Union blues

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers,  wants to be a reformer, write Ed Sector’s Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in Making the Grade.

In her (November) speech, she vowed to give ear to almost any tough-minded school reform, and, in a line that thrilled many reformers, promised that the AFT will not protect incompetent teachers: “Teachers are the first to say, ‘Let’s get incompetent teachers out of the classroom.

But Weingarten’s reform ambitions have foundered in Washington, D.C., they write.

Michelle Rhee, a hard-charging and high-profile reformer now serving as the chancellor of the city’s schools, has taken on the system with a strong hand, vowing to ramp up teacher-training and shuffle low-performing teachers out of the system. Her offer to teachers, buttressed by pledged funding from several foundations, is this: Give up tenure, and you will receive dramatic salary boosts measured in tens of thousands of dollars–or keep tenure protections, your salary increases will be far smaller, and you will still be subject to dismissal if you fail to reach performance standards.

The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) at first seemed willing to work with Rhee to craft a deal on her two-track system. But, in the end, the WTU rejected the offer without even putting it to a vote of teachers.

In New York City, UFT’s well-publicized attempt to unionize KIPP schools is in trouble.  Teachers at two KIPP schools are breaking union ties, reports Gotham Schools.  That may affect the union vote at a third KIPP school.

Eduwonk puts “the odds at one in three now that the UFT comes out of this with any KIPP schools in the city as part of their portfolio.”

More generally, while the UFT/AFT hoped this would highlight how hard KIPP teachers work and sustainability questions about  that, instead this episode now seems likely bring into stark relief some of the very real tensions between industrial-style unionism and professional work.

Look for “total war” instead of “healthy debate,” Eduwonk says.

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