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AFT and New Haven Affiliate Win More National Praise

The AFT and its New Haven, Conn., affiliate, which have been widely praised for their groundbreaking reform-focused contract, received another noteworthy national boost in a Feb. 16 op-ed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Not always a fan of teachers' unions, Kristof calls the efforts in New Haven "jaw-dropping." New Haven, he writes, "has arguably become ground zero for school reform in America because it is transforming the system with the full cooperation of the union."

He goes on to detail efforts in New Haven, which have brought union and school district officials together in implementing a new teacher development and evaluation system that not only has led to low-performing teachers leaving the profession but also has improved the performance of all the district's educators. (See related article.)

"We all use the same litmus test: Would we want our kid in that room?" New Haven Federation of Teachers president David Cicarella told Kristof. "We all recognize that we need to do something. Tenured teachers who are ineffective—that is an issue. We want to do something about it. But it's not fair either to blame all teachers."

The progress in New Haven is a tribute to the savvy of AFT president Randi Weingarten, Kristof says, calling her "as shrewd a union leader as any I've seen. She realized that the unions were alienating their allies, and she is trying to change the narrative."

Kristof concludes by saying, "The New Haven model still doesn't go as far as I would like, but it does represent enormous progress. And it's a glimpse of a world in which 'school reform' is an agenda and not just a term that sets off a brawl. If the American Federation of Teachers continues down this path, I'll revisit my criticisms of teachers' unions. Maybe even give them a hug for daring to become part of the solution." [Dan Gursky, New York Times]

February 16, 2012