Analysis: Yahoo’s fate riding on new CEO

Analysts say the fate of struggling internet company Yahoo Inc. likely rests on its choice of a new chief executive to replace co-founder Jerry Yang, who announced Nov. 17 that he would step down as CEO when a successor is named. But it’s not just the company’s investors who have a stake in the decision: So, too, do the millions of educators and other internet users around the world for whom web searching and related applications have assumed increasing importance.

What happens to Yahoo could determine, for instance, whether web users have a viable, powerful alternative to Google Inc. in the internet search sphere. Already, Google has garnered its share of critics who fear the search-giant’s power to control which web sites turn up first in a series of search results.

Yahoo’s fate also will decide the future of Yahoo Teachers, a peer-networking web site that aims to help instructors create, share, and modify standards-based curriculum objects. The site was announced last year but has yet to formally launch.

With Yang quitting as Yahoo’s chief executive, the company’s board of directors will confront pivotal questions as it looks for a new leader, analysts say.

Should Yahoo swallow its pride and try to strike a buyout deal with Microsoft Corp. at a price far below Microsoft’s $47.5 billion offer from six months ago? Or should Yahoo still pursue a long-awaited turnaround that’s becoming more difficult to achieve as the economy tanks?

If Yahoo plays it safe and hires someone from within or someone friendly with Microsoft, it could signal that the board merely wants an interim captain who can steer the ship until Microsoft, or possibly another buyer, comes to the rescue.

But should Yahoo recruit a CEO with a prestigious resume or pluck an up-and-coming technology star, it will be seen as a sign that the company is digging in to remain independent for the long haul.

“It’s time for Yahoo to decide if [it is] going to keep entertaining offers or really start to focus on a business strategy,” said Mike Leo, a veteran online ad executive who now runs Operative Inc. “Yahoo still has some great assets. They have just been mismanaged.”

Many analysts and investors have interpreted Yang’s departure as precursor to Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo in its entirety or at least its search engine.

Yahoo shares closed Nov. 20 at $8.95. That’s a fraction of the $33 per share that Microsoft offered in early May before Yang’s request for more money prompted the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker to withdraw its bid.

The negotiating breakdown infuriated shareholders, and their fury intensified as Yahoo’s stock plunged to its lowest levels since early 2003.

Yang clung to the hope that he could still engineer a comeback, but his plans went awry yet again this month when Google backed out of a proposed ad partnership to avoid an antitrust battle with the federal government.

The loss of Google’s help, which was supposed to boost Yahoo’s sagging profits, evidently prompted Yang and Yahoo’s board to conclude they needed to announce a change in command even before a successor had been found. Yang, 40, will remain CEO until his replacement is hired and then revert to his former advisory role of “Chief Yahoo.”

Yahoo so far has given few clues on the leadership skills it’s seeking, saying only that it wants a CEO “who can take the company to the next level.” The company has hired headhunting firm Heidrick & Struggles to recruit its next CEO.

Although Yahoo’s profits and stock price have been crumbling for nearly three years, analysts say the company’s huge audience of about 500 million internet users and leadership positions in eMail and news could still attract a big-name executive. “Yahoo can still be salvaged,” said Forrester Research analyst David Card.

The names of possible successors include obvious ones like Yahoo’s current president and Yang confidant, Susan Decker, as well as its former chief operating officer, Dan Rosensweig, who left last year after a management shake-up diminished his authority.

Other candidates offer more intrigue, like former eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman or media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s top lieutenant at News Corp., Peter Chernin, who just so happens to be getting ready to negotiate another contract.

Whitman appears to be a long shot, because she has indicated she’s more interested in pursuing a political career than returning to the executive suite.

Jonathan Miller, the former CEO of AOL, has been mentioned as another possibility. But when he left AOL in 2006, his severance agreement included a non-compete clause that prevents him from working from rivals like Yahoo until March 2009. Time Warner Inc., AOL’s corporate parent, enforced the provision to block Miller from joining Yahoo’s board last summer.

Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner believes Yahoo should recruit a turnaround specialist or a “young Turk” in the mold of Jason Kilar, who was lured from Amazon.com Inc. last year to run the online video site Hulu.com. If Yahoo takes that kind of a step, Weiner said the deep pools of talent at Silicon Valley neighbors Google and Apple Inc. might yield a savvy new leader.

Other names being bandied about include the former head of Microsoft’s online operation, Kevin Johnson, who helped persuade the software maker to bid for Yahoo. Johnson left Microsoft during the summer to become CEO of computer gear maker Juniper Networks Inc., which is located a half-mile from Yahoo’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Whoever Yahoo selects needs to have charisma and vision if the company is to have any hope of bouncing back, said Todd Dagres, founder of the venture capital firm Spark Capital. “Yahoo is like a wounded animal right now. They need an Obama-like leader,” he said.

Microsoft might make a move on Yahoo before the board even has a chance to hire a new CEO, Jefferies & Co. analyst Youssef Squali suggests. He estimates Microsoft could buy Yahoo in its entirety for $20.50 to $22 per share, or perhaps just snap up Yahoo’s search operations for $8 per share.

Microsoft declined to comment on its interest in Yahoo.

Yahoo’s most outspoken director, Carl Icahn, has been lobbying for a search deal with Microsoft since he became one of the company’s largest shareholders in May.

Icahn waged a campaign to fire Yang during the summer before reaching a truce that gave him and two allies seats on Yahoo’s board. Those allies, former Viacom Inc. CEO Frank Biondi and former Nextel CEO John Chapple, also could vie for Yang’s job.

Even if Icahn finally gets his wish, a Microsoft deal might not be enough to make him whole. He acquired his 5 percent stake in Yahoo for around $25 a share.

Sanford Bernstein & Co. analyst Jeffrey Lindsay doubts Microsoft will renew its pursuit of Yahoo until early next year. He reasons Microsoft has little to lose by waiting, because Yahoo’s stock is unlikely to rise much higher, and the extra time will give the software maker more time to assess how its own efforts to improve its internet operations are panning out.

Waiting also would help Microsoft get a better understanding of the antitrust hurdles a Yahoo bid might face under a new presidential administration.

Links:

Yahoo

Google

Microsoft

Forrester Research

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Desktop Management Made Easy resource center. As school systems become increasingly reliant on technology, district networks are growing exponentially. Supporting the various machines connected to these networks can be a daunting task that builds travel costs and overdraws resources. Utilizing a sound desktop-management strategy can give you complete control of your computers, saving valuable time and money. Go to: Desktop Management Made Easy

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Teenagers’ internet socializing not a bad thing

The New York Times reports some good news for worried parents and educators: All those hours their teenagers spend socializing on the internet are not a bad thing, according to a new study by the MacArthur Foundation. "It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media, whether it’s on MySpace or sending instant messages," said Mizuko Ito, lead researcher on the study, called "Living and Learning With New Media." "But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page." The study, conducted from 2005 to last summer, describes new-media usage but does not measure its effects. "It certainly rings true that new media are inextricably woven into young people’s lives," said Vicki Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Ethnographic studies like this are good at describing how young people fit social media into their lives. What they can’t do is document effects. This highlights the need for larger, nationally representative studies." Ito, a research scientist in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, said that some parental concern about the dangers of internet socializing might result from a misperception. "Those concerns about predators and stranger danger have been overblown," she said. "There’s been some confusion about what kids are actually doing online. Mostly, they’re socializing with their friends, people they’ve met at school or camp or sports." The study, part of a $50 million project on digital and media learning, used several teams of researchers to interview more than 800 young people and their parents and to observe teenagers online for more than 5,000 hours…

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Study of $6 billion reading program finds a lack of progress

The Washington Post reports that students in the $6 billion Reading First program have not made greater progress in understanding what they read than have their peers outside the program, according to a congressionally mandated study. The final version of the study, released Nov. 17 by the U.S. Department of Education, found that students in schools that use Reading First, a program at the core of the No Child Left Behind law, scored no better on comprehension tests than students in similar schools that do not get the funding. "It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department’s research arm. "I don’t think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension." Whitehurst said the study showed some benefits. For instance, first-graders in Reading First classrooms were better able to decode, or recognize, printed words than students in schools without the program. Decoding is a key step in learning to read. Reading First, though popular with educators, has been tarnished by allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement in recent years. Federal investigators have found that some people who helped oversee the program had financial ties to the publishers of Reading First materials…

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Seven skills students desperately need

Teaching to the test is a mistake, Harvard’s Tony Wagner reminded the audience of his Nov. 18 keynote address to the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), because it interferes with transmitting the seven "survival skills" every student should acquire before graduating.

Wagner’s remarks came during a forum organized in Washington, D.C., as one way to advance the 10-point "Action Plan" SETDA had issued the day before.

As the Obama administration prepares to take over in the nation’s capital, SETDA and similar groups are offering advice on how federal policy makers and state and local education leaders can transform education and help students obtain 21st-century skills with the help of technology.

"With this summit and with the release of our Action Plan, we hope to figure out how to make the steps of crucial change more scalable," said SETDA Executive Director Mary Ann Wolf.

Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, said economic change will come as soon as classroom and national practices involving instruction change as well.

"A lot of people think the skills that students need to learn for the workforce and the skills they need to learn to be a good citizen are two separate sets. But they’re not. What makes a student successful in the global workforce will make a person successful at life," he said.

Wagner said he hears two things repeated constantly by today’s employers: "We need people who can ask good questions, and we need people who can engage others in thoughtful conversations."

"When I asked them whether or not they needed students to know the latest version of software, they said no," he added. "They told me that technology moves so fast that it’s hard to keep up with. [From] the time students graduate to when they get the job, it’s usually changed anyway. . . . [Employers] . . .don’t mind training employees in technology–but you can’t teach someone how to think."

Wagner, who consults for public and independent schools, districts, and foundations across the country and internationally, said his visits to some school districts have highlighted why state standards need to change–and why teaching to the test is not the way to achieve success.

"I went to visit many science labs in these districts," said Wagner. "Some of them were great, achieved great test scores, and most of their students went on to postsecondary education. But some weren’t so great, and here’s why: I was watching a group of high school students in a science lab. One group had a problem, and the Bunsen burner was smoking. But they weren’t doing anything about it–just waiting for the teacher to come by and fix it. But the teacher wasn’t looking, so I went over, and I asked: ‘What’s going on?’ One of the kids said, ‘Don’t know, not working.’ So I looked at them and I said, ‘Well, what’s your hypothesis?’ They all stared blankly. Finally one said, ‘Oh yeah, a hypothesis, that was one of our vocabulary words the other day, but I don’t know what it means.’"

Wagner said the problem is that you can have all the equipment and technology you want, but "if you don’t teach kids how to think, how to think beyond multiple choice, you’ve got a problem."

He told another story illustrating this same problem:

"I went to a school once that had a lot of AP courses. I went into one AP course on government. Here was this teacher asking kids questions, and of course, there’s the one kid who keeps raising his hand, but the rest of the class was dead. The teacher asks the questions, the one kid raises his hand to answer, the teacher calls on him, the teacher moves on to the next question. This gets repeated over and over again. Finally the teacher asks a question the one kid doesn’t know: ‘What’s the Iron Triangle?’ No one raises [a] hand. The poor teacher, flustered that he has to cover so much in so little time, says hurriedly, ‘OK, here’s how you answer this one’ and writes the answer on the board."

Wagner continued: "The problem is that teachers are teaching to tests–telling kids answers that they don’t think [of] for themselves–and that’s why students may pass high school but can’t cut it in college or in the workforce."

Wagner suggested that states and schools move from content standards to performance standards, and he urged education stakeholders to think of ways to start assessing 21st-century skills.

"I realize education is a very risk-averse sector," said Wagner, "but assessments either drive instruction for the better or for the worse, and right now in the U.S., it’s for the worse. If our assessments measured performance and 21st-century skills, like the European PISA assessment, that would be another story."

Wagner said teaching to the test not only limits students’ ability to think for themselves, but also discourages students from studying subjects they love.

"Once I was talking to this student from MIT," he said. "Very successful and had gone to an AP magnet school. ‘I used to love science and STEM subjects,’ he told me, ‘but all the testing turned me off. Now I’m going to become a teacher to try and change that way of teaching.’"

According to Wagner, students of this generation are not unmotivated; they’re just differently motivated.

"They’re multi-taskers, they are drawn to graphics, they like instant gratification, they use Web 2.0 tools to create, and they love collaboration," he said. "If we can figure out how to grab their interest in learning, they’ll become great thinkers and be eager to learn the basics."

Wagner presented a list of seven "survival skills" that students need to succeed in today’s information-age world, taken from his book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–And What We Can do About It. It’s a school’s job to make sure students have these skills before graduating, he said:

1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
3. Agility and adaptability;
4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;
5. Effective written and oral communication;
6. Accessing and analyzing information; and
7. Curiosity and imagination.

"We are making [Adequate Yearly Progress] at the expense of failing our kids at life. Something has to change," he concluded.

Links:

Tony Wagner’s web site

SETDA

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom

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Questions abound as emergency alert flops

The failure of Virginia Tech’s text-messaging alert system has raised questions about the effectiveness of such systems to warn faculty members and students of an emergency — an important consideration as schools nationwide continue to invest in these technologies.

One researcher who specializes in mass-communications systems warns that the use of text messaging to alert students of danger could bog down cellular networks and block phone calls from students or faculty members trying to contact local authorities, but industry experts and many higher-education officials insist there are ways to reliably send thousands of warning messages without interference.

On Nov. 13, Virginia Tech’s VT Alert System–designed to send text and voice messages to cell phones and handheld computers–did not work when the sound of gunfire was heard near a campus dormitory. The loud sounds were caused by a nail gun being fired into a garbage bin. When university officials sent out text alerts to students and faculty at 1:40 p.m., only a portion of the messages were received.

The campus community did not receive second and third emergency alerts sent by text and voice message later in the afternoon, Virginia Tech officials said. The campus’s service provider, California-based 3n, said in a statement that the alert system was restored at 4:25 p.m. and the company was working “to understand the root cause and to correct it.”

It was the first time the school’s new emergency-alert system was used since a student killed 32 people and injured 20 in a horrific shooting spree 19 months ago.

Patrick Traynor, an assistant professor in the School of Computer Sciences at Georgia Tech and author of a study examining the limitations of text-messaging services, said text-alert systems that use current cellular networks to transmit thousands of messages simultaneously will often overwhelm the network and cause a partial or complete failure.

“I have no surprise at all on this,” said Traynor, who has studied cellular networks for six years. “If you load thousands of messages at once, the network just doesn’t have that capacity. All networks are limited in this way. … They’re not designed for massive throughput.”

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Classroom News October 2008

What’s Inside the October 2008 issue…

  • Cover Story: Obama makes history; what’s next?
    Educators ponder what the election’s results will mean for their schools
  • Schools soon required to teach web safety
  • Google settles bookscanning lawsuit
  • Nation’s first tech literacy exam coming soon
  • ‘Digital disconnect’ divides kids, educators
  • Schools grapple with teachers’ Facebook use
  • Rethinking research in the Google era
  • Educators give publishers their wish lists
  • Microsoft, universities team up on gaming research

Download Now

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CollegeClickTV features first-person video reviews of colleges nationwide

CollegeClickTV.com is an online resource that aims to help high school students and their parents make more informed college decisions through unscripted, peer-to-peer video reviews on the college experience. Now, through partnerships with U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, and CliffsNotes, the web site plans to build its content even further and attract additional viewers. The CollegeClickTV.com site reportedly showcases more than 30,000 video reviews from students at 200-plus colleges and universities across the country. Founding partner Glenn Pere believes these partnerships are yet another indication of consumer demand for authentic, firsthand information on the wide selection of colleges available. In addition to video reviews, which use a format that today’s students are highly comfortable with, CollegeClickTV.com also complements the information they can find elsewhere, Pere said. “These [new partners] are some of the most well-known and trusted experts in the categories,” he said. “By aligning ourselves with them, we’re bringing high school students and their parents a complementary, 360-degree perspective of the college, or colleges, they are interested in. We are thrilled to be able to display our video content on these top college resource web sites.”

http://www.collegeclicktv.com

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States make progress on data systems

States are making progress in building longitudinal data systems to track students’ academic growth over time, and now they must use the information available to them through these systems to raise student achievement, a new report says.

Six states report having all 10 elements of a comprehensive data system that can track student progress from preschool through college, and 48 states have at least half these elements in place, according to the third annual report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), a national partnership to improve the quality, accessibility, and use of data in education.
 
Longitudinal data — data gathered on the same students from year to year — make it possible to follow individual students’ academic growth, determine the value of specific programs, and identify consistently high-performing schools and systems, the organization says.
 
Key findings from the group’s 2008 survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia include:

• In 2005, no state reported having all 10 essential elements of a robust state longitudinal data system; this year, six states do (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah).
• 47 states plan to have eight or more of the 10 elements in place within three years.
• 42 states (up from 14 in 2005) say they have the data systems necessary to calculate the National Governors Association’s longitudinal graduation rate. All states except one will report this rate by 2010-11.
 
"The Data Quality Campaign has brought focus to the benefits of good data systems," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said. "Today, thanks in part to the DQC, 42 states have already done the hard work necessary to have systems in place to calculate a more accurate and reliable graduation rate, and almost every other state is on track to have systems developed by 2011. Information is a powerful motivator for change, and I’m pleased that these states have put together systems that will empower parents and policy makers throughout the country to work to reverse low graduation rates."
 
Despite their progress, states have a lot of work left to meet the DQC’s data-system goals, the report said — particularly on certain elements:

• Only 21 states have a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to specific students; another 13 states plan to have this element by 2012, but 17 states report no plans to implement such a system.
• Only 17 states collect student-level course completion and transcript information, and at least nine states have no plans to do so.
• 29 states have the ability to collect college-readiness test scores, but at least 12 states have no plans to implement this element.
 
States say it’s not a lack of technological know-how that is keeping them from doing this work; instead, the greatest barrier to implementing these elements is the lack of political will or resources.
 
"We need to transform our view of data in education and realize that high-quality, student-level data presents a realistic — though not always pretty — picture of achievement in our schools," said Arkansas Commissioner Ken James, incoming president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "Thanks to the comprehensive statewide data system we have built in Arkansas, the information the state provides can help shape our decisions to ensure that every student leaves high school prepared for the challenges of our increasingly demanding economy."

While applauding the progress of states to date, DQC leaders called on states to help policy makers, educators, and other stakeholders make better use of the available data to improve student achievement. For instance, the group said, 44 states have the capacity to track preschool children into kindergarten, and 28 can follow high school graduates into college—but it’s not clear whether states are actually using this information to improve performance. If the data show, for instance, that certain groups or individual students are off track as early as the third grade, then schools can adjust their instruction to help these students catch up.
 
"Principals and their teachers need professional development to build their capacity to use these new sources of data to improve student achievement and sustain the progress made," says Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
 
Here are DQC’s "10 Essential Elements of Longitudinal Data Systems" — and states’ progress toward meeting them so far:
 
1. A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases through multiple years (48 states report having this element, up from 36 in 2005);
2. Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information (49, up from 38 in 2005);
3. The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth (48, up from 32 in 2005);
4. Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested (41, up from 25 in 2005);
5. A teacher identification system with the ability to match teachers to students (21, up from 13 in 2005);
6. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned (17, up from 7 in 2005);
7. Student-level college-readiness test scores (29, up from 7 in 2005);
8. Student-level graduation and dropout data (50, up from 34 in 2005);
9. The ability to match student records between the K-12 and postsecondary education systems (28, up from 12 in 2005); and
10. A state audit system assessing data quality, validity, and reliability (45, up from 19 in 2005).
 
Links:

Data Quality Campaign

"Measuring What Matters": Year Three report

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Report challenges online-learning assumptions

Some critics of distance learning say face-to-face classes give students a better learning environment, but a recent Indiana University study found that online learners reported deeper approaches to learning than classroom-based learners.

Deep learning, researchers said, is a type of learning that goes beyond rote memorization and focuses on reflection, integrative learning, and higher-order thinking–analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which was conducted by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, collected information from nearly 380,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 722 four-year colleges and universities across the United States. NSSE explored the experiences of online learners through a set of additional questions given to more than 22,000 students from 47 institutions. The results were released Nov. 10.

“Critics of distance education assume that face-to-face classes have inherent advantages as learning environments,” said Alexander C. McCormick, NSSE director and associate professor of education at Indiana University. “But these results indicate that those who teach classes online may be making special efforts to engage their students. It may also be the case that online classes appeal to students who are more academically motivated and self-directed.”

Bob Gonyea, associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Research, said the survey did not collect data that could concretely determine why online learners reported deeper approaches to learning.

“I believe one part of the explanation is that online learners tend to be older students who are somewhat more motivated and responsible in getting things done,” he said, adding that there are a disproportionate number of older students who take online courses because of the convenience.

“I also think that people who teach online classes don’t take engagement for granted. They have to structure assignments that get students connected,” Gonyea said.

According to the survey results, 37 percent of first-year online learners and 45 percent of seniors said they participated in course activities that challenged them intellectually “very often,” compared to only 24 percent of first-year classroom-based learners and 35 percent of seniors. The survey also found that online learners reported slightly more deep approaches to learning in their coursework.

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Teachers’ union head offers to talk on tenure and merit pay

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Nov. 17 that given the economic crisis, her union would be willing to discuss new approaches to issues such as teacher tenure and merit pay, reports the New York Times. "Faced with declining tax revenues, state and local governments are cutting" education budgets nationwide, Weingarten said in a speech to education policy makers in Washington, D.C.
"In the spirit of this extraordinary moment, and as a pledge of shared responsibility, I’ll take the first step," she said. "With the exception of vouchers, which siphon scarce resources from public schools, no issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair to teachers." It is unclear how much practical effect Weingarten’s speech will have on the stance her 1.4-million-member union and its locals take in negotiations with school districts or in lobbying state legislatures. "Randi said she was willing to talk about these things," said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit group that seeks to increase the number of effective teachers. "But from my experience, the AFT and its locals have always been willing to talk about tough issues. The problem is that they’re not often willing to give in on them."

Click here for the full story

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