA is boxed in because of the clamoring nationwide for choice and high-quality education that means teacher evaluations that include student performance and the elimination of seniority and tenure. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel says that "the last two years of state legislatures and the mid-term elections were eye-opening, demonstrating what can happen when education legislation and decisions are left in the hands of politicians who do not support public schools." He should be looking at who supports students, not the brick-and-mortar buildings. These kids, whose lives depend on achieving an education good enough to earn them college acceptance or a good job out of high school, are the ones on the line as unions and politicians dance the dance of politics and persuasion. But, one Florida middle school teacher may have best summed up the endorsement: "All of the Republicans are worse on education than Obama. I'm not saying I agree with everything, but you have to pick the least evil, the one who will do the least harm." And, that's how to endorse for President? Who can do the least harm to teachers; no mention of children.

The NEA also got one thing a tiny bit right, though it is so lame that it can hardly be called a step in the right direction:

The policy calls for teacher practice, teacher collaboration within schools and student learning to be used in teacher evaluations. But for tests, only those shown to be "developmentally appropriate, scientifically valid and reliable for the purpose of measuring both student learning and a teacher's performance" should be used, the policy states, a bar that essentially excludes all existing tests, said Douglas N. Harris of the University of Wisconsin, a testing expert.

Mr. Eubanks said, "We believe that there are no tests ready to do that," though he added that with the new national Common Core curriculum standards being rolled out, new tests might be created that could meet the bar.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers' union, with 1.5 million members, has already stated that student test scores "based on valid assessments" should be a part of improved teacher evaluations.

But how much these new national policy statements will actually shift state and local union practice remains to be seen, experts said, assessing the work of both unions.

"At the national level, what they are proposing really lacks much specificity at all," said Sandi Jacobs, the vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington. "There really isn't much to hang your hat on. And with so many states and locals already out of the gate, it's hard to see what new proposals they are bringing to the table at this point."

Priscilla Savannah, a seventh-grade science teacher attending the convention from Shreveport, La., said, "It's already too late."

Ms. Savannah's state is about to start using teacher evaluations that give standardized test scores heavy weight. "It's going to take a major fight, and a lot of money, to change anything now," she said.

Here's the Center for Education Reform's take:

FLIP FLOP ON EVALUATIONS. The NEA just voted to allow student performance to be included in teacher evaluations. Is there a catch? You bet there is. At its annual conference over the 4th of July holiday, the union also proclaims that no current standardized test fits the bill to be included in the student performance part of a teacher evaluation. "N.E.A. is and always will be opposed to high-stakes, test-driven evaluations," said Becky Pringle, the secretary-treasurer of the union, addressing the banner-strung convention hall filled with the 8,200-member assembly that votes on union policy. Sandi Jacobs, vice-president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, dismisses the NEA proposal on teacher evaluation. "At the national level, what they are proposing really lacks much specificity at all. There really isn't much to hang your hat on. And with so many states and locals already out of the gate, it's hard to see what new proposals they are bringing to the table at this point." The evaluation-with-testing boat already left the harbor. Looks like the NEA came too late.


July 4, 2011

Union Shifts Position on Teacher Evaluations


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