Huffpost Education
The Blog

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

Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

The Future of Unions

Posted: Updated:

As the battle lines appear to be drawn and re-drawn in Wisconsin, a larger debate is brewing across the nation: the relevance and future of unions.

Previously questioning the concept of monitoring the performance of teachers, National Action Network and I have worked with President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and various mayors around the country trying to raise the notion of education reform. And as such, I take particular notice of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and their recent innovative breakthrough proposal. With an increasing number of politicians and opportunists wrongfully attacking labor unions, one of the most harshly scrutinized has decided to take matters into its own hands. The AFT, comprised of more than 1.5 million educators, recently thwarted unjust opposition thanks to its president, Randi Weingarten, and her newly proposed evaluation plan. Tackling the issue of tenure head-on, this groundbreaking idea emboldens both the strength of the AFT and simultaneously protects students from ill-performing teachers. Let the critics now be silenced.

At a Teacher Evaluation Conference in Washington, D.C. last week, Weingarten presented her bold and courageous plan to finally absolve the highly contested notion of tenure in our educational system. Long used by opponents of teachers unions as a means to inaccurately state that poor performing educators cannot be fired, tenure is not even close to being the root cause of our failing school system. But in a wise, preemptive maneuver to thwart unnecessary attacks against the AFT, Weingarten has announced a three-step process to properly evaluate all teachers -- including those that are tenured. It's really quite a simple idea: evaluate, support and hold a hearing.

In her proposed plan, Weingarten has asked for clear standards teachers must adhere to, a time-sensitive improvement process for those that are reviewed as not up to par and a fair hearing process for all. In other words, those tenured educators who are rated unsatisfactory will have one year to improve their teaching performance, or risk being fired within 100 days. According to Weingarten's new proposal, the evaluation process would consist of several steps including classroom visits and visible improvement on students' tests/work. Those teachers rated unsatisfactory will be given improvement plans that will then be followed up within the allotted time frame.

In this unprecedented move, Weingarten and the AFT have taken it upon themselves to advance the teacher evaluation process, as well as eliminate any incorrect notion of 'life-tenure'. But as she and others diligently work to rectify the teacher review process, it's important that we do not blame tenured teachers for this very grave problem. When schools in certain neighborhoods do not receive the same amount of funding as others, nor are they equipped with the appropriate tools necessary to educate our young, we cannot scapegoat teachers. This isn't a union problem, nor a tenure problem or an AFT problem. It is a national crisis; our greatest modern civil rights struggle today, and we are all to blame for neglecting our future generations.

At a time when budgets are being slashed and our elected officials are searching for as many ways to eliminate spending, we cannot allow our teachers and the workers of America to take the fall. In Wisconsin, the fight for the survival of labor unions wages on. But before those that want to place the burden on the backs of the people attempt to dismantle teachers unions, Weingarten has presented a noble solution and we should all work to ensure that it is implemented around the country for the sake of our schools, those that teach and most importantly for our most precious commodity -- the children.