Archive for the ‘AFT Convention’ category

Why AFT Was Wrong to Have Gates Speak

July 12, 2010

As we were having breakfast Sunday morning at the AFT Convention, one of my fellow delegates asked me what the media said about Gates speaking.  I told him, “Teachers applaud Gates”.  He then asked me what the alternative press said.  I told him, “Stupid teachers applaud Gates.”

The fact is teachers were put in a no win situation by AFT President Randi Weingarten brought in Bill Gates to deliver the keynote address to the AFT Convention.   We were left with a choice of looking unprofessional and heckling or with looking like we supported Gates by not heckling.   The newspapers reported Gates’ speech just like we knew they would and we provided a forum for his views even though they are views that are opposed by most teachers and should be objected to by any self-respecting teacher’s union.

Some members of our caucus walked out in protest, others sat silently–although we couldn’t help joining the rest of the crowd in booing at several of the things that Gates said.  Weingarten explained to us at the Illinois Federation of Teachers breakfast that she was being like Gahndi by having a dialogue with Gates.   I admit that my knowledge of Gahndi is based on a little bit of reading in college and the Ben Kingsley film, but I am pretty sure his method of resistance was not giving the British a forum to speak.   A keynote address is not a dialogue, it’s dictation.  So what was it that Bill Gates said that was so objectionable:

1. Despite these efforts, our high school scores in math and reading are flat. Our graduation rates have plunged from 2nd in the world to 16th. And our 15-year-olds now rank behind 22 countries in science and behind 31 countries in math – This is not highly objectionable, but I really get irritated when I see America’s universal education system compared to countries without universal education.  It majorly skews results.

2. There are a growing number of public schools – including charter schools – that smash old prejudices about what low-income and minority students can achieve. They give us models to study, understand, and spread – Well Bill, last week you said that only charter schools could provide innovation.  Let’s at Urban Prep who has been celebrated in the national media for their 107 95 graduates all going to college.

3. The truly impressive reforms share the same strategic core – they all include fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement. Public schools have never had this before. It’s a huge change – the kind of change that could match the scale of the problem — We’ve had this for years.  We’ve only recently started using it to punish schools.  The result is that our students are no longer taught critical thinking skills, which are of little use in standardized test taking.

4. In 2008 and 2009, our foundation partnered with Scholastic on a national survey to learn the views of 40,000 teachers on crucial questions facing your profession.  Teachers said in huge numbers that they don’t get enough feedback. They’re not told how they can improve. They’re not given training that can address their weaknesses or help them share their strengths with others. — The number one thing both teachers and students said most was class size–something that Gates always ignores.

5. In Pittsburgh, they’re creating incentives for highly effective teachers to go into low-performing schools. In certain schools, if students have better-than-expected gains in learning, their teachers earn additional pay. In another program, teachers will work as a team with a group of incoming ninth graders and stay with those kids for two years. If at the end of 10th grade the kids are on track for college, the whole team will get a bonus — Merit pay has never worked for teachers and everywhere it’s been piloted it has failed.   If teachers were soulless money grubbers we wouldn’t have been teachers, we’d have gone to work for Microsoft.

6. Many teachers say they know someone who—even after getting the support needed to improve—simply doesn’t deserve to get tenure. You owe it to your profession and your students to make sure that tenure reflects more than the number of years spent in the classroom. It should reflect the quality of the work you do in the classroom—and that means student achievement should be a factor in decisions about tenure. — Tenure is not lifetime employment.  It is due process.   It is not something that should be based on success under any metric.  In fact, it is when you are unsuccessful that you most need due process.   Tying the two together is like saying, “Let’s reserve the Bill of Rights only for people not accused of a crime”.   Sorry, that doesn’t work.

7. This work is important. But if you’re fighting only for wages, hours and working conditions, then it’s just teachers fighting for teachers – In Illinois, that’s about the only thing we’re legally allowed to bargain for.  All workplace issues like class size and calendar we are prohibited by law from negotiating.

8. If you want teachers unions to lead a revolution in American education, please remember: sometimes the most difficult act of leadership is not fighting the enemy; it’s telling your friends it’s time to change. — That’s great advice.  I’m sure Gahndi would agree.

For more information on Gates, check out Leonie Haimson’s commentary. She offers some wonderful reasons why the AFT was crazy to invite him.  For some wonderful satire on getting rid of bad teachers follow this link.

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