January 10, 2011
Statement by Randi Weingarten,
President, American Federation of Teachers,
On Michelle Rhee’s ‘StudentsFirst’ Priorities List
WASHINGTON—Michelle Rhee’s agenda presents a false choice: support students or support teachers. The fact is that neither can succeed unless both are supported. Making schools better places for children to learn also makes them better places for teachers to work.
Improving student learning works best when teachers, administrators and parents work together to transform schools. Collaboration and teamwork, not conflict, will move our schools forward. Make no mistake: The interests of teachers and children are inextricably linked—no matter how hard Rhee tries to separate them.
Rhee’s plan talks about valuing teachers and empowering parents, yet she did quite the opposite as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor. She advocates stripping away the voice of the two groups closest to kids—teachers and parents, who to Rhee are consumers, not front-end, engaged participants. Instead of discussing a comprehensive system to develop great teachers and evaluate them based on both instruction and student learning—a system developed by the AFT and now being used as a template by hundreds of local districts—she reverts to a “my way or the highway” approach by advocating that teacher evaluation not be a subject of collective bargaining. And while we agree that states and school leaders must be budget-conscious in these tough times, careless choices like simply reducing school-based funding, cutting teacher salaries and increasing class sizes diminish the quality of education and exacerbate already high teacher turnover.
Broad and enduring change will only take place when everyone—teachers, management, parents, elected officials and the community—takes responsibility for the education of our children. In the school districts where there is shared responsibility and a culture of collaboration, great teachers are being developed and students are achieving.
Unfortunately, Rhee—despite a new veneer and some wonderful rhetoric—still seems to want to create a narrative of good guys and bad guys, and winners and losers, in education. Preparing our children for school, college and life is too important to be reduced to an oversimplified choice between students and teachers.
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The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.