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

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:

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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.”

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