iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Randi Weingarten

GET UPDATES FROM Randi Weingarten

Rolling Up Our Sleeves to Improve Teacher Quality

Posted: 07/19/11 03:00 PM ET

This post was co-written by Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

"The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms."


-- From PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful? -- Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV) (OECD 2010), released with 2009 international math, science and reading test results that showed American 15-year-olds trailing their peers in many developed nations.

We believe that governors in several states have taken a misguided approach to teacher quality -- they're enacting legislation that would give teachers much less, or no, input into how they are evaluated, how to support or dismiss struggling teachers, and how to make other changes that improve student achievement. In essence, they want teachers mostly to be seen and not heard. That's not the route to great teaching and learning.

Our organizations, the American Association of School Administrators and the American Federation of Teachers, which admittedly are sometimes at odds over issues that affect the teacher workforce, have taken a different approach. We've launched a groundbreaking partnership based on our commitment to creating a skilled teacher workforce for a knowledge-based economy.

The broad goal of our partnership is to create world-class school systems that systematically recruit, develop and retain exceptional educators. As a first step, we have adopted a framework to continuously improve the nation's teaching force, revamp teacher development and evaluation systems, and provide teachers and schools the tools and support they need. The framework is based on the principles that most successful countries use to develop and sustain a highly trained and well-supported educator workforce.

A robust teacher development and evaluation system must provide useful, timely feedback to teachers to help them improve their craft. Our framework includes clear standards for what teachers should know and be able to do, helps identify struggling teachers, and provides them with tools and resources to become better. For teachers whose work remains unsatisfactory even after receiving the additional help, there is an expedient, fair hearing process that will last 100 days at most and often much less. We recognize that due process is necessary, but it can't become a shield for ineffective teachers or an excuse for managers not to manage.

This continuous improvement model for teacher development and evaluation is already showing promise in improving teacher quality in more than 100 school districts across the country. For example, a study released last month by the Aspen Institute detailed the "important lessons to be learned from Pittsburgh's transformation from traditional, adversarial management-labor relations to the productive partnership that exists today."

We also are working together with our folks on the ground in Ohio and Michigan, two states where politically motivated efforts are under way to remove teachers' voices from any discussions about teacher evaluations. In Ohio, from large urban districts like Cincinnati to rural districts in Appalachia, school administrators and teachers union leaders have accepted our challenge to work together to improve teacher quality. In Michigan, where independent efforts led by members of both our organizations already were under way, we are joining forces to overhaul teacher evaluations and improve teacher quality overall. In Douglas County, Colo., which has a long-standing, mutually agreed-upon, pay-for-performance plan for teachers, the superintendent and local union leader have agreed to work with us and with each other to improve teacher evaluations as part of our new partnership.

In Michigan, Ohio and Colorado, and across the country, through the collaborative effort of the two organizations we lead, we are tackling these critical issues and taking this model to the place where real school reform gets done -- in schools and classrooms.

Our partnership is different from other efforts in three ways. First, it reinforces what our experiences and rigorous research tell us: Labor-management collaboration at the national and local levels is critical if we are going to create a world-class education system. Both of us attended a significant and welcome event earlier this year, when the U.S. Department of Education highlighted the benefits of cooperation rather than conflict. Teams of hands-on educators -- superintendents, teachers, union leaders and school board members -- attended the conference, coming from schools districts across the country to Denver, where they learned about terrific examples of labor-management partnerships that are producing great results for students. The conference was so inspiring that the two of us came away more determined than ever to work together to improve teaching and learning.

Second, our members have devoted their careers to making our schools and classrooms places that prepare all children to be successful in college, work and life. It's in those schools and classrooms -- not in state legislatures or think tanks -- where real education reform happens.

Third, the goal of our work on teacher development and evaluation systems isn't to label teachers as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory," but to help them become better teachers. Far too much time and energy and money are spent developing systems that label a small number of teachers "unsatisfactory," but don't provide help, guidance or resources for those teachers, let alone for the vast majority of teachers who are rated "satisfactory."

By focusing on improving the quality of teaching in every classroom, we can transform our education system and give all kids the education they need to succeed in the knowledge economy.

 
 
 

Follow Randi Weingarten on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rweingarten