Teaching Profession

Weingarten an “Enemy of Education?” So Says WSJ

By Dakarai I. Aarons — July 06, 2009 1 min read
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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has been gathering the roses as she prepares to step down at the end of the month from her position as president of the New York City based United Federation of Teachers, the largest AFT local.

But at least one New York-based group is all too ready to see her go: editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal, who took to the pages today with a strident criticism of Weingarten’s 11-year presidency (she’s been a UFT staffer since the Reagan administration).

The WSJ folks say Weingarten and the UFT have blocked innovations in N.Y.C. schools, pointing to a few things Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also been critical of nationally, including charter caps and states that bar districts from using data linking teachers to student performance for evaluation purposes. Duncan’s asked states to remove such rules as part of competitiveness for the $4.35 billion in “Race to the Top” grants he has to distribute.

From the editorial:

Since taking over in 1998, she has done everything she could to block significant reforms to New York's public schools. Take her opposition to charter schools. She resisted raising the state cap on charters from 100 unless the union could organize them. (She lost, and the cap now is 200.) Ms. Weingarten was also against merit pay for individual teachers. She supported a law that bars school districts from linking teacher tenure to student test scores. In return for even the mildest pension reforms, Ms. Weingarten recently won a concession that teachers no longer need to work on the two days before the start of the school year."

The issues the WSJ raises have indeed been the source of tussle and controversy over the years, but check out this statement from Mayor Michael Bloomberg two weeks ago:

“Randi has been a big part of many of the reforms we have implemented over the past seven years—and a big part of the incredible turnaround our schools have made,” he said.

Not quite the words most of us would use to describe someone who has been an “enemy of education,” as the editorial’s headline states. I’ve got a call in to the folks at UFT for their reaction.

Just two weeks ago, Weingarten signed a tenure-free contract with Los-Angeles-based Green Dot Public Schools for a Bronx charter school, a contract both she and Green Dot founder Steve Barr said could be a model for union-school leader collaboration.

And she has agreed with Duncan that common standards are needed across the states, but told Education Week recently that the “devil is in the details” when it comes to how such standards are implemented and assessed.

UPDATE: A differing view: the New York Daily News, in a Friday editorial titled “Head of the Class,” mostly praised Weingarten’s leadership of the UFT and said she helped move NYC schools forward, even if the paper did not always agree with her stances on charters and firing underpeforming teachers.

From the News:

Her tenure has been driven by a fundamental trade, one that ultimately put the city schools on stronger footing: better wages for members in exchange for movement toward accountability and school reform. On Weingarten's watch, teacher pay rose a whopping 43%. In exchange, she surrendered seniority rules that barred principals from hiring teachers of their choice, and she extended instruction time. The moves were critical to better school performance," its editorial read.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.