AFT President Challenges Self-Styled Reformers, Lays Out a Real Reform Agenda

In her July 11 keynote speech at AFT’s biennial educational-issues conference in Washington, D.C., AFT President Randi Weingarten called for education reform worthy of the name–based on quality teaching, with continuous teacher development, rich and meaningful curriculum, and the best ideas from schools here and abroad–drawing a sharp contrast with self-styled reformers who denigrate teachers, defund public education, and ignore the lessons of top-performing countries.

Addressing more than 2,000 educators at AFT’s TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference in Washington, D.C., Weingarten said AFT’s quality agenda is guided by four fundamental principles:

–evidence, so reforms are based on what works, not ideology;

–equity, so that all children receive a great education;

–scalability, so that true successes are replicated and don’t exist in isolation; and

–sustainability, so that reforms are immune to budget cycles and political shifts, and can outlast changes in school, district, and union leadership.

Weingarten contrasted AFT’s agenda with that of so-called reformers, who believe public education should consist of “islands of excellence staffed by passers-through instead of dynamic school systems staffed by professionals.” She repudiated this approach, calling it “disdainful” of the teaching profession and its dedicated teachers.

“It’s time to stop talking about the importance of teacher quality. It’s time to start building a high-quality education system by cultivating high-quality educators—whether from excellent teacher colleges or even alternative routes—with ample clinical experience, focused induction, and ongoing professional support throughout a teacher’s career, in an environment that fosters respect.”

One of the major steps the AFT has taken to strengthen the teaching profession is its comprehensive teacher development and evaluation system, which, Weingarten said, “is about supporting, not just sorting, teachers, and providing a means of continuous improvement that will ensure that all kids are taught by the skilled and knowledgeable teachers they deserve.” The system, which is aligned to a fair and expedient due process procedure, is now being implemented in school districts with the American Association of School Administrators as AFT’s partner.

Weingarten noted that education-reform programs should include lessons learned from the success of systems here and abroad. “The top-performing countries all have a strong emphasis on teacher preparation, continuous development, mentoring and collaboration—and in each of these countries, teaching is a highly respected profession,” she said. By contrast, she said, so-called reformers distort international comparisons and support stop-start experiments with curriculum, standards, vouchers, merit pay, tour-of-duty teaching, and Race to the Top.

“They use international comparisons to denigrate American schools, but they ignore their lessons. Worse, they pursue policies that are completely antithetical to the successful strategies used in high-achieving countries. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “And many have started denigrating public schools and public educators, putting ideology over effectiveness and experimenting without regard to evidence. And that must stop.”

“Make no mistake, a new reality is what we’re fighting for. One in which we improve the profession of teaching for teachers and outcomes for students. And by improving outcomes for our students, we’re improving the prospects of our nation. A quality agenda unites educators and community,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten’s speech, and an accompanying document outlining AFT proposals and projects, can be found on the AFT website.