Wednesday, July 13, 2011

AFT President on so called "School Reformers"

From the speech of AFT President Randi Weingartner at the AFT convention.

We need to study what works, as I recently had a chance to do in Ontario, Canada—which has a school system as diverse as many American urban school districts. For a while, Ontario suffered from the divisiveness we are all too familiar with, and it lagged behind the United States in achievement. In 2003, a new government was elected and immediately moved to change the tone. They focused on collaboration and building the capacity of the teaching force. They created a Partnership Table that brings everyone together around policy development; teachers have a voice right from the start. Funding is from the province and is distributed equitably to the local boards. Ontario did this throughout the province; they created an effective system—not a handful of successful schools. They focused on educating all kids—not just some. Teachers unions are full partners—in fact, leaders—in this work. In this short time, Ontario has dramatically raised student achievement and greatly narrowed the achievement gap.
Other countries that have summoned the political will also have seen dramatic, nationwide turnarounds in a relatively short period of time. We heard many similar success stories back in March, at an international summit in New York. What became immediately clear was that the top-performing countries all put a strong emphasis on teacher preparation, continuous development, and mentoring and collaboration—and in each of these countries, teaching is a highly respected profession.
Take Finland, which I visited last fall. Teacher training is demanding, rigorous and extensive, with ample clinical experience. Finnish teachers are esteemed and are compensated fairly, and their training is fully paid for by the government. And they’re virtually 100 percent unionized, as teachers are in most of the top-performing countries.
I am delighted that a leading Finnish educator is with us today. Pasi Sahlberg is, to use his term, a school improvement activist. Pasi has generously shared many of Finland’s lessons about improving education with us over the years. Thank you, Pasi!
Look, I know America isn’t Finland. It doesn’t take a breakfast of herring to realize that. But even though we’re not them, we can learn from them. After all, they readily admit that they learned from us. But they took the best ideas, scaled them up, supported and sustained them.
I can’t talk about the international comparisons without noting how the so-called reformers have distorted them: They use international comparisons to denigrate American schools. But they ignore their lessons. Worse, they pursue policies that are completely antithetical to the successful strategies used in high-achieving countries. It just doesn’t make sense.
While other countries were setting a course, one that was supported by investment and political will, what was the United States doing? A series of stop-start experiments: Stop-start on curriculum. Stop-start on standards. Experimenting with vouchers, merit pay, tour-of-duty teaching, and the latest experiment—Race to the Top. And many have started denigrating public schools and public educators, putting ideology over effectiveness, and experimenting without regard to evidence. And that must stop.
The problem with all of these experiments is that our children are not lab rats. This is not about navigating through a maze. It’s about navigating through life. And we have to help them do that.
That is why the AFT has put forward this powerful quality agenda. And that is why you are all here—on your own time and, in many cases, your own dime—to learn about new ways to enhance quality in your classrooms.
But, without muscle behind it, no agenda will ever lead to a new reality.
And make no mistake, a new reality is what we’re fighting for, one in which teaching really becomes a profession and leads to genuine advances in student learning. And by improving student learning, we’re improving the prospects of our nation.
A quality agenda unites educators and the broader community. The current discussion around education has been hijacked by a group of self-styled “reformers” who believe that public education in America should consist of islands of excellence staffed by passers-through, instead of dynamic school systems staffed by professionals. Islands versus systems. Passers-through versus professionals. Let’s really look at what these two different views mean in practice.
Note. I am not now a member of the AFT. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK this rings hollow for several reasons. I agree we should put educational effectiveness at the top, over ideology but also over union interests. This is where Randi is no longer with the program. When my kids' elementary school in SF had layoffs, they had to lay off the newest teachers. There were mediocre to bad teachers who were old, but due to her policy, the principal had absolutely no power to make a decision in the interests of the children. I know children and education were hurt by this, but she supports it blindly. She would say, well what if someone plays favorites? That can happen in business too, it's possible, but I think principals would have more power to ensure teachers do a good job. A very good 30-year old teacher was laid off so a mediocre older teacher could stay on, that hurt kids and is purely ideologicaly, putting the interests of the Union over that of the children. She is strongly for this. Randi is intellectually dishonest. It also makes principals have little power, they can't really fully implement reform if they can't fire anyone unless they commit a crime. At my children's middle school School Loop came in, a great idea. It was supposed to be filled out, which greatly helps parents. Most teachers ignore it. Imagine if when it was time for layoffs the principal could lay off the ones not filling it out, and if they refused and there were better applicants, they could hire a new person, with 9.2% unemployment? The union is right to fight for better pay but wrong to say principals should have no power over teachers. It hurts children.