Wisconsin Teachers’ Union Prepares for Battle with GOP Gov

A number of American Federation of Teachers affiliates across the country–D.C., Pittsburgh, Colorado, Baltimore–have embraced contracts or state laws that tie teacher tenure and performance ratings to student test scores. To date, the National Education Association, however–the larger union–has been reluctant to do so. 

That's why the news out of Wisconsin this morning is interesting. The state's NEA affiliate, under pressure from Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has released a proposal of what it terms "bold reforms." The union is willing to make two significant compromises:

  • Support the creation of a state-wide teacher evaluation system that takes student test score data into account
  • Support some use of value-added analysis, a controversial statistical equation used to estimate the effect of a teacher on his or students' academic "growth"

There are many other elements of the proposal that will disappoint reformers looking to make it easier to remove bad teachers from the classroom. Some reformers prefer to evaluate all teachers, even tenured ones, every single year; the Wisconsin union plan would evaluate tenured teachers only once every three years. A bad evaluation would trigger a second evaluation the next year; a second bad score would lead to the teacher either entering a three-year peer assistance program or losing their job. Those are two very different outcomes, and the union wants the crucial details to remain subject to locally-negotiated contracts. 

The proposal could be compared to Colorado's "Great Teachers and Leaders Bill," SB191, which passed with the support of that state's small AFT affiliate. After implementation, Colorado will evaluate all teachers annually and effectively strip tenured teachers of due process protections if they earn two bad evaluations in a row, leaving it up to principals and superintendents whether to remediate or fire the teacher in question. 

While we're on the subject of Wisconsin, I find Scott Walker sort of terrifyingly simple-minded but charismatic. His education platform is basically Race to the Top plus vouchers while somehow massively cutting education budgets. (Huh?) He is especially heinous, though, on another one of my pet issues, mass transit. Here's one of his campaign season ads.

16 thoughts on “Wisconsin Teachers’ Union Prepares for Battle with GOP Gov

  1. john thompson

    Had the Wisconsin series supported by Hechinger series been framed in a more objective manner, and a few misstatements been corrected the story might had read something like this:

    IN WISCONSIN, there has been only tepid interest shown across the state in major change, BUT THERE HAS BEEN A LONG HISTORY OF REFORM IN MANY PARTS OF THE NATION. TODAY, “REFORM” IS MORE COMPLICATED BECAUSE OF DEEP DIVISIONS BETWEEN TRADITIONAL REFORMERS AND DATA-DRIVEN REFORMERS WHO HAVE COME UPON THE SCENE IN THE LAST TWO DECADES.

    TRADITIONAL REFORMERS SEEK DATA-INFORMED ACCOUNTABILITY AS OPPOSED TO DATA-DRIVEN POLICIES because paying close attention to what can be learned from student scores is valuable, but few believe using scores alone as the basis for pay is a good idea. Standardized tests don’t capture everything students learn or teachers teach.

    After so many reforms and initiatives in other areas of education have failed to have much impact, the spotlight has turned to trying to make the teacher (DELETE STUDENT AND RELATIONSHIPS?)-student relationship a more powerful force for achievement.

    TO DATA-DRIVEN REFORMERS, WHO RARELY HAVE MUCH EXPERIENCE IN THE TOUGHEST NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS (AS OPPOSED TO THE VERY DIFFERENT WORLD OF SELECTIVE SCHOOLS, It’s a simple equation: Improve teacher effectiveness and you improve outcomes, including, some supporters hope, narrowing the gaps between the haves and have-nots of educational good fortune.

    The drive for change is not without setbacks. Plenty of lessons are being learned already about what doesn’t work. One prominent example: An experiment with providing teachers in Nashville, Tenn., bonuses …

    IT COULD BE ARGUED THAT you can’t talk about improving the effectiveness of teachers without talking about improving the effectiveness of principals. Teachers need a good environment to thrive, and that environment – call it school culture – starts with the principal.
    Bad experiences with principals are a big reason many teachers leave MPS and elsewhere.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, principal jobs are grueling and pressure-filled, and have gotten more so in recent years. … it is hard to attract people. … it is hard to increase the number of dynamic principals when there are so many conflicting demands from above. Principals are under pressure from national and state political leaders to get better results.

    Principals … can describe how many directions they can be pulled in the course of a day. Instructional leadership is a hot phrase now, but it is a weak spot for many principals who are more comfortable running the business of a school rather than leading, modeling or coaching what and how to teach. Large amounts of on-the-job training for principals now focus on developing instructional leadership, BUT THERE IS NO WAY OF KNOWING WHETHER THAT TRAINING IS HELPFUL IN REAL-LIFE SCHOOLS.

    In addition, evaluating teachers is ideally a major priority of principals. In practice, it often gets short shrift … It is impossible is to carve out time to observe teachers leading classes so he can offer feedback. .

    PRINCIPALS HAVE TRADITIONALLY BEEN RELUCTANT TO INVEST THE TIME NECESSARY TO CONDUCT EVALUATIONS IN THE TOUGHEST SCHOOLS, WHERE THE TEACHER QUALITY ISSUE IS MOST ACUTE BECAUSE, If you’ve got openings that nobody wants, you’re going to get a struggling teacher,” Sonnenberg said. He praised the teaching staff overall, but said the joke in his building is, if you show up for a job interview, you get the job – unlike some suburban situations, where there can be hundreds of applicants for each opening

    PRINCIPALS ARE NOT SHY ABOUT THEIR CHALLENGES, rom dealing with misbehaving students to filing mountains of reports to his bosses, … BUT PRINCIPALS ARE UNDERSTANDABLY RELUCTANT TO GO ON THE RECORD WITH THE COMMON BELIEF THAT PART OF THE REASON FOR THE PAPERWORK IS PRESSURING PRINCIPALS TO NOT ENFORCE ATTENDANCE AND BEHAVIORAL POLICIES, AND TO JUST “PASS STUDENTS ON.”

    A HUGE QUESTION IS WHETHER PRINCIPALS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO INTERPRET VAUE-ADDED ESTIMATES AND TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE FAILURE OF TEACHERS IN THE TOUGHEST SCHOOLS TO MEET THEIR TEST SCORE GROWTH TARGETS IS DUE TO TEACHER INEFFECTIVENESS OF THE CONSTRAINST PLACED ON PRINCIPALS BY THEIR BOSSES, ESPECIALLY IN PREVENTING THEM FROM ADDRESSING CHRONIC DISORDER IN NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS, MADE WORSE BY THE CREAMING OF THE EASIER-TO-EDUCATE STUDENTS TO CHOICE SCHOOLS.

    A PRINCIPAL IN a religious school on the north side, said: “Many high quality teachers want to spend their lives helping underserved students succeed. Give them a classroom full of students who want an education and they’ll work in the poorest neighborhoods and may even accept below-average pay. Place them in a school full of unruly, undisciplined, unmotivated kids and they’ll give it their best shot – but ultimately they’ll quit if they can’t achieve success.”

    UNIONS AND TEACHERS HAVE LONG ARGUED THAT THE SUCCESS OF SELECTIVE SCHOOLS could be achieved more broadly IF HIGH-QUALITY ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS WERE AVAILABLE. FOR IDEOLOGICAL, POLITICAL, AND FINANCIAL REASONS, DISCUSSIONS OF ALTERNATIVE SETTING HAVE BEEN THE THIRD RAIL OF SCHOOLING. THINGS MAY BE CHANGING AS THE GATES FOUNDATION, LEARNING FROM ITS SMALL SCHOOL EXPERIMENT, HAS PRESENTED STRONG EVIDENCE THAT ALTERNATIVE SETTINGS MAY BE NECESSARY OF 5 TO 10% OF URBAN STUDENTS.

    THIS IDEOLOGICAL DISPUTE IS PERSONIFIED BY the Education Trust, A POWERFUL Washington-based education advocacy group, WITH A CONTROVERSIAL RECORD IN PRODUCING EDUCATIONAL POLICY PAPERS, FROM AN ANTI-UNION PERSPECTIVE. FOR INSTANCE, THE TRUST AND ITS ALLIES HAVE SAID THAT IT WOULD MAKE NO SENSE TO Order teachers to work in the neediest schools.

    IT IS FEARED THAT THE TRUST’S PROPOSED POLICIES WOULD LEAVE DISTRICTS WITH NO CHOICE BUT TO DO SO. IN FACT, IN THIS POLITICAL CLIMATE, SOME EDUCATIONAL LEADERS ASK, “Why can’t the employer determine what is best for the organization?”

    Ultimately, it is tough to make people take jobs they don’t want, AND SUCH A POLICY COULD UNLEASH AN EXODUS OF THE BEST URBAN TEACHERS TO THE SUBURBS OR INTO EARLY RETIREMENT, BUT PERHAPS THOSE SORTS OF CORECION ARE NOT UNTHINKABLE BECAUSE when MPS sent hundreds of teachers layoff notices last spring, that meant three of his most promising teachers were bumped out because they lacked seniority. (They were later recalled but assigned to other schools, while Sonnenberg was sent experienced teachers whom he had not sought, nor had they sought him.) THIS HAS LONG BEEN CONDEMNED BY UNIONS AND DISTRICTS ALIKE AS THE DANCE OF THE LEMONS.

    If the bottom 6% of teachers were forced out of the profession, it would have a broad elevating affect. If there were fewer weak teachers, there would be fewer to put in the worst assignments.

    Wisconsin’s unions largely have not been open to change, BUT NATIONALLY THE STORY HAS BEEN DIFFERENT. Dal Lawrence, the former longtime president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers and current member of the Teachers Union Reform Network, called the state’s teachers union one of the most “retrograde” in the country, along with New York’s.

    IT HAS BEEN ARGUED THAT unions need to get away from their “completely contractual approach,” with work regulated to the minute and restrictions on both the timing and frequency of supervisors’ classroom visits, ON THE OTHER HAND THERE HAS BEEN NO EFFORT TO DOCUMENT WHETHER SUCH RETROGRADE ATTITUDES ARE WIDESPREAD IN SCHOOLS.
    SIMILARLY, DISAGREEMENTS OVER DUE PROCESS HAVE BEEN COMPLICATED BY THE ADVERSARIAL NATURE OF THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM. THERE IS NO WAY OF DETERMINING WHETHER TEACHERS UNIONS HAVE BEEN MORE OR LESS SUCCESSFUL IN SEEKING STREAMLINED PROCESSES.

    THE SERIES DESCRIBED a hearing that spanned seven evenings in which she was represented by a union attorney, the teacher was reinstated to her job by an arbitrator. The district eventually settled a federal lawsuit with the teacher that kept her from returning. THE AFT RECENTLY ADVANCED THE RECOMMENDATION OF KEN FEINBERG FOR STREAMLINING TERMINATIONS BASED ON TEACHER MISBEHAVIOR.

    THE MUCH MORE COMMON, AND MORE COMPLICATED QUESTION, WHETHER UNIONS HAVE MADE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO TERMINATE EDUCATORS FOR INEFFECTIVENESS WAS NOT ADDRESSED IN THE SERIES.
    AS IN OTHER LEGAL PROCEEDINGS, ACTUAL PROCESSES ARE MUCH MORE COMPLICATED. OFTEN, UNIONS WILL BE VERY FLEXIBLE, EVEN ASSISTING ADMINISTRATORS IN CROSSING t’s AND DOTTING i’s, IN TERMINATIONS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE ADMINISTRATORS HAS A RECORD OF CREDIBILITY. OTHER TIMES, UNIONS HAVE A LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY TO DEFEND TEACHERS WHO THE UNION WOULD LIKE TO SEE REMOVED FROM THE CLASSROOM, DUE TO ADMINISTRATIVE MALPRACTICE AND/OR THE PRECEDENT THAT WOULD BE SET IN THAT CASE.

    THE UNION HAS OPPOSED REFORMS, INCLUDING THOSE ENCOURAGED BY THE RTTT, WHEN IT BELIEVED THAT THOSE REFORMS ARE WRONGHEADED AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. THIS IS COMPLICATED BECAUSE President Barack Obama has taken on teachers unions – traditionally partisan allies. THIS HAS CREATED A COMPLEX SITUATION WHERE THE NATIONAL UNION LEADERSHIP HAS RISKED A BACKLASH FROM ITS RANK-IN-FILE BY BENDING OVER BACKWARDS WITH POLICIES WHICH MANY TEACHERS SEE AS DEEPLY OFFENSIVE.

    FOR INSTANCE, THE UNIONS HAVE OFFERED TO MEND, NOT END SENIORITY. BUT CONSTRUCTIVE REFORM IS UNLIKELY WITHOUT FIRST ESTABLISHING FAIR DUE PROCESS PROCEDURES. Even three years ago he would have said it is impossible to change tenure, WHICH IS NO MORE THAN DUE PROCESS RIGHTS, “It’s now changing, despite everybody’s predictions.”

    Reply
  2. l sewart

    You really care about the kids! That’s why 40% of teachers call in sick and you have to cancel school in Madison. YOU SHOULD ALL BE FIRED!! Everyone is damn tired of your bitching. It’s about time we have a grown-up running our state!

    Reply
  3. Kala

    Unions are out of control and government Unions are a death warrent for states and federal government fiscal responsibility.

    Reply
  4. Judy Pankow

    I am so apalled at what is happening at our capitol right now. What are these teachers showing their students right now? What other working group gets tenure? None – how dare they! There are so many out of work. They should thank their lucky stars that they still have a job! Stand firm Governor Walker and the rest of the legislature. Don’t let a few thousand determine what is right for the entire state! Let’s show the other states and the federal government that Wisconsin means business!

    Reply
  5. Gray Ghost

    Why were children taken from the classroom to a protest? Were these children taken against their will?
    Were the parents notified their children were being taken to a protest? Were permission slips from parents obtained? I was appalled to see children out of school and protesting for what I am not sure they even knew. If this is what we can expect from union teachers then unions need to be banned in every state school system!

    Reply
  6. Kathy Lockner

    It is disturbing to me that teachers, who work about 180 days a year, out of 360, have the nerve to gripe when asked to contribute to their own retirement and health care. As a former teacher, and proud of being former, I am appalled at the lack of vision for our future. It is all about me. If you don’t like the situation, you don’t have to do it! I have 2 successful businesses once I left teaching because I, 1. Was astonished at the union dues/lack of representation, and 2. wanted more.
    Isn’t this what you pay union dues for, representation, yet you are having to protest? Where is your leader? Get back to teaching our children!

    Reply
  7. DJ

    It’s shameful what’s happing in our state. We have a 3.6 billion dollar defecit and the people that are on the government payroll (the biggest contributors to this defecit) are protesting because they are asked to contribute their fair share? A small percentage for their pensions and up to around $200 towards their health insurance (way smaller amounts than the private sector workers do)is not too much to ask. These things need to be done or their won’t be enough money to pay these workers and jobs will have to be elimated and that would be a terrible thing. We already have one of the highest taxed states in the nation and give more benefits to our public workers that most states. The private sector can’t keep up with more taxes.

    Reply
  8. jay sea

    just a question… why are the teacher’s different from everyone else; pay .. benefits ..how can a state be broke ??? you have lotto.thats what its for ?text book scams and wasted money ..you strike … i really hope they bring up grads i meant grades…. county and state employees aren’t effective ..just like crazy money for a lazy.cop….pension ???whats that ??? why you not me…i’m not paying for it …bs… I meant Ps lock down on that and white collar prison…whateva

    Reply
  9. ed sewarat

    What kind of example are these teachers giving their students? That you can lie and do as you like if you think you’re right? Just so that you can get your way, even if you’re just being asked to abide by the same rules that others abide by?

    Gawd! No wonder our country is in such a mess!

    Reply
  10. Wanda L. Miller

    People do not understand the issues a teacher faces. We have a system that only considers tests as a means to evaluate a school. I am an urban educator, and last year we spent around 40 days testing students. This is a crime. There are other ways to measure our students. We have students who refuse to take a test, or they simply do not take the test seriously and will bubble in any response just to get the test over with. It is interesting that so many people who have never taught have a lot to say about something they know nothing about. If I did not have to spend so much of my time teaching my students how to take a test, I would have a lot more time to do my job. It is totally out of hand, and the majority of the people in this country do not understand what is really going on. The bottom line is, people want a quality education for their children, but they do not want to pay for it. If you do not pay for education now, trust me, you will pay dearly in the future. A lot of people have a lot to say about my job, but before you walk my walk, do not judge me. As far as our elected officials go, I do vote, and I listen to you and watch you very carefully.

    Reply
  11. Joe Cross

    @Wanda Miller wrote People do not understand the issues a teacher faces. We have a system that only considers tests as a means to evaluate a school. I am an urban educator, and last year we spent around 40 days testing students. This is a crime. There are other ways to measure our students. We have students who refuse to take a test, or they simply do not take the test seriously and will bubble in any response just to get the test over with. It is interesting that so many people who have never taught have a lot to say about something they know nothing about. If I did not have to spend so much of my time teaching my students how to take a test, I would have a lot more time to do my job. It is totally out of hand, and the majority of the people in this country do not understand what is really going on. The bottom line is, people want a quality education for their children, but they do not want to pay for it. If you do not pay for education now, trust me, you will pay dearly in the future. A lot of people have a lot to say about my job, but before you walk my walk, do not judge me. As far as our elected officials go, I do vote, and I listen to you and watch you very carefully.
    If you teach your students on the subjects in your classroom, they should know what’s on the test and should have some idea of how to take a test.
    As for the your plea for more money for better education it is rather old and falling on deft ears. You and most other educators want to blame everything
    else under the sun for your failure to teach. The American tax payer are tired of these excuses for there decaying education system. It’s time to get the liberal
    bullsh-t out of our schools and start teaching three R’s again. Put God back in and the homosexuals out.
    For some good measure throw in a heavy dose of discipline

    Reply
  12. Mary Catherine

    Teachers are giving a very bad example! Imagine students calling in “sick” because they don’t want to take an exam. How about doing what you signed up for and TEACH!

    Unions are out of control–down with unions!!!

    Reply
  13. me.yahoo.com/a/rfzr_u59lPZEYUUMFHyPYvfqrVL8Wg--

    Why the Governor opted to declare war on a known tinderbox instead of working together toward progress is beyond reason. A true leader inspires and unites. Fox news reports that these citizens are wrong for standing up for what they believe- when it was the TeaParty bunch, they struck a different tune. This assault on the unions directly impacts them and their livelihood so it is personal- They are no less citizens than the Governor and his friends- they are old, young, mothers, fathers, retired, working, daughters, sons, students, firemen, policemen. Come on Fox, the whole world can’t be the enemy? You’ll lose even your own base then.

    Reply
  14. justice

    I dont understand the details. To me the obvious is all about the GOOD GUYS but coward and lack fighting spirit (the Deomocratic) versus the BAD GUYS who are selfish, cunning and brave liars (Republicans). As always in real life (except on TV), the BAD GUYS wins. It has been very clear that Republican agenda is that common Americans have small pockets and the holy rich Americans to have BIG POCKETS. Holy holy holy to the rich and giant companies, LET THEM KEEP THEIR MONEY IN THEIR BIG POCKETS!
    I say YOU ASK FOR IT, WISCONSIN! Shame on those who voted for Republican. Many because they say vote Republican because “our family has always been Republican, my father and grandfather had always vote for Republican”. Dont aspect anything from the Government. Don’t many of you who want SMALL GOVERNMENT? Republican want the government to be small – meaning you people are ON YOUR OWN ON YOUR OWN. Republican dont want to be buddy government to the people, unless you are RICH RICH RICH. Then they will be your buddy. Put the blame on those who vote for Republican. Dont you know by now? Republican dont want to play government to all kinds of people, but FOR CLUB MEMBERS ONLY (YOU HAVE TO BE RICH). Oh you poor poor you, if you vote for Republican, and need goverment help, join the Tea party and shout ‘SMALL tini tiny GOVERNMENT”. Bring asprin with you, you might need it.

    Reply

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