The UFT: Willing to put skin in the game

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While teachers unions generally oppose standard school accountability measures, New York's UFT is the first to propose an alternative. In a recent column in USA Today, Randi Weingarten pledged to come up with the union's own version of how to hold Big Apple schools accountable, such as giving less emphasis to student test scores and more weight to the working conditions in schools, such as class size, safety and availability of advanced courses and extracurricular activities.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Joel Klein continues to grade schools his way, by looking at test scores, with a particular focus on improving student performance at the lower end. Klein's approach led to some surprisingly high marks for some schools, including the South Bronx Academy for Applied Media, listed on the state's report card as among the most violent schools, but earning an A under the city grading system. The reason? Though just 17 percent of its students were able to meet grade level standards, more than 63 percent had improved from last year.

In another arena--the evaluation of teachers--New York City is taking a smartly tentative approach to its use of 'value-added' data. Unlike other districts that jumped head first into using such data to judge a teacher's performance--and barely lived to tell the tale--New York is quietly accumulating and analyzing data in order to learn first and act second.

Without their knowledge, about 10 percent of the city's teachers are being tracked by value added data, while another 10 percent are only being evaluated by their principals. The city will gauge if the two systems produce widely disparate results.

Union president Randi Weingarten believes that if the union were to permit use of the data in making personnel decisions, "it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life." In an unusual nod by a union official to the omniscience of a school principal, Weingarten proclaimed, "Any real educator can know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is effective." The devil Randi knows...