News in Brief

A crisis is brewing: the demographic gap between American students and their teachers is widening, particularly in urban school systems where the number of black teachers is shrinking, largely due to retention issues in high-poverty schools. That message comes through loud and clear in a new report from the Albert Shanker Institute, The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education, released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., this fall. The report reviews national data and examines the trends in nine urban districts. In general, the teacher diversity picture is bleak, with only pockets of progress. The report, executive summary, and video of the press conference announcing the report's release are available online.

In October, the Obama administration released a new Testing Action Plan, which acknowledges that the obsession with high-stakes testing has gone too far and admits administration policies have helped drive the problem. The plan includes a statement that no standardized test should ever be given solely for educator evaluation, as well as a commitment to working with states and districts to eliminate such tests. It was unveiled the same day the Council of the Great City Schools released a report showing that students face about 112 examinations throughout their preK–12 years, or approximately eight tests per year. Congress, through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will ultimately have the major federal say on testing in schools. In the meantime, however, a change in White House policies—from Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers to impending teacher preparation policy—could play a significant role in reducing the testing fixation.

Teacher development and evaluation systems work well when they are co-designed by teachers, based on agreed-upon teaching standards, assessed in multiple ways, and supported with ongoing teacher and evaluator training. Those are some of the major findings in Moving Beyond Compliance: Lessons Learned from Teacher Development and Evaluation, which details a five-year effort by labor-management teams in 10 school districts, all located in New York state and Rhode Island. These teams, along with representatives from districts in other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, gathered in September in Washington, D.C., for the release of the report and a conference to learn more about the 10 districts studied. With support from the AFT Innovation Fund, unions and district partners created transformational evaluation systems, and the report captures lessons learned in that effort, which was also supported by federal Investing in Innovation grants.

Education union leaders from the 10 U.S. and Mexico border states met in Houston in October for the "We Build Bridges, Not Walls" conference. It was the first in a series of bilateral conferences to devise ways to help children and their families on both sides of the border access educational opportunities. The conference follows the groundbreaking Declaration in Defense of Public Schools that the AFT and the Mexican teachers union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación signed in May. The declaration forged a partnership to focus on the rights of children; robust multicultural curriculum; educator professional development; support for educators who cross the border daily to teach; and the need to provide parents and educators necessary information to ensure a high-quality public education for immigrant and deported children, undocumented students, and unaccompanied and refugee children. Read more about the event and listen to coverage online.

In November, Hillary Clinton met with AFT members in Nashua, New Hampshire, for a discussion that covered a range of topics related to education. Teachers, paraprofessionals, and higher education faculty participated in the conversation with Clinton—the AFT's endorsed candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination—which was moderated by AFT President Randi Weingarten. Participating union members came from eight states, and the event offered one of the biggest opportunities to date for a 2016 presidential candidate from either party to address in depth a full range of education issues. Among the topics covered were testing, the Common Core State Standards, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, special education, poverty, and equity.

The AFT, along with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), filed an amicus curiae brief on November 13 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a widely watched case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case threatens to make it harder for working people to join together and collectively speak out, and the repercussions of a union-weakening high court decision would be felt broadly. "When educators come together in a union, they are able to advocate not just for better pay and benefits but for a higher-quality public education for their students," says AFT President Randi Weingarten, who cowrote the brief. Oral arguments in the case will be heard in early 2016, with a decision expected by spring or early summer.

American Educator, Winter 2015-2016