In her Tuesday speech at the Press Club, AFT President Randi
Weingarten attempted to take the teacher-policy steering wheel back from
Arne Duncan, who’s been driving since the Race to the Top motoring
began. The big news is her willingness to reconsider due process rules
and to revamp teacher evaluations. Ms. Weingarten also recognized that
her members value quality teaching above job protection. This is all
welcome and deserves applause. But much of her speech was decidedly not news.
Lots of longstanding union agenda items were restated, albeit with new
rhetoric (“tools, time, and trust”) and some important reforms were
conspicuously absent (e.g. tying these new evaluations to compensation).
Also worth noting is Ms. Weingarten’s clever attempt to co-opt and
redirect one of the most effective sallies against her organization’s
agenda. For years, reformers have charged that union-backed uniform pay
scales, swift tenure, and copious job protections were relics of the
bygone “industrial age” in K-12 education. In the speech, however, she
re-defined this “age” as one of standardized testing. Finally, it’s
worth noting the timing. In the last few weeks, many unions have been
scolded in local media outlets for opposing their states' RTT
applications and rejecting important reforms. You don’t have to be a
cynic to wonder whether this speech was about repositioning the AFT.
“A New Path Forward: Four Approaches to Quality Teaching and Better Schools,” speech given by Randi Weingarten, National Press Club, Washington, D.C., January 12, 2010