Teachers Union Initiates School Reform Plan

Press Releases

September 11, 2008

(From USA TODAY, September 11, 2008)


Education reformers have long criticized the big teachers unions for blocking efforts to shake up public school bureaucracies, but a new, $1 million campaign from one of the largest may help put some of that criticism to rest.

The American Federation of Teachers, the USA's second-largest teachers union, plans to announce today it will put up $1 million and seek additional philanthropic funding to help school systems try "sustainable, innovative and collaborative reform projects" developed by AFT teachers over the past several years.

AFT has more than 1.4 million members; about half currently work in schools.

Randi Weingarten, the union's new president, says the fund will support teacher-generated efforts. "That's something that has been totally absent" from most big school shake-ups, she says.

"Ultimately, teachers have to have a real stake in reform. It's not simply about a charismatic leader or one idea. We know what works from the ground up, and if teachers would just have a voice in the reform, we would be able to make it work."

Among the efforts the fund likely will support:

• Peer-review teacher evaluations such as those developed in Toledo, Ohio.

• Union-run charter schools similar to those in New York City.

• Pay-for-performance plans as developed in Denver.

The money would pay for implementing programs, lobbying school boards or even supporting union-friendly candidates who favor teacher-generated reforms, Weingarten says.

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a nonprofit that has taken positions routinely at odds with unions, calls the move "a pretty important green light for innovation and experimentation, not just from the union to teachers, but from the union to elected officials."