Four years ago, Pittsburgh School District, the second-largest in Pennsylvania, embarked on an innovative effort to evaluate teachers. Administrators and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) collaborated to create a new, more detailed system that would inform parents and teachers about how well educators are teaching children.
It was the first of its kind, going beyond the two-grade system then used across the state, in which over 99 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory (and a minor sliver unsatisfactory). The new four-tier system rates teachers as distinguished, proficient, needs improvement, and failing.
This year, for the first time, teachers got detailed feedback on how they were doing. About 9 percent were rated "failing," and another 6 percent were rated "needs improvement." The district has lined up several ways to help these teachers improve, similar to the support Washington, D.C., public schools provided its struggling teachers.
There's just one problem: The teachers' union doesn't want to play any more.
Pittsburgh's evaluation system becomes official next year, but PFT—which helped devise the new standards—is fighting tooth and nail to lower them. In a jaw-dropping reversal, the union is arguing that Act 82, which introduced a new, statewide teacher evaluation system last year, has more lenient standards compared to Pittsburgh.
In other words, PFT says Pittsburgh grades teachers too hard.
It's not difficult to see who will suffer from the PFT's antics: Pittsburgh students, 70 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged and desperately need the lifeline that a good education—provided by good teachers—will offer. In testimony to the House Education Committee last week, Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane cited what the school district has learned about teaching:
The difference between our highest performing teachers and our lowest performers is significant, and has a lasting impact on the lives of children in Pittsburgh. We now know that our most effective teachers 'are producing gains in student achievement that are large enough that, if accumulated over several years without decay, could erase achievement gaps between black students and white students, or between Pittsburgh students and statewide averages.'
Meanwhile, the PFT has joined forces with the national American Federation of Teachers to dismantle Pittsburgh's successful teacher evaluation system, bullying Superintendent Lane. The AFT even plowed $1.2 million into a campaign to "reclaim the promise" of public education. Pity they don't want to keep their own promise to Pittsburgh students and their families.