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AFT Advances Its Leadership Role in Teacher Evaluations

Delegates at the AFT convention on July 10 overwhelmingly ratified the comprehensive overhaul of teacher development and evaluation first outlined in a speech by AFT president Randi Weingarten in January. The new policies will help the union continue and expand an aggressive outreach program that is already shaping new, union-led changes to teacher evaluations in school districts nationwide.

"We're taking the leadership role in overhauling teacher evaluations," Weingarten said. "Developing and training teachers should be a way to support good teaching—not a 'gotcha.' "

Delegates at the convention in Seattle ratified the policy after days of discussion and debate. It calls for evaluation systems that are based on professional, clearly defined teaching standards; use multiple measures of teacher practice and student outcomes; are correctly implemented by trained evaluators; require administrators to address working conditions; and focus on supporting teachers and giving them time to work with colleagues.

Since Weingarten's speech at the National Press Club in January, the AFT has worked with more than 50 affiliates, in partnership with school districts, to develop better teacher evaluations.

Rigorous research has demonstrated that neither the current systems nor the latest fad—over-reliance on a single measure of student achievement—are effective measures of teacher quality.

"The blame-the-teacher crowd wants to use teacher evaluation as a hammer to pound individual teachers for everything that happens in a child's life rather than as a tool to support good teaching," Weingarten said.

Many AFT delegates voiced strong support for the resolution from the convention floor. Among them were Colleen Callahan, professional issues director for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, and Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Callahan said, "This resolution positions us to take the lead on this issue at a time when people would like us to be silent."

Johnson said, "We should not fear the opportunity to define what our profession looks like. We should not be leaving evaluations to someone who hasn't been in a classroom since Moby-Dick was a guppy."

In other action, delegates committed the AFT and its affiliates to support efforts to ensure that charter schools are fully transparent, accountable and open to unions. [AFT press release]

July 10, 2010