Friday, February 25, 2011

Randi Weingarten: Ruling Class Enforcer

Randi Weingarten: Union Cop
True to her role as ruling class enforcer, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten has accepted ruling class criticism of tenure and has unveiled a plan to satisfy their demands to dismantle it. In a nutshell, the new plan would allow tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals just one year to improve or get sacked within 100 days.

Mayors and school boards (as well as wealthy educational profiteers and philanthropists) have attacked tenure and seniority, calling them impediments to real school reform. The criticism relies on the premises that schools are declining in quality and that schools are filled with terrible teachers, neither of which is true. In reality, the attack on tenure and seniority is intended to weaken union strength, take away due process protections for teachers, give administrators the power to fire teachers who they dislike or who are critical, AND, most importantly, the ability to fire veteran teachers who earn more than younger teachers and cost school districts more to keep on.

Like all union bosses, Weingarten recognizes that she must appear “reasonable” to retain her credibility with the politicians, and this means accepting their criticisms of education and unions, no matter how inaccurate or absurd. Like other union bosses, her relationship with politicians is dependent on her ability to keep her members well-disciplined. That means helping to impose and enforce rollbacks on teachers and convincing them to accept the new status quo. However, by appearing reasonable and accepting the exaggerated criticisms of tenure, Weingarten facilitates the firing of teachers, including good ones, while giving administrators much more power and control over teachers’ careers, a move that is much more supportive of the bosses’ interests than those of her own members.

Weingarten’s proposal is not just a capitulation to critics clambering for weaker job protections, it is also a capitulation to those calling for Value-Added assessment of teachers (teacher evaluations tied to student test scores). Her plan would evaluate teachers using a variety of metrics, including classroom visits, appraisal of lesson plans and student improvement on tests. There are several problems with this approach. First, student test scores, and improvement, are tied most closely with students’ socioeconomic background, not teacher ability. Furthermore, this approach lends a bogus credibility to exams that have already been completely discredited as a measurement of students, schools or teachers.

A second problem is that administrative evaluations are prone to bias. An administrator who wants to punish a teacher can manipulate their observations and fabricate problems that result in a poor evaluation. The biggest problem with the existing system is that administrators generally don’t have or make the time to make sufficient observations. For those relatively few truly bad teachers that have earned tenure, it is not the tenure process that is to blame, but their administrators for not evaluating them properly in the first place.

According to Weingarten, “We have figured out an operational blueprint so people can’t use tenure as an excuse anymore not to engage in legitimate evaluations of teachers.” However, her plan does nothing to compel administrators to make sufficient or legitimate observations. It only punishes teachers for failing to satisfy administrators.

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