In a bold call to action, NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira urged unionists to have the "audacity to transform our profession" and take the lead on controversial issues like teacher quality and performance pay.
"It's up to us to decide: Will we let our students' futures and ours be determined by others or will we speak up and speak out?" Neira said.
"Reform must be done with teachers - not to them," Neira said, borrowing a line from President Obama.
"The teacher quality/perform- ance pay train has left the station and is gaining momentum," Neira said. "It's tempting to think that if we keep our heads below the radar, it will all blow over. But it won't."
While "teacher quality" has become the latest buzzword, Neira said, it is unfortunate that quality is too often being defined based on a single test score.
"We know a quality teacher is more than a test score," Neira said, to great applause.
Performance pay "creates an environment where one teacher's reward comes at another's expense," she said.
"That erodes trust and collaboration among our colleagues and it creates a negative, test-driven atmosphere that hurts our students …Will we allow some teachers to be rewarded at the expense of others? Or will we speak out for policies that support the teamwork we need to succeed?"
To effect the positive changes that will make a difference for our students and members, Neira urged members to take the lead on defining standards of teacher evaluation.
"It should not be a single snapshot taken by an administrator," Neira said. She urged members to explore innovations such as quality peer assistance and review to help one another improve.
"We must recognize that teaching is not right for everyone," Neira noted. "After providing quality intervention, if a member continues to be ineffective we must be willing to counsel people out of the profession, just as they do in other fields."
Finally, Neira called for educators to do things differently.
"We must be willing to change," she said. "We owe it to our students and ourselves to consider bold ideas."
Some of the bold ideas may be controversial, like lengthening the school day or school year, creating national standards, using value-added measures as part of accountability and replicating programs that are working in charter schools, Neira said.
"This is a chance for us to lead and transform our profession to improve education for all our students," Neira said, leading the audience in a chant of "Yes we can!"