Randi Weingarten: Don’t Scapegoat Superintendents.

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This week I read Randi Weingarten’s (President, American Federation of Teachers) article on how superintendents shouldn’t scapegoat their teachers.

I hate to say this, but I often agree with Ms. Weingarten’s positions.It's Me in Goat Form.

I want it noted I’m not going over to the dark side (not that I’m implying teacher’s unions are the dark side, they’re just the opposite side… and everyone needs a villain).

If I can sum up Ms. Weingarten’s position (and I think I can since this is my blog): teachers shouldn’t be the only ones who are held accountable for student achievement.

Bravo! (sorry, I just went a little Broadway on you…consider yourself lucky I didn’t throw in some jazz hands).

She believes responsibility for underperforming schools should also be placed on superintendents (and others, but superintendents made their way into the title of the article).

I couldn’t agree more.

Everyone has a role in schools being successful:  parents, teachers, communities, school board members, coaches, custodians, aides, secretaries and most importantly… lunch ladies (if you don’t believe me… try being great on an empty stomach).

Superintendents need to lead this charge.  They are in a position to demand excellence and accountability from others, but also ensure that teachers have the resources to help their students succeed (her words… not mine… because I’m not an attorney or president of anything).

I hate to take a hard line union position, but she’s right (I’m morphing into Jimmy Hoffa right before your eyes).

Superintendents need to have higher expectations.  They also need to put their students and teachers in a position to be successful.

She also points out we need to do a better job at collaboration and innovation.

Again, I agree.

I’m losing… power… to control… my… anti-union… thoughts.

Is it possible Ms. Weingarten is my kryptonite (superhero reference… always good for blog traffic).  Is it possible I’ve been miscast?  Could it be I’m not cut out for the role of superintendent?

Maybe I need to send the AFT several thousand dollars to catch up on my union dues.

I would if I could, but I can’t.  I don’t completely agree with her and I just can’t (you almost had me under your spell Madame President).

She’s left out one fundamental fact.

Getting rid of bad teachers is too complicated.

It’s too easy to get in a classroom and it’s way too hard to remove bad teachers once they are there.  Our tenured system is overprotective of bad teachers.  The union is only as good as their worst teacher.  This is unfortunate.  Unfortunate for students who sit in these classrooms.

Unions like to focus on their best and brightest teachers (as they should).

Superintendents are put in a position where they have to deal with the not best and brightest (somebody has to do it).

We need a system that will allow us to quickly address (i.e. remove) the teachers who aren’t helping students learn.

And I think the same type of plan should go for administrators.

If you’re bad, get out.

If you aren’t getting the job done you need to be gone today.  Not tomorrow.  Not next year.  Not after two or three years of remediation. Not when you decide to retire.


I’ve heard the arguments about this not being fair.  Evil administrators will get rid of great teachers (why would they do this?)  People need time to improve.

I’m not buying this.

Students don’t have time.

Their education is on the clock (tick, tick, tick).

We are in the business of helping students learn aren’t we?

If a child has one terrible teacher during their 13 years of education, they’ve lost 7.7% of a quality education.

It only gets worse if they have 2, or 5, or 9 bad teachers (if you don’t believe me, ask a math teacher).

I wish teachers didn’t get so much blame when it comes to failing schools.   I wish it was spread around.

But teachers get blamed because they’re 99.9% of the reason students succeed.

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9 Responses to “Randi Weingarten: Don’t Scapegoat Superintendents.”

  1. Nick James
    on Oct 19th, 2010
    @ 8:33 pm

    I’m not so sure teachers are 99.9% responsible for students’ success. As you state earlier in the post, everyone has a role in educating children. I wonder if we’ll ever get away from blaming teachers for all of our students’ failures if we don’t also contribute success to the community as a whole. That includes parents and administrators.

    I do agree that superintendents should be held immediately accountable as well, though it reminds me of what Kansas City, Missouri has been through in the past couple decades, where they’ve had more than two dozen superintendents in forty years.

    How much do you think public perception of the job of superintendent has to change before it’s attractive enough to bring in the best people to fill it? Should we not also be concerned with how public perception of teachers affects how talent is pulled into the field?

  2. Karen
    on Oct 20th, 2010
    @ 4:55 am

    This is such a complicated issue, and as you said, kids don’t have time to wait. And, beginning teachers don’t have time to get better because kids don’t have time to wait. It’s easy to say get rid of poor teachers. That’s a no brainer, but what about the mediocre teacher who is “just good enough” but is harder to fire? And what about our definition of what is “good”? I have known teachers who were extraordinary with gifted (I hate that word but you know what I mean) but terrible with stuggling kids and vice versa. Can everyone be great with everyone? Regardless of what we say, the respect a profession gets in this culture is indicated by how much it is paid, and young teachers want respect as much as money. But fear of failure and lack of support, not just by admins but older teachers, drive out the door the new, enthusiastic, eager to learn new teachers of any age. Whether kids can wait or not, it takes a little while to learn to teach really well. I shudder at what I did at years 1-3 compared to years 26-28. And after being a principal I think to myself what an even better teacher I would be now (if I could actually wake up in time to go any more).

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Karen, This may be the most complicated issue in education.

  3. Ryan
    on Oct 20th, 2010
    @ 5:12 am

    I appreciate your comments on trying to fire ineffective teachers, but that is not what I have witnessed. What I have seen, unfortunately, is a personality clash between an administrator and a teacher.

    Especially if the administrator is inexperienced.

    What follows has nothing to do with the teacher’s competence. Until the administrator has applied “spin.”

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Ryan, I think this is an excellent point… we have to get away from placing new administrators in positions when they are prepared to lead.

    Asking a former coach to go from the classroom to leading a district doesn’t always turn out smoothly.

    If we expect more from our teachers, we have to expect more from administrators.

  4. Alicia Kessler
    on Oct 20th, 2010
    @ 7:00 am

    Without the net of tenure, great teachers would still work as hard as ever. Struggling teachers who CARE to get better would find a way or leave on their own. Poor teachers who are making no efforts to get better – would be removed.

    However, without the net of tenure I would expect administrators (principals and sups) to be far more actively involved and present in remediation strategies.

    Suggesting attendance at a couple of workshops doesn’t cut it. Find that teacher a mentor and attend meetings between the two……get in that classroom to observe – and jump in and help not just the person giving the stink eye at the back. As questions – hard, thought provoking questions and follow up, follow up, follow up and more follow up.

    But……what do I know? Just the bird’s eye observations district wide while I’m installing software in a classroom.

  5. Alicia Kessler
    on Oct 20th, 2010
    @ 7:01 am

    I hate that I can’t fix fast typing mistakes after posting. Grrrr.

  6. Pat
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 3:02 am

    We don’t have unions here in South Carolina but it still is too hard to get rid of bad teachers. As head of the dept. I was involved in a situation where a bad teacher was finally “let go.” It took 3 years of constant documentation of all the bad stuff (nothing illegal, just bad teaching) before the hammer dropped. This was a self contained classroom where these students had the same teacher for 3 years. 3 years out of 12 year career is much too long to have a bad teacher! I felt so bad for these students who constantly came to my classroom seeking help and more education. The first year, documentation showed how bad she was. Then she is given an improvement plan for the next year. Then if still bad, she is put on probation the last year and then the hammer. There needs to be a better system!

  7. Laura
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 12:04 pm

    It’s time we realize that we can’t scapegoat anyone… or we have to scapegoat everyone. The administrators who keep the same old ways that we know don’t work. The teachers who aren’t getting the job done. The community that doesn’t support a child. The parents who don’t make education a priority in their home. The child who doesn’t want to learn. The system that fails to support the child and their individual needs.

    I have no problem firing new teachers if they can’t cut the mustard… but to be fair college students need more opportunity to work with teachers who are worthy of emulation. We need to spend more time out there in the real world learning how to really do the job. Instead of making students take all kinds of unnecessary crap in college, let them pass the Praxis I (the initial certification test), let them study methods, child development, all the things that are directly applicable to being a teacher, and with all the time we don’t spend taking classes that don’t teach us how to teach, let us spend many many many more hours out in the real world and let it count as college credit.

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