Randi Weingarten and Tom Kane Share Their Thoughts

on the ESSA Accountability Guidelines Rollback

The Line recently asked Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Thomas Kane, Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and Economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, for their perspective on the rollback of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability guidelines and, importantly, where they believed the education community could find common ground and a way forward.

Most of the conversation centered on stakeholder engagement. We expected Weingarten to talk about the impact of this change on teachers—and she did—while Kane, an expert on school accountability systems and teacher recruitment and retention, gave attention to how the rollback could affect student achievement disparities and teacher evaluation systems. Here’s what they shared:


About Stakeholder Engagement

About Stakeholder Engagement

“Without leadership, there’s a great danger of slipping backward.”
Thomas Kane, Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and Economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Teacher Voice and Unions

Teacher Voice and Unions

Innovation and Progress

Innovation and Progress

“Innovation happens when you listen to the people who are closest to kids and you give them the opportunity to take risks.”
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

Common Ground

Common Ground

A Way Forward

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So, what about finding common ground?

Both Ms Weingarten and Dr. Kane point to the peril of the current administration's marginalization of local and especially parent voice. Yet both point to the strength ,already built in so many areas of public education in the form of parent, student, and community voice

The opportunity for the potential of common ground offered between these two, often opposing very different views, is that now is the time to ‘look local’ and capture and act upon the real voice of our education system. And build local capacity to lead and listen
…thank you both for your common leadership in these times of public difference!

Without leadership, there’s a great danger of slipping backward,” he said.

I understand the concern about moving backward and potentially losing any learning or progress on some scale, but I wonder if sometimes growth happens laterally, and to engage teacher voice and really foster teacher agency we might need to diverge from a linear path forward.

I wonder if the role of leadership, in this context, is to support growth that results in overall positive momentum? The key here, I believe, is to ensure the leader is identifying goals, developing a common understanding with stakeholders, and perhaps most importantly, is able to measure progress?

The promise of this new law lies in the opportunities it offers to move away from punitive and destructive policies.

The promise of the new law sets the stage, but the actions of the those responsible for carrying it out on the frontline build the foundation of trust to empower teacher voice and agency.

the value of teacher voice

The big question is whether we'll successfully navigate the transition away from reforms to education that happen largely outside the realm of teaching and leadership toward a reform movement that is driven by practitioners.

moving forward, not backward

So many folks have observed that teachers' unions have played an essential role in the past when it came to fair working conditions and salaries, but that unions don't seem to be "looking forward" when it comes to the future of teaching and learning and providing adequate professional supports for teachers and leaders. What should unions be doing now? Beyond supporting evaluation, should they be playing a role in "quality control" or sustainability of the profession?

abandon teacher evaluation reforms

Not just engage in a new way–but engage in the way that people (including teachers and principals!) imagined them in the first place: a chance to stop senseless checklist exercises and actually help people engage in continuous improvement over time.

describe their plans

This is a real chance to set a clear vision — and now there's also flexibility to pursue those visions. Both Kane and Weingarten are optimistic about what ESSA could be, and both also agree that its success turns on good leadership at the local level.