Can real reforms, particularly those targeted at fundamental issues such as educator evaluation, be done in partnership with teachers, or must they be done in spite of teachers? This has been a question asked over and over in recent years, usual with a poor answer that gets us back to the same question.
Of course teachers need to be part of the reform process. Educators are the ones on the front lines, the ones who need to implement (with fidelity) the reforms and transformations that policymakers, parents, and educators themselves are seeking. Excluding them from the process only likely sets us a process destined to fail.
Case in point, the New Haven Public Schools teacher evaluation system. Here, the City of New Haven worked with the American Federation of Teachers to build a better mousetrap. An effective evaluation model. A system that prioritizes student performance above all. A system that finally aligns our expectations with what is happening in the classroom.
Yet reformers like myself face a conundrum. Teachers’ unions are here to stay, and the only way to achieve systematic improvement is with their buy-in. Moreover, the United States critically needs to attract talented young people into teaching. And that’s less likely when we’re whacking teachers’ unions in ways that leave many teachers feeling insulted and demoralized.
The breakthrough experiment in New Haven offers a glimpse of an education future that is less rancorous. It’s a tribute to the savvy of Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and as shrewd a union leader as any I’ve seen. She realized that the unions were alienating their allies, and she is trying to change the narrative.
Yes, the model itself is a remarkable step forward for public education. But it is particularly refreshing to see NHPS, Mayor John DeStephano (New Haven is a mayoral control district), the AFT, and the New Haven Federation of Teachers working together to develop, implement, improve, and maintain.
As Kristof notes, “It’ll take years to verify that students themselves are benefiting, but it’s striking that teachers and administrators alike seem happy with the new system. They even say nice things about each other. In many tough school districts, teachers are demoralized and wilted; that feels less true in New Haven.”
Indeed. If only all reforms could work this way.