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Thompson: One AFT Member’s Musings on RttT Regulations

Id6593 It would be so easy to revel in the extreme reactions of "reformers" condemning the newly released RttT regulations, such as Rick Hess’ statement that "states will promise a lot of half-hearted reforms that will then fail, giving ammunition to the unions." Andy Smarick started off with the reasonable reminder that the Education Department went through a lengthy process of listening to stakeholders and researchers and "many opinions coming from so many angles tends to have a moderating effect." But he then condemned "the middle, [where] of course, stands the establishment," and he proposed "unambiguously confronting unions, colleges of education, superintendents, and school boards."

I do not know whose wailings were more grandiose - Amy Wilken's complaint that RttT didn’t effect teachers of subjects that are not tested or the Flypaper’s lament that it didn’t explicitly overrule collective bargaining agreements. So, people in the middle, and every institution in "the establishment," are morally bankrupt and must be detroyed root and branch? What is so wrong with President Obama's goal of building on the 70% of issues where we can agree?  Do they really believe that command and control micromanaging can produce innovation? Should the DOE also check individual teacher's lesson plans?

In contrast, Randi Weingarten said, "I see a real culture shift in these regulations from what we had seen in the previous administration. ... at the end of the day, the culture shift is about can we collaborate, work together to make schools better."

I share the NEA’s more explicit criticisms of test-driven accountability, and perhaps I’m too optimistic, but my worries in this area were reduced by the system of judging RttT applications. Test-driven accountability is much more frightening in the hands of zealots who claim, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that Value Added Models are ready for evaluating teachers and in the hands of pressured administrators. I am far more willing to trust in trained and objective judges seeking to determine how well those growth models work within an overall system.

Perhaps a similar example of an improved culture was illustrated by the statement "Joanne Weiss, who heads the Race to the Top program, said that left the impression that charter schools ‘were seen as the silver-bullet solution, to turning around ailing schools. So the charter-school model was moved to a section on overall innovation and reform.'" In other words, the Administration listened and responded.

I have never met Randi, but she's become my educational hero.  The purpose of reform is creating better educational cultures, and again she has kept her eye on the ball.  She has taken the most steadfast stands only where the soul of education is at stake. 

I do not want my AFT to have to campaign for unionization in an unlimited number of charters. But if that is the price of making RttT work, I’ll take the risk. I do not want to have to reapply for my job as a part of a turnaround process, but if that is what it takes to help President Obama’s school reforms, so be it. - John Thompson

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You've given me two wonderful quotations I'll take to bed with me:

"So, people in the middle, and every institution in 'the establishment,' are morally bankrupt and must be detroyed root and branch? What is so wrong with President Obama's goal of building on the 70% of issues where we can agree?"

"Test-driven accountability is much more frightening in the hands of zealots who claim, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that Value Added Models are ready for evaluating teachers and in the hands of pressured administrators."

Exactly, exactly, exactly. History teaches us to beware even the most well-intentioned zealots.

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