Thursday, November 12, 2015

Weingarten Explains WTH #TeachStrong

Say what you will about Randi Weingarten-- when the crowd is hollering for her head and throwing tomatoes, she doesn't pretend that it's all "Hosanna" and roses. And so just a couple of days after #TeachStrong hit the edu-verse with a resounding thud, here she is with a blog post entitled "Why the hell would AFT sign on to TeachStrong?"

NEA (my own national union) has not explained itself, but it also hasn't responded to criticism, but they also haven't spent the last days declaring, "Look!! Shiny!! Pretty!!" about this edufeast of reformy leftovers, either. But Weingarten was right there front and center in the heralding PR from the first hour, so Randi, you got some 'splainin' to do.

And splain she does. I'm not sure any of her reasons are very convincing, but here they are.

First, AFT leaders want you to now that they're skeptical, too. "Hmm," they wonder. "Why are TFA and TNTP signed up for this."Which hits me kind of like, "Why do you have such big teeth, grandma?" But AFT believes that something new is in the air.

Here’s why we signed on: The tide is turning — rejecting the blame-and-shame and test-based sanctioning policies of the last decade — but educators must have a role in what replaces that flawed “reform.”

See, there's going to be a new table. A shinier table. And we are going to get a seat at it.

Yes, DC and policymakers have pretty much ignored actual teachers. But the winds of change, they are a-blowin'.

But in the past two years, we’ve seen real movement — movement created by educators, parents and communities effectively lifting up our voices and demanding to be heard. And it’s a movement created by the ramifications and consequences of austerity, of policy driving competition instead of collaboration, of scapegoating teachers and ignoring key factors that affect public education — especially skyrocketing child poverty rates that take a deep toll on student learning.
Now, though, elected officials, community groups and education reform organizations are paying attention in a new way. We may have reached a tipping point.

Oh? Do tell.

Oops. Never mind. Weingarten wants to tell us 1) that the President just admitted mistakes in ed policy, and 2) the New ESEA is tilting away from top-down test-obsessed teacher-blamingpolicies. And that would be swell except 1) the "mistake" that the administration admitted to was not imposing enough top-down control and 2) no, not really, because all the new ESEA's still love test-driven accountability.

Also-- have you actually read the TeachStrong verbage? Because the whole premise of TeachStrong is that teachers are lousy and need to be brought into the twenty-first century because we're all stuck in our highly backward incompetent dark ages.

Are there any more reasons to think things are changing?

We’re seeing a move away from blaming and punishing educators, and some dialogue on how to recruit, retain, support and trust them.  

Where? I mean-- sputter, sputter, slap my forehead-- where exactly are you seeing this move or any such dialogue. Because out here beyond the beltway, teachers are still the cause of everything bad and only by punishing them into excellence and firing the millions of terrible ones will we ever save education. And once again-- have you read the TeachStrong materials????? Because the message there is pretty clear that teachers are a problem that needs to be fixed.

Oh, but there's a new AF task force on professionalism, and they like some of the things that TeachStrong likes, such as the creating professional pathways and new teacher support. Which is totally what the workplace task force that AFT ran with the BATs asked for, so congratulations BATs-- you've been co-opted for TeachStrong, too. (Several BATs from the QWL team reached out to be clear that they are NOT onboard with TeachStrong-- you can find a couple of them in the comments below). I'm not going to stop here, but if you want my point-by-point run down of why the TeachStrong Nine do not impress me, here it is.

But Weingarten is now on a roll.

We’re building teacher-powered schools, teacher-designed residency programs, and reclaiming meaningful recognition of the roles our veteran teachers play in mentoring novice teachers and sustaining our professional work.

Show me. Show me how. Because I find that one of the notable features of TeachStrong is that it has absolutely no language-- not a verb, not an adjective, not a comma-- that remotely resembles recognition of the need to actually listen to actual teachers. Not a bit. None. And then there's this...

Signing on to TeachStrong is about ensuring our voices and our ideas are not just heard, but are part of the blueprint of what happens next, and it’s about stopping the policymakers and elite thought-leaders from getting it wrong again.

Huh? What policymakers? What moving ahead? You almost talk as if TeachStrong is laying the groundwork for the education department in the next administration. Almost as if TeachStrong is about providing political support for a particular Clintonian candidate with an eye toward helping her set her table so that we can have a seat at it.

And if that's the case-- wait a minute. Does that mean that TFA and NCTQ and TNTP will also have a seat at this new table? Because if that's the case, this new table totally sucks. Totally. Sucks.

Some of the groups in TeachStrong may genuinely come our way as the tide turns. Others may not. If they don’t or won’t, we won’t hesitate to call them out.

Ooooooh!! Call them out! Well, that should fix everything. I bet they will live in mortal terror of being called out, because nobody in the teacher world has ever called them out before. Remember that time that the entire teaching profession called out TFA and they said, "Damn, we had better change our ways because we are getting called out!!" Or the time that the AFT and NEA called out the present administration for dismantling public education? Oh, yeah. That never happened.

But a press release about these principles or even coalitions advancing them is only a step. There are no silver bullets. We are sick and tired of people proposing the latest miracle solution. We could do everything on this list and have teachers who are both amazing and respected in every classroom, but that alone won’t be enough to help every child succeed — you know that, and we know that.

So, the TeachStrong plan is actually not important? We're just in it for the table place?

If we really want to ensure that every kid has a chance to reach his or her potential, we must provide all kids — especially kids in poverty — the resources and supports they need to succeed. 

Well, that's absolutely true. It just doesn't have anything at all to do with TeachStrong.

The tide is turning, and we have the chance to help change the narrative about educators and the role you play; to tell a different story about what works and what doesn’t in public education, based on real experience in classrooms across America. And it’s a chance to reclaim the promise of public education so that every public school is a place parents want to send their kids, educators want to work, and kids feel safe and engaged.

Man, Weingarten talks so pretty. But we have meandered a far distance away form our original question, which is why the hell did AFT sign off on a piece of reheated recycled reformster leftovers that put AFT and NEA in the same camp as some of the most relentlessly anti-teacher, anti-public education groups in the country? That's the question I came to hear answered, and I still haven't heard a satisfactory answer to it. I'm still waiting.


  1. The tide is certainly turning for teachers in Buffalo, who will soon lose collective bargaining rights thanks to Weingroan's pal Cuomo. But don't worry--they'll still get robust professional development.

  2. "...with an eye toward helping her set her table so that we can have a seat at it."

    The people who set the table are known as the help. They don't get to sit at the table they set.

    1. ^^^ That. So very much THAT. ^^^

      I want a Like button for that.

  3. Dienne - You are right on target. When Lily Eskelsen Garcia orchestrated the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton I said the exact same thing: She and Randi are so desperate for a seat at the table they do anything to be included.

    If the choice is between dining with Bill and Melinda Gates and Teach for America or going hungry , NEA and AFT should excuse themselves and go search elsewhere for a table where healthier fare is being served.

  4. Dear Commenters:

    What a show! Isn't it amazing? When Lilly or Randi speak, you can't see HER lips moving!

  5. Dear Peter Greene,

    I am one the Quality of Work Life Team members in BATs that you mentioned in the article above. The implication that our team has been co-opted by TeachStrong, or whomever they are, is simply not so.

    Our team was able to conduct the research on teacher Quality of Work Life, with the help of the AFT, but the work is our own and there was quite a lot of it and it continues. We have not given up or given over.

    We are a group of war-scarred, formerly bullied, and harassed teachers who had had enough. There were friends of ours who had committed suicide and who were suffering depression and burn-out and being harassed into retirement as well as most of the team itself.

    We took the chance to actually go to Washington and lay those issues on Sec. Duncan's table. In particular, I spoke about racism and systemic removal of teachers of color and I did not pull any punches. I will never forget the expressions on the faces of Duncan's Senior Staff after the presentation was finished.

    It was an opportunity that few people like me would ever have and I do not regret one moment of it; even if the AFT had to make it possible for me to get there. It was definitely not a schmooze fest, no political alliances were made and our team is still holding these parties feet to the fire.

    We presented our research, spoke from the belly of the beast as it were, for classroom teachers and what they are enduring under corporate education reform. Nothing more, nothing less.

    If this research is used to connect our team to TeachStrong, you can rest assured that the Quality of Work Life Team will have none of it and that we are just as astonished by this TeachStrong affiliation as you are.

    Too many hours have been spent at our own time and expense on behalf of teachers for us to allow our work be co-opted. During that time, we too were laboring in the classroom and our activism made us targets to be sure. It is too close to home for us to let this happen to our work.

    Thank you.

    1. Good to hear. And FWIW, I did not mean to suggest that you guys had sold, but that Randi was now using the connection to your work to help sell the idea that TeachStrong is really swell and teacher friendly. I'm grateful for the time and effort that the BATs put into the research (and did my small part by filling out a survey), but Weingarten does in the above-linked piece use your work to say, "But hey, look! This came from the BATs, so you know TeachStrong is legit."

    2. True, that she did. I cannot control what she says, but I CAN set the record straight about our involvement and that the work we did that had nought to do with TeachStrong.

      It is my hope we would fashion some sort of response to her to not justify the AFT joining TeachStrong by mentioning our work. Frankly at this point I do not know what will happen with that; I am trying to be honest and aboveboard about how deeply our team feels and how hard we work so there would never be another teacher suicide or mental breakdown.

      Politics is a sleazy business and honest, hard-working, souls are often used in the process. We are not politicians, just classroom teachers. That does not mean we endorse this or even agree with it.

  6. Yeah, Randi's going to call them out. The way Hillary says she called out the banksters in 2007.

    What I notice is that in the AFT resolution on teacher development and evaluation that her link about career pathways goes to, it talks about how "all stakeholders" have to work together. And who are "all stakeholders"? They're "union leaders, administrators, policymakers, parents and the broader community." Who's missing from this list of stakeholders? Teachers. Union leaders are not the same as teachers.

  7. I worked on the ‘Quality of Work life’ survey from the very beginning. I have the scars to prove my legitimacy. I was an original badass as I was told (because of my disability) to not go into teaching. I ignored the ‘advice’. After 21 successful years in elementary education, imagine my surprise reading my disability was regarded as ‘undesirable’ in a special education textbook. I wrote a rebuttal – and it went into the next edition. And before I had tenure in my new sped job, I had filed successful state and federal complaints. My employer now knows that both state and federal laws exist, for both kids and teachers with disabilities.
    Back to the QWL survey … when people start committing suicide from unbearable conditions, THAT MEANS - DO SOMETHING!!! I had already gone through some deep retaliation from speaking out against an administrator who was a bully. Oh the *(&^)(! Things like – being ‘written up’ 2 weeks after speaking out (‘write up’ - one more successful complaint J is now evidence that proves teachers are intimidated in special ed), not being put on payroll, being terminated one month after state department of education found employer out of compliance re: ‘write up’ as intimidation, fighting the termination and getting new seniority date so I could be ‘laid off’ (didn’t work – 3 minutes with OAH judge and I won/they lost)… This is just the brief synopsis. Of just part of me.
    Multiply this times 31,000 people who responded to the QWL survey. Ooooh the narratives are way beyond heartbreaking. Am I painting a dark enough picture of what is going on in education??? We are in the ‘ground zero’ with the survey.
    Hands down, I am glad AFT worked with us (because I am NEA!). Randi listened to us, and she knows how real our individual stories are. Last June, when I wrote Arne Duncan, asking for time for us to share with USDOE the results of our survey – I never expected to hear back. I don’t have a blog. Haven’t written a book. Do win “pain in the ass for my employer” award, however.
    At the USDOE, I shared the part on bullying. Shared how teachers with disabilities were harassed and bullied at higher rates than ANY other minority group. Shared the story of a teacher’s suicide. Story of Teacher of the Year Brett Bingham. The federal lawsuit against an urban district whose students and teachers deal with real life trauma.
    The picture we painted was NOT found ANYWHERE in ‘teachstrong’. Nada. Zip.
    So, while I genuinely appreciated the opportunity to fine tune my badass skills on this survey, I draw a line in the sand … the picture we painted via that survey was NOT THE ONE Randi spoke of in her essay.
    Randi, it wasn’t!!!
    It’s likened to institutional betrayal – where wrongdoings committed within the context of the institution, are ignored, denied …
    Teachers and students are a ‘Package deal’. They can’t be “fixed” in isolation of one another. So ‘fixing’ us teachers (!!!) ignores the poverty, the poor facilities, the lack of supplies, the low wages, the long hours, the bullying by administrators if you’re a teacher with a disability, LGBT, Black, Hispanic, Asian, female, older; the forced tests that serve no purpose, the long hours, the … Pardon me, but LISTEN TO US… Randi – it doesn’t work to tell NIOSH to study the Quality of Work life, and then ignore it with this ‘alliance’.
    It doesn’t.

    1. Thank you for all you do. You guys are the real warriors.

      I also thought it was strange and rather appalling that Randi's Quality of Work Life Survey link, which I thought would lead to the actual report or at least something substantive, leads to an article in The Atlantic that only talks about how teachers don't get bathroom breaks, and trivializes even that, suggesting teachers are crybaby wusses. It's inexplicable to me that Randi would link to that, and it makes me quite angry.

    2. Here's the link to the survey.

      The Atlantic article was one of many that mentioned the survey, but in a particularly negative fashion.

      I am not certain what link you followed, but the above link from Google is for real.

  8. Peter,

    You left out one of Rocketship's and Danner's biggest pedagogical innovations ...

    .... synchronized group line dancing ...

    ... where the entire student body starts every day with a synchronized line dance with music blasting through their gym... every morning this is how they "launch" the day at Rocketship (often with sexually suggestive music and dance movements... hmmm... ):


    Notice how --- as with the drab uniforms, as with plunking kids down in from of a computer for hours at a time with identical lessons --- this synchronized, robotic routine nurtures each black and brown child's unique differences and individuality.

    Welcome to Jonestown!

    And all the teachers look aged 25 and under... hey, you don't want any o' those veteran teachers, with their "failed status quo" thinking and ways, let into your school to stifle your brilliant attempts at "innovation."

    And as a bonus, you don't have to pay the young staff that much ... as almost all of them them are totally lacking in prior education or state credentials n teaching. They're just "facilitators" who walk the kids to computers, and do nothing while the kids sit and absorb Danner's computerized innovations.

    Here's another Rocketship morning "launched" with line dancing:

    or here ...

    You'd think that this brilliant "line dancing" innovation would be snapped up by the kids at wealthy private schools forthwith...

    ... for Michelle Rhee's kids at the expensive Harpeth Hall in Nashville

    ... for the Obama's kids at Sidwell Friends in D.C.

    ... for the Chicago Lab Schools, where the Obama's send their kids, pre-presidency, and where reformers Rahm Emanuel and... just recently... Arne Duncan send their kids...

    ... or the Heschel School, where Campbell Brown sends her two kids.

    My brother's first child attended the Lab School (was a classmate of Malia Obama's) and his second child attends it now. I sent him these videos and asked him what he would do if he discovered that this is how they started the day at the Lab School.

    He said that he would blow a gasket. This would NEVER happen at the Lab School.