New teacher evaluation framework promises to serve students, and educators, fairly


“We have seen over the past few months a strong backlash against unions and collective bargaining. … (But) essentially, improved labor-management relations are in the best interest of every district.”

Learning Leadership column, Sept. 2011 edition of eSchool News—The principal of P.S. 147 in Cambria Heights, N.Y., offered me a sixth-grade teaching position in September 1968. It was to be my first regular teaching assignment. Several weeks into the school year, Al Shanker, then president of the New York City United Federation of Teachers, called for a teacher strike. For several weeks that fall, I found myself walking the picket line with Al and my fellow teachers. As the strike progressed, unsettled, I took a job on Wall Street to make ends meet. I was getting married that January, and I had bills to pay.

Fortunately, the strike came to an end before the holidays, and I resumed my teaching career. I experienced another teacher strike in New York City before I left the classroom and then several others after I became an administrator. During the 30 years I spent in New York, the unions and collective bargaining were very much embedded in every aspect of education. Negotiations often were contentious and bitter, particularly if they culminated in a strike. As a superintendent, I learned to work with the unions and walk that fine line between teacher compensation and working conditions and my responsibility to the taxpayers and the students we served. Harmonious relationships were always in the best interest of the students, as long as both sides were fair-minded and willing to compromise.

In February, the American Association of School Administrators co-sponsored a conference in Denver along with the U.S. Department of Education, the two teacher unions, the National School Boards Association, the Council of Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The conference focused on how labor-management collaboration could lead to enhanced student learning. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a strong proponent of that process, and he invited 125 school districts from around the country to participate in the conference with teams consisting of the superintendent, the union president, and the school board president. Amazingly, more than 200 districts applied to attend the conference.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Editorial: Bully for teachers

We have seen over the past few months a strong backlash against unions and collective bargaining. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Idaho are among the states that were part of the 35 that had collective bargaining and now have changed or are attempting to change the law. There are 15 states, referred to as right-to-work states, that do not have collective bargaining provisions. When I left New York to become the superintendent of schools in Fairfax County, Va., I found myself in a right-to-work state. Aside from the fact that negotiations are forbidden—instead, we “meet and confer”—positive relations with the teachers and their associations remain essential to a functional, highly performing school district such as Fairfax.

Essentially, improved labor-management relations are in the best interest of every school district. Along those lines, the American Federation of Teachers and AASA have collaborated in the development of a framework to improve two areas critical to teacher quality and student performance—teacher development and evaluation and a due-process model that can lead to the expedient removal of an ineffective teacher or a teacher charged with misconduct.

Much of the angst against teacher unions comes over a superintendent’s difficulty in dismissing a teacher who has engaged in criminal offenses in the classroom, abusive practices toward students, or discrimination. The AASA/AFT framework would resolve the matter in a period of no more than 100 calendar days from the time the teacher receives notice of the allegation.

Another major concern that has rattled public opinion is the lengthy and burdensome process a school district has to engage in to remove an ineffective teacher. The AASA/AFT framework would accomplish this within one school year.

There is a significant quid-pro-quo that is essential to the process but equally necessary to accomplishing the transformation of our schools that so many reformers seek: the development and maintenance of high teacher quality. Indeed, the prologue to the new AASA/AFT framework quotes the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment study, “What Makes a School Successful?”: “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms.”

Critics of U.S. public education often point to America’s poor student performance on international tests like PISA, but they seldom delve any further to determine what the countries ahead of us are doing to obtain those results. Last spring, Secretary Duncan convened in New York City an international invitational conference on education. Present were ministers of education and officials from many of the highest performing countries in the world, including Shanghai, Finland, and Singapore.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Editorial: Bully for teachers

Admittedly, I often bristle at these international comparisons. We are generally comparing apples and oranges and drawing unwarranted conclusions. I have been to Finland and visited their schools. It’s a wonderful country the size of Montana and fairly homogenous in terms of race and income. Last I heard, Shanghai is a province, not a country. Singapore is also a very small country, with a totally different culture and a value system that places education on a pedestal.

If we insist on comparing ourselves to countries that outperform us on the PISA, then let’s find out what they do differently. Without exception, the officials from the countries represented at the New York City conference spoke about a culture that values education and educators. Being a teacher is a sought-after profession in those countries. Their teachers tend to come from the top half of their universities’ graduating classes. These countries spend a considerable amount of time and money developing teacher quality after these future teachers have graduated and entered the school system. By comparison, here in the United States we hire the teachers, drop them in the classroom, and—with little support and development—expect them to be as good as their international counterparts.

I can tell you from experience as a 27-year superintendent that American school district budgets have never tolerated the professional development dollars necessary for us to develop teacher quality as our international friends do. Of great concern is the fact that professional development dollars have been further decimated by the economic recession of the last three years. We are moving in the wrong direction.

However, the AASA/AFT framework rightfully calls for a teacher development and evaluation process that will provide our teachers with the support they need to grow as professionals and an evaluation system that provides continuous feedback—and in the case of an ineffective teacher, gives the individual an opportunity to become effective and serve his or her students well. As AFT President Randi Weingarten has observed, “If all we do is dismiss bad teachers, we will not significantly improve public education. You can neither hire nor fire your way to better schools.”

As we collaborated with the AFT representatives on the development of the framework, the superintendents were amazed at the union’s willingness to concede that ineffective teachers and teachers guilty of misconduct should be removed from the classroom expediently. We were pleased with their support of a 100-day time frame for misconduct and a school year for ineffectiveness.

Ultimately, the recommendations incorporated in the framework will need to be adopted and adhered to at the school district level. Systems under collective bargaining would need to incorporate this teacher evaluation and due-process structure into their agreements. Right-to-work districts similarly could adopt the provisions, absent negotiations. Many others will need to contribute their thinking to the process. At its national conference in Chicago, the National Education Association adopted a new policy statement on teacher evaluation and accountability that is similar to the AASA/AFT framework.

We look forward to collaborating with the AFT and the NEA toward implementing these new teacher development and evaluation guidelines, along with the accountability provisions, in school systems throughout America. It will be a major step towards true education reform.

Daniel Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Editorial: Bully for teachers

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