Friday, February 29, 2008

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten gave the keynote address at a conference on performance incentives here last night. If you're thinking that it's odd for the head of a large teacher's union to be addressing a roomful of education economists you are correct. She essentially walked into the lion's den, confronted the lions, and lived to tell the tale. Whether you agree or disagree with her politics, you have to be impressed with her moxy.

My previous experience with Randi was limited to newsclips of her leading rallies, so I was pleasantly surprised by both the mechanics and the substance of her speech. She focused on two issues: bridging ideological divides to focus on what helps children (which, depending on your ideology, is either highly ironic or very fitting for a union head to say) and incorporating teachers in all reforms. She argued that the start of a pilot incentives program has gone smoothly in NYC because teachers had a role in its creation and management and because they were being rewarded rather than demeaned.

I think the strongest argument she made was that it is virtually impossible for most reforms to succeed without teacher buy-in. She asked a rhetorical question to the effect of "why would any teacher implement a reform in which they do not believe in their classroom?" To me, this is something too easily forgotten.

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