Yesterday, Governor Chris Gregoire unveiled a series of proposed education reforms that, in days past, the state teachers union would have almost certainly opposed. They include mandated state intervention for struggling schools, a new teacher evaluation system linked to student performance and a longer probationary period for new teachers.
The governor avoided teacher protests like this one by wooing the WEA
Yet who was standing by the governor's side as she announced a bill she intends to submit to the Legislature? Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association.
The WEA's support is a big deal because, when it wants to, the union knows how to put up a good fight. It did so last year when an even more sweeping education reform bill was proposed. Eventually, a watered-down iteration of the bill passed, but it took months of heated debate.
WEA president Mary Lindquist says local control was key
That bill called for the state to spend significantly more on education, but it also included ideas the union didn't like, including some of same ones that Gregoire is now proposing--like ways to hold struggling schools and teachers accountable.
Since last summer, Gregoire has been wooing the WEA to get its support for this new bill, and Lindquist says she appreciated the effort.
The union head says that another difference from last year's proposed reforms is "more assurance that decisions will be made locally." That means the state won't determine the precise details of the evaluation system or the ways in which schools need to improve--districts, in collaboration with local teachers' unions, will. (See more details about the mandated school improvements in this post.)
That would seem to make the bill fairly vague. (The text has not yet been posted online.) Even so, the ideas might have been more controversial were it not for another huge factor: President Barak Obama's insistence on reforms in order for states to qualify for millions of dollars in new "Race to the Top" education funding.
Unions are feeling political pressure to get with the program. Take the American Federation of Teachers' recent support for using student test scores in teacher evaluations, an about-face from its earlier position. Rival National Education Association remains critical of the idea. But it seems state affiliates like the WEA are negotiating their own deals.