Teaching Profession

UPDATED: AFT Slams ‘Top Down’ Report on Effective Teachers

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 03, 2009 3 min read
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The Strategic Management of Human Capital initiative released a report today outlining new strategies for attracting, developing, and maintaining an effective teacher workforce, and in doing so, has managed to really tick off Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers. She calls the report “top down” and “disrespectful” of teachers and unions. UPDATED: Here is the link to the report.

Among the recommendations, the report says states and districts should raise entry requirements for teacher preparation; institute a tiered licensure system requiring teachers to complete an induction program and demonstrate teaching effectiveness before receiving tenure; and overhaul professional development and evaluations to be standards-based and to provide pathways for teacher improvement.

AFT has both substantive beefs with the proposals at hand, and feels that feedback from its representatives to the task force wasn’t adequately taken into account in the report’s drafting. A letter that Weingarten sent off to the task force chairs, Allan Odden and James Kelly, says that the report “relies too much on untested ideas for finding excellent teachers, and not enough on supporting and developing teachers to make them great.”

She says the proposals don’t pay enough attention to the context in which teachers teach, and that accountability for student outcomes is focused too heavily on teachers, and not on the administrators and other environmental factors that affect working conditions. And finally, there is not enough focus on developing reforms in collaboration, with unions, she asserts.

“The work of the task force so far, however, has focused almost exclusively on how teachers need to change rather than how the system and all its actors need to change and work collaboratively to support effective teaching and student learning,” Weingarten writes in the letter.

Let’s take all of this in turn.

On the “untested” piece: It’s true that there are only a handful of experiments to reward teachers on anything other the basis of longevity and credentials. But most of these examples are bonus programs rather than true-blue overhauls of teacher compensation and some of them were done with unions. The general idea is hardly revolutionary, and there are some interesting new studies in the works to help flesh out the research literature on this topic.

As for some of the other ideas, New Mexico and a handful of other states already have a version of tiered licensure. Rhode Island and Indiana are contemplating raising the entry point on teacher-licensing examinations. Unions and administrators alike think professional development and evaluations are lousy and need to be more closely tailored to professional standards to offer quality feedback for improvement. I’ve never heard anyone from the AFT knock teacher induction. And one of AFT’s own locals, Minneapolis, has a rather elaborate process for tenure-granting that includes the submission of a portfolio. (Read more about it in this report.)

I don’t know whether all of these examples have really great scientifically based evaluation procedures in place so that we can learn from them. (One hopes so, because otherwise it will be hard to figure out if they’re superior to current systems.)

On Weingarten’s criticism that this report focuses too heavily on teachers: It’s not invalid to say that things like community organizations and parents and wraparound services should be part of the conversation, but can you fault a task force on teachers and principals for focusing, you know, on teachers and principals?

On the other hand, she does make a good point with the environmental-issues factor. She notes that the report says principal evaluations should include consideration of school context, but doesn’t mention context with respect to teacher evaluations. (It would be very interesting and enlightening to see whether SHMC, in subsequent work, specifically addresses school context within an improved system of human capital management.)

I am not privy to how the SHMC folks worked to craft this report. But If the drafters had fixed that language on environmental factors (an additional sentence would’ve done it) and liberally sprinkled the phrase “in collaboration with unions” in the report, would AFT would have had a different reaction?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.