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Union president makes new proposals for teacher evaluations, discipline

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By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010; 12:20 PM

The president of the nation's second-largest teachers union on Tuesday proposed a new way to incorporate student test scores into teacher evaluations and said she has asked a well-known mediator to develop methods of expediting disciplinary cases against teachers.

Randi Weingarten of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers gave a speech in downtown Washington that union officials described as a major effort to address flash points in labor-management relations.

The AFT, Weingarten said, wants "a fair, transparent and expedient process to identify and deal with ineffective teachers. But [we] know we won't have that if we don't have an evaluation system that is comprehensive and robust and really tells us who is or is not an effective teacher."

Weingarten, also a key player in the District's drawn-out teacher contract talks, outlined a four-step approach to teacher evaluations: States should adopt standards for what teachers should know and be able to do; teachers should be assessed through multiple measures, including student test scores that gauge individual academic progress; administrators should be held accountable for putting the standards into motion; and teachers should receive help through mentoring and professional development.

But Weingarten added a caveat on the use of test scores. She said that teachers should not be evaluated on results that compare their current classes with the previous year's classes, which is the system states typically use under the No Child Left Behind law. That would appear to disqualify much, perhaps most, of the currently available state testing data from use in evaluation.

"You can't compare apples to oranges," she said. "You have to have a system where you're looking at student growth. . . . We have to look at student learning, but we have to do it in the right way, in a way that is reliable and valid."

On discipline, Weingarten said mediator Kenneth R. Feinberg has agreed to help the AFT develop protocols for handling allegations of teacher misconduct. Feinberg was special master of the Sept. 11, 2001, victim compensation fund and is special master for executive compensation for the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

"Too often, due process can become glacial process," Weingarten said. "We intend to change that."

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents several urban systems where the AFT has affiliates, said Weingarten "should be applauded" for being open to the use of student test data in teacher evaluations. "It is a difficult step for them," he said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement: "Randi is really showing courage by raising these issues." The National Education Association, the largest teachers union with 3.2 million members, had no immediate comment on the AFT proposals.

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said Weingarten's stance on teacher quality seems realistic because the Obama administration is pushing in the same direction. "When a Democratic administration, which obviously is the only horse the union has to ride, is pushing these kind of reforms, you have to go with the flow," Domenech said.

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