I want to update you on two incredible stories on the news that greeted me when I woke up this morning. I'm still in a state of disbelief.
Here's the first and most shocking.
In a hastily called surprise press conference early this morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that President Obama has issued Executive Order 13637, The Rescinding of All Federal Interference in Local School District Educational Policies.
Expanding on the implications of this for a room filled with stunned reporters, Duncan indicated that this would effectively stop all implementation of federal educational legislation, including Race to the Top. "We have found that this just doesn't work," said Duncan. "What's more, it has been counter-productive, creating stress and resentment on the part of educators that is interfering with the quality of teaching and with real learning. The President thinks," he noted, "and I concur, that it's time to get back to the real basic: creative quality teaching."
Responding to reporter questions, Duncan went on to indicate that this would not in any way decrease federal funding for education. He replied, "If anything, we want more funds provided, but we place our trust in local school districts to use the funds judiciously." He then concluded his remarks by saying, "We have the greatest faith in our teachers and their leaders. It's clear the carrot and stick approach just doesn't work. We now know that the best incentives are trust, support for faculty time to plan, and funds to help create exciting classroom environments."
Needless to say, policy makers in both parties are also shocked. Proponents of federally enforced standards have already called for a congressional investigation. As one prominent leader poetically remarked, "The President has turned the asylum over to the inmates!"
American Teachers for Change
I had barely recovered from this first report when I listened in disbelief to an NPR news bulletin that the two major teacher organizations, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have agreed to totally merge. The merger has been approved by Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, and by Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. It has also been ratified by both organizations, operating through a ballot process that has been carefully screened from the media.
This news was surprising enough, but the real stunner was yet to come. At their joint news conference (what a day for news conferences!), Weingarten and Van Roekel announced that the first order of business for the new organization, now called American Teachers for Change (ATC), was to help implement a new approach to teacher evaluation in every district across the U.S. "There are two parts to this," noted Weingarten. "First, the voluntary end to tenure for teachers. Tenure will be no more." "And," added Van Roekel, "the nationwide implementation of peer performance review for teachers, with salaries tied directly to these reviews."
Astonished reporters bombarded the two leaders with questions. Responding to the question of whether the timing of this was tied in to the earlier Duncan announcement, Weingarten said, "Well, we have spoken with the President about this, but there was no deal." The ATC leader also responded to a question about an unconfirmed report that she and Michelle Rhee had been in a scuffle just before the news conference. "She wanted to share the stage with us," said Weingarten, "and while we were talking about that, she just slipped and banged her head. She'll be fine."
Although there are rumblings from some teacher leaders about impeaching both of the new co-leaders of the ATC, most teachers are still in a state of shock and trying to make sense of both of today's announcements.
By the way, today is April 1st.