The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has partnered with the school district in New Haven to allow for more stringent teacher evaluations and a higher level of accountability for teachers and administration. Teachers no longer have the shield of tenure to protect them from being removed from the classroom and their performance in measured, in part, by the performance of their students.
Last year, this resulted in 32 teachers being removed from the classroom, or roughly 2% of teachers across the district. In a district with chronic underperformance, low gradation rates and basement dwelling test scores, it seems unlikely that only 2% of teachers in this district could be deemed failing teachers. According to the column, another 50 have been warned that their jobs too may be at risk at the end of this school year.
I think this a step in the right direction, with an urban school district beginning to incorporate some of the ideas that reform-minded districts across the nation have been using to much success. However, I think that the praise given by Kristof , though tenuous, may still be too much. In a district that is failing masses of students year after year, any evaluation system that finds only 2% of the teachers need to removed is not tough enough. If AFT wants to be seen as a partner with reformers, they need to get serious. New Haven schools are an opportunity to dive deep as an ally to making our schools better for all students, not just dip their toes in the water.
It is time for accountability for all teachers in this nation, not just a select few who are working in the more progressive districts. One of the biggest barriers to creating the structures needed to serve our students better are the teachers’ unions. If the mission is to give American students a world class education, all the stakeholders need to be on the same page. It is time to step out from behind the shield of tenure and move towards a culture of accountability which won’t allow anything other than a qualified, capable teacher to stand in front of students every day.
As I said, the union is certainly taking a step in the right direction. But why take a step when you can leap?