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A Union’s New Path Forward

Excerpts from Randi Weingarten’s speech pushing teachers union members to support school reform.

On January 12, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers gave a speech to members of her organization titled “A New Path Forward: Four Approaches to Quality Teaching and Better Schools.” The speech represents a pivotal change in a longstanding conflict between district leaders and union members.

Here are excerpts:

“In too many places, our public education system—which educates over 90 percent of our children—still operates on the Industrial Age model."

“This is the time to shed the old conflicts and come together. This is the time to forge a new path for our public schools and change public education for our changing world. This morning, I’d like to suggest a new path forward—toward a 21st-century education system, a serious and comprehensive reform plan to transform our schools, ensure great teaching and prepare our children for productive, successful and meaningful lives.”

“They [teachers]—and the AFT—want a fair, transparent and expedient process to identify and deal with ineffective teachers. But they 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. That is essential for a fair and efficient due process system.”

“Today, I am proposing four initiatives that I believe will help us develop and support great teachers, and make new progress for our schools and our children.”

“First, I am unveiling a new template for teacher development and evaluation—a constructive, meaningful and ongoing system that incorporates standards and best practices for the teaching profession—and, yes, student outcomes. Second, I’m putting forward a new approach to due process. Third, I’ll share my thoughts on what teachers need to help students succeed—the tools, time and trust to do their jobs well. Fourth, I’ll discuss changing the labor-management relationship, because that’s the foundation we need to make each of these other ideas work.”

“We propose rigorous reviews by trained expert and peer evaluators and principals, based on professional teaching standards, best practices and student achievement. The goal is to lift whole schools and systems: to help promising teachers improve, to enable good teachers to become great, and to identify those teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom at all.”

“All over the country, what we’re trying to say is this: The door is wide open. Let’s work together to make progress for our children.”