VARC Hosts Union Discussion Session


Valuing teachers unions as important partners has always been a priority for the Value-Added Research Center - particularly in the crafting of teacher evaluation systems. VARC has relied on unions to contribute to the development of fair, valid, and reliable evaluations that provide meaningful feedback to help teachers improve their practice.

In the wake of the recent passage of numerous education reform laws in states throughout the Midwest, union leaders from across the Midwest were invited to Madison, WI - VARC’s headquarters - for a roundtable discussion on Oct. 23 focusing on the challenges and opportunities of teacher evaluation systems, and the evolving role unions can play in their development.

VARC held its first union roundtable in Madison last February, featuring guest speaker Julia Koppich, an expert in teacher effectiveness and public sector labor relations and co-author of the seminal work United Mind Workers: Unions and Teaching in the Knowledge Society. Following that event, which received a positive reception by attendees, VARC planned another union-centered event, in May, exploring legal issues surrounding teacher evaluation systems.

The theme of this October’s seminar was “Emerging Teacher Evaluation Systems: Challenges and Opportunities.” Participants studied, evaluated, and compared the various frameworks different states and school districts are using for teacher evaluations, such as the observation of teacher practice and the weight placed on such observations. The discussion then moved into student outcomes, the benefits and challenges of using test scores in teacher evaluation systems, and ways of measuring student growth in grades and subjects that aren’t tested. The group also talked about improving the involvement of teachers in developing, implementing, and modifying teacher evaluation systems.

“The sand has shifted rapidly for unions in the Midwest,” said Brad Carl, VARC Researcher and Associate Director with VARC. “A new era ushered in totally new ways for evaluating teachers. There’s now a general sense that it can probably be a good thing, but people are nervous about this and understandably so. We at VARC need to make sure that we keep our ears to the ground with the unions, and not only listen to their concerns but involve them in the process of creating and improving teacher evaluation systems.”

Due to their success in both opening lines of communication between unions and the research center, and for brainstorming solutions to difficult problems, VARC plans to host similar union-centered events in the future, Carl said.