Weingarten. Photo by CAP on Flickr.

Randi Weingarten, head of the national American Federation for Teachers, has endorsed evaluating teachers’ performance and a system for firing ones that perform poorly, Matt Yglesias points out.

Sometimes schools unfairly try to fire a teacher who doesn’t deserve it, but it’s clear that there are a number of bad teachers in schools who do deserve firing. Unfortunately, up to now, most teachers’ unions have steadfastly fought performance-based evaluation systems.

This strategy puts unions in opposition to the public interest, and diminishes their moral authority and public support for the good things unions can do to fight unjust managers or advocate for decent living wages for people.

Rather than stand up for the status quo, unions should be fighting to design a fairer evaluation system that’s not susceptible to a single, perhaps-vindictive vice principal getting rid of someone they simply don’t like, but which still allows a school to remove most or all of its bad teachers and improve its educational quality without excessive bureaucracy.

Weingarten’s proposal evaluates teachers on several factors, including but not exclusively based on standardized tests. Teachers who score low would get improvement plans designed by administrators and some expert teachers. The administrators, experts, and possibly an arbitrator would then decide after a period of time whether the teacher has improved.

The Times quotes some experts from different ideological backgrounds who have specific quibbles with the details. Whether this is the right process or whether it needs tweaks, this is a huge step forward to making the debate about how to properly and fairly evaluate instead of whether to do it at all. And it’s great that a major union is agreeing to come to that table.

Perhaps this is happening because they are under attack like never before. Republicans in Wisconsin tried to take away even the basic ability to organize, and New York and Newark mayors Mike Bloomberg and Cory Booker have proposed objective criteria for firing teachers. Weingarten came across as resisting even the most basic steps to improve schools in the film Waiting for Superman.

Those pressures might be working out for the best if they have made teachers’ unions realize they have to be partners with the public in making schools better, not defending their worst-performing members at the expense of kids. Other public sector unions should follow suit.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.