AFT Leader Touts Value of Collaboration to Congress

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A groundbreaking contract negotiated by AFT's K-12 local in New Haven, Conn., helped set the tone and the direction when federal lawmakers sat down on July 27 to consider ways to improve teacher-quality provisions under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is up for reauthorization in Congress.

David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers. Photo credit: 2011 Bill Burke/Page One  David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers (NHFT), appeared before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to testify about the New Haven contract, which has been in place since July 2010, and to detail its implications for national policymakers dealing with issues of teacher quality and evaluation. The AFT leader underscored how, with the help of the national union, his local has addressed these issues in ways that keep teachers involved in every decision and promote top-to-bottom accountability in schools. New Haven is also crafting strategies that rely on more than a single test to evaluate teachers and preserving transparency in the design and implementation of the new evaluation.

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"What is key here is that we did not just build a teacher evaluation plan that simply acts as a sorting mechanism to tell us who is doing a good job and who is facing difficulty," Cicarella told the lawmakers. "Instead, we created a system that focuses on the continuous support and development of all teachers."

The AFT local president went on to detail many of the essentials for making "teacher quality" stand for more than just a cruel exercise in blaming teachers. Among those essential elements: a system that engenders trust, transparency that comes from union-district collaboration on issues of quality in the profession, strong professional development tailored to help individual educators improve their practice, and elements of teacher evaluation that are mutually agreed upon.

Cicarella also highlighted the value of addressing these issues through the contract. "Instead of instituting 'top-down' reforms, with no teacher input, we were able to utilize the collective bargaining process to ensure that teachers are heard and respected. ... It is a tool that teachers and school districts can use to drive real reforms aimed at improving both teaching and learning."

The contract has been hailed in the local media as "a first-in-the-nation agreement between a city and a teachers union to work together to change the way public schools work." It has also helped mobilize community support for public schools. Yale University, for example, is committing $4 million a year for the next four years to cover the enrollment costs for college-bound New Haven students.

Cicarella said the contract also reflects a bottom-line essential that any district needs when it comes to dealing with issues of teacher quality and evaluation: "a collaborative environment that puts student learning front and center."

Read Cicarella's prepared remarks.  [Mike Rose/photo by ©2011 Bill Burke/Page One]

July 26, 2011