AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Shift in Culture

Teachers are an important part of a child’s education. While one teacher may be particularly significant to a student’s academic success, it is the collection of teachers that a student encounters throughout his or her educational career that provides the foundation for academic success along with parents, other school staff (such as nurses, cafeteria workers, counselors, bus drivers and janitors), administrators and community members. Teachers, school administrators, school boards and district leaders are responsible for providing every student with the opportunity to learn and to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.

Good teachers thrive in schools that identify, develop and support their talent. In schools where there are genuine supports for teaching and learning, students and teachers thrive. Similarly, when students’ nonacademic needs are not met, or when family problems interfere with learning, students may underachieve or perform poorly. While assigning blame for poor student performance to an individual teacher, administrator or parent is easy and convenient, it is also counterproductive. School systems must identify the supports that parents need to nurture their children’s learning and to improve system quality. Evaluation of individual teachers has an important place in shared accountability for student success, but it is not the only component needed to improve system quality so that all students succeed.

Shared responsibility must mean that we are willing to solve problems, confront challenges and innovate in a system that promotes trust and individual integrity, and that values involvement in decision making. Implicit in the idea of shared accountability is shared responsibility and trust. Teachers must trust that administrators are true partners in the work of helping them become the best teachers they can be to successfully prepare students for life and the world of work.

Collaboration means administrators, teachers and parents working together toward goals on which they all agree and using methods they all accept. Without the buy-in of teachers, student success is unlikely. With teachers’ buy-in, student success is unstoppable. Accountability should fix schools, not affix blame; it should take into account the conditions that are beyond the teacher’s or school’s control, and hold everyone responsible for doing their share. We take our responsibility seriously, and we ask others to do the same.

The Common Core standards are more focused, call for deeper levels of cognitive understanding, and hold higher expectations for our students than most previous standards, thereby requiring everyone to think about teaching and learning in more complex and different ways. All stakeholders must work together to implement the standards in systemic ways that will bring focus and coherence to support what goes on in classrooms.

The current accountability system emphasizes teacher accountability and fails to hold any others accountable for student achievement. The AFT calls for a 360-degree accountability system that holds all stakeholders accountable, including, for example, teachers, students, parents, the higher education community, school boards, principals and administrators, elected officials, superintendents, chief state school officers, mayors, and governors.