Speaking in front of the American Federation of Teachers rank and file earlier this week, Randi Weingarten didn’t mince words. The AFT president said that it was the responsibility of all those present to do everything they can to remove unskilled teachers from schools. Not only do bad teachers cast the profession in a bad light, they actively harm students who rely on them for knowledge and improvement.
By adopting this tougher stance, Weingarten echoes talk around a number of state houses all over the country. Almost every state in America has over the past 10 years experimented with — or at least debated — teacher evaluation systems that would make it easier to separate effective instructors from ineffective ones.
However, Weingarten was quick to point out that the best way to make sure that only those qualified remained in their jobs would be to offer support to everyone. At the moment, according to Weingarten, new teachers are too often left to “sink or swim.”
But she acknowledged she did not want to be the business of defending all teachers. She said union-backed evaluation systems would help keep successful teachers in the classrooms — and remove those who aren’t helping students.
“It recasts tenure as a guarantee of fairness and due process, not as an excuse for managers not to manage, and not to cloak incompetence,” Weingarten said.
School reform advocates often point to teacher tenure as a roadblock to change. Those advocates say the promise of essential lifetime jobs has left teachers unaccountable and leaves students in classrooms with uninspired teachers. If a teacher has no real prospect of being dismissed, there is little a school official can do to force changes.
Teachers who have been given all possible support and are still struggling should not remain in schools, said Weingarten. Keeping them there causes harm to everyone connected with the education system, from students, to principals to families and even the teachers themselves.
However, Weingarten didn’t go so far as to support the popular assessment systems that link teacher effectiveness to student performance on standardized tests.
But she also had harsh words for those who would fire teachers based on students’ performances on standardized tests. That practice has gained popularity as states have implemented school improvement plans to hold teachers accountable.
“I have a plea for those who fixate on how to dismiss teachers —a plea — fixate instead on how we nurture, support and keep them,” Weingarten said.
In November, 2012, Weingarten joined former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in calling for a ‘bar’ exam for teachers to allow them into the profession, which would help prevent less-talented and less-effective teachers from entering classrooms.