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An Open Exchange With AFT President Randi Weingarten

November 4, 2013

On October 26 and 27, 2013, I exchanged a number of emails with American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. I had planned to write a post about Weingarten, which I did on October 27. My post took the form of an open letter to her. I sent it to her for her response in hopes that I might publish both together as a discourse. She agreed and responded to my letter on November 3. I told her that whatever she decided to write I would post.

Both letters are below; first mine, then Weingarten’s response.

My letter is pointed and confrontational. It honestly captures my concerns about Weingarten and AFT. In it, I ask Weingarten to consider taking three specific actions.

Rather than offering any comments on Weingarten’s response, I wish to simply allow readers to read both letters and form their own opinions. I invite reader comments at the end of this post. Readers might disagree, even strongly, with me or with Weingarten; however, I ask that comments be written using civil language.

And now, for the letters.

I offer mine first:

October 27, 2013

Randi,

Yesterday, I committed to my fellow bloggers on our bloggers network to write a post on you. A primary question I have regards your teaching credentials. I am also concerned about your interactions with notable reform philanthropists Bill Gates and Eli Broad and your unyielding dedication to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Based upon our email exchange yesterday, I believe that you really do want to support public school teachers. However, I think that in general, you have lost our confidence and our trust.  Just read the comments associated with numerous posts tagged using your name on Diane Ravitch’s blog. The negative sentiment is undeniable.

Your choices have provoked this loss of our support.

I really want to think better of you, Randi. My disappointment is not superficial. It is not based upon your position as a union president. I am not anti-union. Far from it. I have been a member of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) since my post-Katrina return to southern Louisiana and to the public school classroom seven years ago. Moreover, in this past year, I have participated in two expert panels in public meetings sponsored by LFT and the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE).

This post is my effort to re-establish my own trust in you as my national union president. I hope to bring scores of disillusioned colleagues with me.  Thus, I will ask you to consider following through on three requests.

1.  Clearly outline your classroom teaching experience in your (American Federation of Teachers) AFT bio.

This might seem to be a ridiculous request given that you have been AFT president for over five years now. However, we are in the throes of a nationwide corporate reformer gloss over nebulous credentials. Opportunists outside of teaching are seizing our profession. Their true professional identities are in other fields. I understand that your primary professional identity is that of lawyer. This is no secret. However, I am asking you to be transparent regarding the details of your actual classroom experience.

As it stands, this is your classroom experience as noted in your AFT bio:

A teacher of history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood from 1991 to 1997, Weingarten helped her students win several state and national awards debating constitutional issues. 

Not enough information.

In the current privatization environment, unclear credentials and experience breed mistrust. On several occasions, I have been involved in online conversations in which teachers debated your teaching experience, especially as such concerns your full time teaching experience. I have read some articles that claim to offer such details, but I do not consider these articles as solid enough for me to cite, neither here nor as part of my book. That is why I presented the question to you in an email.

I do not teach in New York; however, I have been able to determine from both the EngageNY website as well as from former United Federation of Teachers (UFT) contracts that teaching five classes in a semester is considered “full time.”

Randi, in our email exchange yesterday, you provided information enough for me to write to some degree regarding the number of your full time semesters versus the number of your part time semesters of classroom teaching experience at Clara Barton. Instead, I would like to offer you the opportunity to provide such information in your own words as part of your response to this post.

I ask that you provide similar clarification in your AFT bio.

2.  Return the Gates funding still in AFT possession.

Bill Gates is purchasing American education and fashioning it according to his whims. On September 21, 2013, Gates made the comment, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

Education stuff?

I am tired of being Bill Gates’ laboratory mouse.

I am distressed that my national union president willingly participates in the experimentation.

Since January 2009, AFT has accepted over $11.3 million from the Gates Foundation, $5.4 million of which is earmarked for CCSS.

Randi, I am asking you to return Gates’ money. And I am asking you to halt the chummy alliances with Gates and other philanthropic reformers bent upon selling off my profession, such as Eli Broad. Accepting money from privatizers is akin to selling your office. Such actions compromise your position as a union president. Plus it just looks bad to your constituents.

3. Drop support for CCSS.

You publicly support CCSS, and you maintain that 75 percent of teachers also support CCSS.

If this were true, then teachers speaking out in favor of keeping CCSS would outnumber dissenters three to one.

Where are all of these scores of teacher supporters for CCSS now?

“Overwhelming” CCSS teacher support isn’t happening. What is happening in states across the nation is an “overwhelming” rejection of CCSS– and not just the tests: rejection of the entire government-corporate-and-nonprofit-arranged CCSS.

My own school district, St. Tammany Schools (Louisiana) both drafted and approved an anti-CCSS resolution this month. From the outset, St. Tammany did not approve of CCSS but had no say in the matter; only two signatures were required for an entire state to “adopt” CCSS as a requirement of Race to the Top funding: the governor and state superintendent.

Sounds pretty “top-down” to me.

I’m tired of having my classroom controlled from the outside.

I ask that you read the posts on Diane’s blog regarding CCSS reception. Read my post on the CCSS memorandum of understanding. Consider carefully what you have read. Then please publicly drop CCSS.

In Closing

Randi, thank you for considering my requests. And thank you in advance for responding to my post.

I hope that my words move you to act.

Sincerely,

–Mercedes Schneider

And now, for Weingarten’s response:

November 3, 2013

Mercedes:

As I told you in emails last week, I would spend some time this week trying to respond to both your open letter and your other requests.

The questions on the Common Core are important, which is why I have devoted another one of my Sunday New York Times and Huffington Post<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randi-weingarten/will-states-fail-the-comm_b_4206013.html&gt; columns to address both the reasons we support its potential and our solidarity with the educators and parents and others who are disgusted and demoralized by the botched implementation and the ongoing testing fixation.

As to the standards, just like you’ve weighed in, teachers have also weighed in on the other side. Just recently, teachers of the year in both Montana and North Dakota, two merged AFT-NEA states, announced their support for the Common Core. And I speak to teachers and parents constantly, like the educators I saw in Long Island last weekend; in Gary, Ind., on Thursday; in Baltimore on Friday; and in New York City today. People are frustrated, but like the polls of educators that the AFT, the NEA, Scholastic and others have conducted show, teachers believe in standards, with caveats—they want the time and tools so they are prepared, they want our students to have the necessary supports, they want the standards to be developmentally appropriate, and they want this testing fixation to end. I also wonder why you would continually criticize random sample polling by a reputable pollster, which is what the March 2013 AFT poll was based upon, yet at the same time you conclude the comments on Diane Ravitch’s blog are a far better sampling.

As to the Gates Foundation funding, we’ve always been open about the funding we’ve received. And we’ve never shied away from being critical of the Gates Foundation or others. And while it’s far from perfect, I believe our engagement has actually made the Gates Foundation more open to the challenges teachers face.

The funds we’ve received have been used to support projects like the AFT Innovation Fund, which has awarded grants that have enabled our affiliates in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and elsewhere to create teacher-developed lessons that are now available to all educators on Share My Lesson. Additionally, all too often, districts and policymakers roll out new policies and tell teachers to just do it. These funds are used to help rank-and-file members have access to training and tools that help them address what is seemingly a new “requirement” every day.

As to the questions you asked about my professional life, I thank you for disclosing that much of what prompted your questions came from two New York City UFT bloggers who were involved in different union caucuses (political parties) than the one I belonged to. The UFT has a thriving democracy, where lots of allegations are bandied about—particularly around union elections. Ironically, the third source you cite, Wayne Barrett, was the one Joel Klein used to smear me when he went to war with the union.

I’ve made a lifetime commitment to the union movement and to public education. It stems from my mother’s own teaching experience—including bearing witness to the six week strike she and her colleagues in Nyack, NY waged in the mid 1970s, and watching her devotion to the kids she taught, her love for her colleagues and her commitment to make a difference in the world. For me, the labor movement and public education are linked as the essential building blocks to a strong middle class and a path to the American dream. It’s why I went to Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations as an undergrad and then to law school. It’s why I tried to find a job at a union-side labor law firm when I first graduated from law school—but the doors were shut because they wanted lawyers with experience. It’s also why I left practicing law at Stroock and Stroock and Lavan, where I was on the path to become a partner, to become Sandy Feldman’s counsel when she became president of the UFT in 1986. And it’s why I started teaching high school social studies in 1991, at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights Brooklyn a few weeks after the Crown Heights riots.

I taught from 1991 to 1997, full and part time, at Clara Barton High School. High schools in New York City are organized on a semester basis, so for one semester I taught five periods and did lunch duty. During the other five and a half years, I taught one, two or three courses, as I was also the counsel and chief negotiator for the UFT. This was similar to other UFTers who also held union responsibilities. For several years during this time, Dr. Leo Casey and I led our students in the “We the People” civics debate competition.

When I began teaching at Clara Barton, I did so both because I wanted to teach—as my mother had—to make a difference in kids’ lives and out of a desire to better understand the experiences and the trials and tribulations of New York City educators, in order to better represent them. I had enjoyed teaching law school students, and I looked forward to the challenges of teaching high school students in an inner-city high school. It was harder—a lot harder—and a lot more rewarding than anything I had ever done.

In 1991, when I started teaching, Al Shanker was in his prime as AFT president, and Sandy Feldman was hitting her stride as UFT president. It was not until 1996/1997, when Al’s untimely illness and passing led Sandy Feldman to take on the position of AFT president and resign as head of the UFT, that I was asked to consider running for UFT president.

At Clara Barton, I taught students who were predominantly immigrant, all minority, mostly female, and entirely from working-class and poor families. I learned that with the right supports for students and teachers, it was entirely possible to teach critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and the comprehension of difficult texts to students who did not come from privilege. I watched my students become confident about learning and about themselves, and learn how to navigate challenges in their lives. It wasn’t easy. There were lots of starts and stops—no straight-line trajectory that today’s market-based and test-fixated “reformers” would have you believe.

And that experience made crystal clear why teacher preparation and experience—not simply passion and love—is so crucial to creating a good environment for teaching and learning—something you have spoken about. But it is also why I disagree with you about standards. They are not the silver bullet that Arne Duncan and the “reformers” make them out to be, but they are an important piece of equity and leverage in the struggle to ensure that students like the ones I taught and loved at Clara Barton receive a quality education that opens up for them the opportunity to live out their American dream and become full, productive citizens leading lives of meaning and purpose. It’s also why I personally fight so hard for a pathway to citizenship and to fix, not close neighborhood schools, like we did when we had a Chancellor we could work with , Chancellor Crew, in establishing the Chancellor’s District in the late 1990s.

I stopped teaching in June 1997 because I had been appointed Sandy Feldman’s executive assistant when she was elected the interim president of the AFT upon Al Shanker’s death earlier that year, while continuing as UFT president. I didn’t think I could carry out both my teaching and union responsibilities well—particularly whether I could be present for my students and classes given all the emergencies and exigencies that occur daily in New York City. Public school teaching was the best job in my life, and I miss it today. I am still a teacher on leave with the New York City Board of Education, and hope one day to teach high school again.

Your earlier emails suggested issues I will clear up as well. Contrary to what you’ve been told, I had a long relationship with Clara Barton High School, dating back to its 1987 asbestos crisis. The faculty sued the Board of Education for its failure to contain asbestos, and I was assigned by the union to help. That is where I met Leo Casey. I negotiated an asbestos protocol, which evolved into a health and safety program for the city’s students and teachers. Barton was the tip of the iceberg—the public schools in New York City were closed for more than a week in September 1993 as a result of the discovery that many of the AHERA reports, like the ones we discovered at Barton in 1987, were not correct. The union’s work in health and safety was credited as the basis for fully opening schools safely for students and staff that September and for the resources that went into repairing and maintaining and ultimately building new schools, after a lawsuit I brought as UFT counsel in 1994 challenging the horrible physical conditions of the New York City schools.

As to my preparation to teach, again contrary to what you’ve been told, I took every course and credential the state and the Board of Education required to be certified as a teacher. I was an alternatively certified teacher, as were thousands of teachers pre-TFA that came in through the alternative route. We were “per diem” teachers, which is why the school records referred to in theVillage Voice article coded me as such. I experienced what other professionals working for the city Department of Education experienced. I used to joke that it took me longer to get my permanent certification as a teacher than to go to law school and be admitted to the bar.

I was also not the only lawyer/teacher/union official in UFT history. Jules Kolodny, a former officer of the UFT who was tragically killed in an accident in Europe, was a lawyer, and like me, used those skills extensively in the service of the members and our students.

As to the rumors about me, I am sure there were many—as there always are. Unfortunately, the ones I heard were about the fact I was young, gay, that I was more left than others in the union, and that I wanted to open up the lines of communication with many of the other caucuses, which one of your sources applauded at the time. This was and is rooted in a deep belief in democratic unionism—and ensuring our members have a real voice. And while I was UFT president we expanded many committees—including the bargaining committee—to include a variety of voices. This included members of all the union’s caucuses. The rumors meant something else to me than your sources suggest—it meant just like teachers must do with their students, I had to earn the trust of my members. Trust is earned. And I try to earn it every day by finding ways to listen to our members and the communities they and we serve. That’s why I am in schools and other worksites in which our members toil, throughout America, every week as I used to be in schools in NYC when I was UFT president three times a week. That’s why I answer many emails and other correspondence personally—as I have here—a practice I started while I was UFT president. And that’s why I show up personally whenever I can to fight the fight against austerity, privatization and deprofessionalization and to reclaim the promise of public education.

Finally, the allegation against Leo Casey is grossly inaccurate. Leo is an extraordinary teacher and union activist—and also a doctor of political philosophy. I am proud to call him a mentor and colleague and friend. Others saw his brilliance and compassion and talents, which is why he was asked by John Soldini, then the UFT vice president of high schools, to work for him in a part-time capacity. Leo never wanted to stop teaching, and I had to beg him to work for the union full time. I am honored that I could convince him to take the helm of the Albert Shanker Institute, where he is doing an exceptional job—as your fellow bloggers who follow the Shanker blog can attest.

I’ve always been open and honest about my life’s work. I am honored each and every day to serve the members of our union who work every day to make a difference in the lives of children and others. To reclaim the promise of education and to ensure that children not only dream their dreams but achieve them. That is our calling and our mission. And that is the work that the AFT will continue to pursue.

In common cause,

Randi

 

 

66 Comments
  1. laMissy permalink

    “Finally, the allegation against Leo Casey is grossly inaccurate. Leo is an extraordinary teacher and union activist—and also a doctor of political philosophy.”

    I’m confused – what allegation?

    • Missy, I did not mention Leo Casey in my open letter.
      Since I told Randi that I would publish her response in its entirety, I did so.
      She chose to refer to Leo Casey.

      • laMissy permalink

        Yes, that’s why I was confused.

  2. She cozies up to Eli Broad who has single handedly done more damage to Chicago Public Schools than anyone then brags that she used Gates’ money to create a plan sharing program there? So does that cancel out the fact that she’s abandoned teachers to pal around with reformers? Not in my modules it doesn’t. And that garbage she cranked out about the CCSS being some vehicle by which we will close the achievement gap is insane. How are poor kids and lower middle class kids served by a curriculum that makes them hate the learning experience and causes them to hate themselves for feeling dumb? I find Randi’s lack of contact with reality nearly as disconnected as Space Ranger John King of NYSED who after a shellacking on every stop of his CCSS listening tour — a tour he tried to cancel because he couldn’t take the heat — he claims he’s observing a consensus nationwide about the Common Core. Oh there’s a consensus about it all right but it’s not the fairy tale King is spinning and it’s not the fantasy Randi is spinning. These people are so far gone and so disconnected the only solution is to replace them.

  3. Concerned Citizen permalink

    The influence of Gates and his money is a serious issue that merits far more examination. Someone should ask Randi to explain, in great detail, what discussions took place before and after the money was given. What, exactly, has Gates bought for $11.3 million? Randi writes, “And while it’s far from perfect, I believe our engagement has actually made the Gates Foundation more open to the challenges teachers face.” How is it “far from perfect”? In what ways is Gates “more open to challenges teachers face”?

    Did Randi announce support for the Common Core before or after Gates offered money in support of it? Now that the Common Core has proven highly controversial and unpopular with parents and educators, will Randi change her stance on it, or is she too beholden to Gates to oppose one of his pet projects?

    While this exchange left me asking many more questions about the Gates money, I hope this marks the end of questions and speculation about Randi’s classroom teaching experience. Michelle Rhee and other reformist TFAers use two years in the classroom as a badge of honor and authenticity. Diane Ravitch never taught below the college level, but most public school parents and teachers would trust Ravitch over Rhee. There is no reason to use the length and type of someone’s classroom experience as a litmus test. Judge education advocates by their words and deeds in the current debate, rather than nit-picking whether someone taught full-time or part-time in 1993.

  4. Leo Casey permalink

    Mercedes Schneider’s post repeats a false and malicious account of Randi Weingarten’s teaching and, on this basis, accuses Randi of misrepresenting her experience. Her post is a direct attack on Randi’s personal integrity.

    It is one thing to criticize, even heatedly and vehemently, political positions; it is quite another matter to engage in unscrupulous personal attacks, as Schneider has done.

    What makes this personal attack by Schneider especially offensive is that it is based on a smear mounted by the New York City Department of Education under Joel Klein in retaliation for Randi’s criticisms of its Children First corporate education reforms, a smear that has since been taken up by anti-union forces on the far right.

    What makes this personal attack by Schneider inexcusable is that a simple Google search leads one to an open letter from Randi’s supervisors, colleagues and students at Clara Barton High School. The letter refutes this smear and provides insight into how those with direct knowledge of Randi’s teaching viewed it and her. (The full text of this open letter is included at the end of this post.)

    I am one of the signatories on that open letter.

    I first met Randi Weingarten in September 1987, on the steps of a New York City courthouse. She was counsel for the United Federation of Teachers, and I was a social studies teacher at Clara Barton High School in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. In a saga I have recounted elsewhere in some detail, in 1984 the New York City Board of Education (as it was then called) had begun renovation on the Clara Barton school building—with us in it. After three years of disruption and dislocation, we had returned to our building a few days before it was to open for a new school year and found it filled with debris and a thick layer of dust. I enlisted the White Lung Association and a prominent law firm in our cause, and with their help, a court closed our building. The air and the dust were tested, and friable (loose) asbestos—a dangerous carcinogen when inhaled or ingested—was found. The school building remained closed for two months while a top-to-bottom cleanup and asbestos abatement were completed. I ended up working closely with Randi during a number of court hearings and as she negotiated, with our input, a protocol for the completion of the renovation of our school building. This protocol became the basis of protocols for all subsequent school construction work in New York City.

    As we worked together, Randi and I became good friends. We discovered we had a common passion for teaching, and we shared notes on teaching students at Clara Barton and at the Cardozo School of Law, where she had taught. I was something of an evangelist for teaching in an inner-city high school, but Randi was in no need of conversion: She told me that she wanted to teach in a New York City high school, in part because she believed it was very important social justice work and in part because she felt the experience of “walking the walk” of New York City school teachers would make her a better advocate on their behalf. I told her that the Clara Barton staff was grateful for what she had done on behalf of our school, and that we would welcome her to our faculty if her work with the UFT allowed her to teach.

    In 1991, Randi took up that invitation and started teaching at Clara Barton. Randi and I co-taught a class in political science, and she taught courses in American history and government, law, and ethical issues in medicine, a public policy course for Clara Barton’s nursing students. The essential facets of Randi’s teaching are addressed in the open letter from her supervisors, colleagues and students reproduced below.

    Two accusations repeated by Schneider need to be put to rest. I speak from firsthand knowledge in both instances.

    First, the only time during her teaching at Clara Barton that Randi and I discussed her future role in the leadership of the UFT was after Al Shanker became seriously ill with cancer and then passed away in early 1997. Sandy Feldman had taken on the job of AFT president as Al’s successor, and it was clear she could not also continue as UFT president for long. It was only when Sandy had asked Randi to consider standing for UFT president that Randi and I discussed for the first time what she should do. The notion that Randi taught at Clara Barton in order to become UFT president ignores the obvious fact that no one could possibly have known that Al Shanker would be taken from us well before his time.

    Second, the “evidence” used to dispute Randi’s account of her teaching was the manufactured product of a personal attack on her mounted by City Hall and the New York City Department of Education. At the UFT’s 2003 spring conference, Randi announced the union’s opposition to the Children First corporate reforms of the Bloomberg-Klein Department of Education. The response from City Hall and Tweed was immediate. Rumors were circulated about Randi’s sexual orientation. Her personal finances were investigated. Neighbors reported that strange men were surveilling and photographing her house. Officials in the DOE passed word that they were being ordered to provide copies of Randi’s confidential personnel files over their objections. Then, two weeks after the UFT’s spring conference, Wayne Barrett published a story in the Village Voice that took up the Bloomberg-Klein cudgels. Barrett wrote that Randi had not taught real classes but was a day-to-day substitute teacher, and that she was absent three days for every day she was present. Using the passive voice, Barrett wrote that “records reviewed by the Voice” were the basis for these claims. We will probably never know what documents were shown to Barrett by the Bloomberg-Klein administration or what they actually reflected, but we do know that the conclusions he printed about Randi’s teaching were entirely false, and that they were part of a smear against Randi conducted in retaliation for the UFT’s opposition to the NYC DOE’s Children First policies.

    It is passing strange that those who claim to be the strongest opponents of corporate education reform and who characterize everyone else as weak and vacillating would now be spreading these false and malicious charges. It is beyond odd that self-styled opponents of corporate education reform would be not be focusing on opposition to privatization and austerity, were we would all seem to have common cause, but in mounting personal attacks on Randi Weingarten. If nothing else, it shows their lack of confidence in their own arguments against the AFT’s principled support for the Common Core standards and its strong opposition to the destructive ways in which too many states and districts have implemented them that they have to resort to personal attacks. That’s pretty sad.

    Leo Casey

    OPEN LETTER
    To whom it may concern,

    We have learned of publications that challenge the teaching record and accomplishments of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, disputing the account provided in her official AFT biography. The allegation is that Randi was a substitute teacher who did not teach regular Social Studies classes at Clara Barton High School from 1991 to 1997. Further, it is claimed that she was never observed or evaluated by the school’s Principal or Assistant Principals.

    We were students, professional colleagues and supervisors of Randi Weingarten in the years she taught at Clara Barton High School. We have first-hand knowledge of her teaching, and know that these allegations are completely unfounded.

    Those of us who were students of Randi know that she taught us in regular classes, from U.S. History and Government and Advanced Placement Political Science to Law and Ethical Issues in Medicine, and that she was in class virtually every day to teach us. A number of us had the privilege of studying with Randi when she prepared our Political Science class for participation in the national We The People civics competition, and our class won the New York State championship and placed high in the nationals. She gave countless hours, before and after school, on weekends and on holidays, to ensure that we would be able to do our very best. We know Randi to be an excellent teacher, completely dedicated to her students.

    Those of us who were professional colleagues of Randi know that while teaching at Clara Barton, Randi taught the same regular classes that every teacher teaches, and that she was in her classes virtually every day. We know Randi to be a master teacher who was supportive of her colleagues. She was a welcome presence in our professional community.

    Those of us who were supervisors of her know that like other Social Studies teachers at Clara Barton, Randi’s teaching was observed and she was evaluated by the Assistant Principal for Social Studies and the Principal. We know Randi to be a conscientious educator who was ever mindful of fulfilling her obligations to the young people she taught and committed to the mission of our school and the inner city community it served.

    Marsha Boncy-Danticat§
    Leo Casey§
    Madison Cuffy*
    Connie Cuttle§
    Fania Denton*
    Thomas Dillon¶
    Tamika Lawrence Edwards*
    Sean Edwards*
    Jacqueline Foster¶
    Zinga Fraser*
    Judith Garcia¶
    Karen Gazis§
    Renne Gross§
    Gail Lewis Jacobs*
    Keith William Lee*
    Joshua Medina*
    Andrew Mirer§
    Maurice Pahalan§
    Joseph Picciano§
    Elizabeth Ramos Mahon*
    Judieann Spencer-McCall*
    Tina Vurgaropulos§.

    §: Was a Clara Barton teacher or guidance counselor colleague
    *: Was a Clara Barton student
    ¶: Was a Clara Barton supervisor

    • Let me note that in my open letter, I neither mention nor link to any sources that I counted as less than credible.

      Randi decided to bring names into this discourse. That was her decision.

      My concerns are legitimate. Randi has been elected as AFT president. I am an AFT member. As such, I should be allowed to ask for her to account for decisions associated with her role as AFT president.

    • I did ask Weingarten how many semesters of full time teaching she has to her credit.

      If this is malicious, then our democracy is in big trouble.

      • Sick of Unity Caucus permalink

        The answer is one and only one semester of full time teaching. That is clear as day and not denied anywhere.

  5. everyday educator permalink

    Mercedes,

    It’s curious to me that we are questioning the credentials of our leaders from within during a time when the right wing has moved to turn the educational system into a corporation where Chancellors, Superintendents and teachers need not have any educational experience at all. We are fortunate enough to have a president who understood and directed collective bargaining, could litigate a case in court against those who seek to destroy public education, and had the practical experience of being in a classroom. It’s one thing to engage in educational theory, it’s something entirely different to understand its practice. Those who question her service, who are on the side of protecting the rights of the workers, and improving public schools for all children should redirect their energy to those who seek to destroy us.

    At the core, we all believe that our children should and deserve to have common standards in the classroom. Very few will deny that those standards need to be consistent regardless of your geographic location in a state or across the country. The problem before us is that some of those standards are not developmentally appropriate and that needs to be fixed. We don’t have the curriculum in place to help us meet those standards and it’s shameful. Nor do we have the professional development necessary to to help us in our practice. It is imperative that we take the time to align the standards to the curriculum and the training so that we can give students what they need to be sucessful. That is why the AFT has called for a moritorium on the Common Core Standards so that these problems can be fixed. We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Frankly, I don’t care what title you give it. If these things are in place, we can suceed and our children can as well. The educators with whom I’ve spoken feel the same way.

    To take a survey or present a resolution on what we are opposed to and not give an option of what we stand for is worse than giving a false choice. It is not giving them a choice at all. You must ask the next question if you expect any of my colleagues to engage you in serious dialogue. You’re way off base on this one. Our leadership MUST be solution driven.

    • The questioning is my right as an AFT member. Elected leadership is accountable to its members. Period.

    • There is a contradiction in your response to Merecedes. You say teachers are under attack “where Chancellors, Superintendents and teachers need not have any educational experience at all.” Yet you criticize Mercedes for raising this issue of Randi Weingarten’s credentials and teaching experience to be a teacher leader.

    • “. . . we all believe that our children should and deserve to have common standards in the classroom.”

      Don’t count me in your “we”. As a twenty year public school high school Spanish teacher I completely disagree with your statement. “Common standards” imply sameness of instruction that can supposedly be measured the same across the board. That concept completely denies the uniqueness of each and every classroom in vary differing contexts.

      The children deserve to not be subjected to standardized procedures and standardized tests as the whole process is so rife with error that it renders any conclusions invalid and “vain and illusory” as Noel Wilson says. He completely destroys these concepts in his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700 Please read and understand why standards area chimera, duendes and falsehoods. See below for a summary:

      Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine. (updated 6/24/13 per Wilson email)

      1. A quality cannot be quantified. Quantity is a sub-category of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category by only a part (sub-category) of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as one dimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing we are lacking much information about said interactions.

      2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).

      3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

      4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”

      In other word all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.
      5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren't]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. As a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.

      6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.

      7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”

      In other words it measures “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?

      My answer is NO!!!!!

      One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:

      “So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

      In other words students “internalize” what those “marks” (grades/test scores) mean, and since the vast majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m an “A” student” is almost as harmful as “I’m an ‘F’ student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of society.

  6. Marie permalink

    As educators we realize not only the importance, but the necessity of having common core standards across this country. All students must have an equal quality of education and to not understand this critical issue means that our youth are in jeopardy of an unbalanced and unequal system.

    • cyn3wulf permalink

      I’m not sure why, but when I read your comment, the Borg came to mind.

    • “As educators, we realize not only the importance, but the necessity of having common core standards across this country.”

      Here’s another person who believes that she can speak for “we”. I can too! “Standardards! We don’t need no stinkin standards!”

      See my above response to begin to learn to understand why that paraphrase of lines from Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Blazing Saddles holds true.

      As educators, we should realize not only the epistemological and ontological invalidities but the insanities that are standards, that CCSStandards = 100% USDA Grade AA Bovine Excrement!

    • The reason teachers are in this mess is because few have the courage to challenge anyone. Teachers, for the most part, are sheep. Question, challenge and demand answers from Weingarten and every other union official who is in bed with Gates et al.

  7. As educators we see the importance of having standards across the country. It is important that students on the East coast are being taught the same principles as those on the West Coast. President Weingarten has been fighting to ensure that as we adopt these standards, teachers receive proper meaningful professional development. We need to roll the common core out in a responsible manner. As the President of the AFT, President Weingarten has been leading us on a national level to ensure that Common Core is being rolled out correctly. As educators we have to be careful when phrasing our message. Common Core as President Weingarten says can enable students of all states to be taught on similar principles and standards. As educators we know that these standards are imperative in ensuring that our students are receiving a quality education. As Unionists, we need to stand behind our President to ensure that Common Core is rolled out properly to benefit our students, teachers, and schools.

  8. Cosmic Tinker permalink

    Thank you, Mercedes, for your honest, cogent inquiry. I see nothing inflammatory about that. Despite the responses here by Weingarten shills, I believe you are correct that many educators have been very concerned about her educational background, her acceptance of money from, and alliances with, those behind national standards and privatization,.as well as her faith-based acceptance of standards that educators know are not developmentally appropriate. You said what needed to be said and you did it well. Keep on speaking truth to power!

  9. Ray Gaer permalink

    I find it interesting that we are questioning the integrity of a fellow teacher and throwing into question her teaching experiences. I personally know of many administrators and policy makers who have never set foot in a classroom prior to their career choice and the general public doesn’t bother to question their experience and how it impacts their decision making choices. By dividing educators we will continue to not have control of our profession.

  10. francesca permalink

    Another thank you Mercedes, for the excellent, probing questions to Randi. I too think we have a right to know about the relationship between our Union and the builders/promoters/corporate sponsors of the CCSS so we can get a better perspective on why they are so strongly behind this document. We also have a right to know what was done by the Union with the money (with lots of strings, I am sure) given to us by Gates. In addition, the Union has a responsibility to educators in offering solid evidence of why the CCSS is good for our students, public schools, and country other than repeating the mantra that higher standards will lead to more critically thinking, 21st century, students. Really? Says who and on what basis can anyone say that? These have never been field tested on anyone, anywhere.

    A couple of quick anecdotes about our Union and its relationship to corporate entities. Last year, Randi came to visit our state which had been reeling from the first year of receiving letter grades from a new law enacted by our Governor, our newspapers were demonizing teachers and “failing schools”, and we had just been acknowledged as having the second poorest children in the country (Mississippi was first, but we beat them this year). I went to the talk that Randi gave at our local Union office. She very briefly discussed our volatile situation, but stressed that her talk would focus on Union solutions—-not dwell on things that were out of our control, therefore, she wanted to talk to us about……SHARE MY LESSON!!! I couldn’t believe it. Before the talk, I checked out the Share My Lesson site and it was pretty dismal…..you should take a look at it and let me know what you think. I would be highly interested in knowing how much use that site is getting from teachers in our current climate of fear, frustration, and anger.

    Secondly, we are on a new evaluation system that is 50% based on student test scores/school grades. The other half is based on 3 principal observations that are scored based on a voluminous Danielson-like rubric. The whole evaluation process is facilitated by Teachscape. Here is a brief summary of Teachscape’s evaluation system:

    Teachscape Reflect is a complete observation and evaluation management system that helps districts make the critical connection between evaluations and long-term practice improvement.
    With a technology-enabled process and graphic-rich reports, Teachscape Reflect enables districts to deliver actionable feedback and support teachers to reflect and build on their skills.

    All parts of our evaluation are uploaded into this system….lesson plans, the principal’s observation notes, scores on our observations, pre/post observation questions….the whole deal. Our very large district is in an uproar over this evaluation system, but I was particularly upset when I discovered the close relationship between Teachscape and AFT. Here is the Teachscape timeline on their corporate brochure. By the way, our very poor state purchased this system for over 2 million dollars.

    1999
    Teachscape founded
    2000
    American Federation of
    Teachers and Teachscape
    develop New Teacher
    Support Series
    2001
    Carnegie Corporation selects
    Teachscape and Stanford to
    develop English language
    learning resources for teachers
    2001
    Teachscape selected as sole
    online professional learning
    provider for State of California
    2001
    Early childhood development
    courses co-created with
    Children’s Learning Institute
    at UT at Houston
    2002
    U.S. Department of Education selects
    Concord Consortium and Teachscape
    to co-develop online mathematics
    professional development resources
    2003
    Western Governors University selects
    Teachscape’s online learning system
    2004
    Teachscape launches the industry’s
    first classroom walkthrough software,
    implemented statewide in Florida
    and Arkansas
    2006
    Teachscape partners with McREL
    to develop online professional
    development modules
    2008
    State of Washington selects
    Teachscape to provide
    comprehensive support to
    underperforming districts
    2009
    Bill & Melinda Gates
    Foundation selects
    Teachscape for Measures of
    Effective Teaching project
    2010
    Teachscape selected by Detroit
    Public Schools as primary school
    turnaround partner
    2010
    Teachscape launches Teachscape
    Reflect, first 360-degree video
    classroom observation system
    2011
    Teachscape partners with ETS and
    Charlotte Danielson to develop first
    online proficiency test for classroom
    observers

    Sorry to go on, but I felt the above information was worth mentioning.

  11. teacher permalink

    Attacking a teacher’s teaching credentials, when she’s got nothing to hide, is indeed a personal attack. Teaching is an integral part of someone’s character, and when one claims that Randi’s teaching history is falsified, that’s a personal attack. Talk about the issues. But not unwarranted attacks.

    • People with nothing to hide answer the question.

    • When Randi publicly states she taught 6 years, 5 periods a day – which I couldn’t believe when I heard it then YES she is falsifying her record when DOE records show she was a per diem sub – with at most 3 periods a day other than for 6 months and that records show she worked 120 days total. So why not ask her to release her records publicly and settle it once and for all? If she were honest all along we could deal with it. Fact is she doesn’t think like a teacher or was trained as a teacher. She makes TFAers who drop in to teaching and then want to make policy for those they left behind look good.

  12. John Coats permalink

    I want to say that I am surprised to read this conversation, but sadly I am not. What I am us disappointed. My disappointment is in that this attack against Predident Weingarten’s credentials and willingness to accept money from the Fates Foundstion foes nothing to increase teaching and learning. One thing I can attest to is that president Weingarten’s highest priority regarding education is teaching and learning. In the years that I have sat under her I have been more inspired to engage in research to improve myself and my students. President Weingarten’s commitment to excellence in children and families always come first on her agenda. If this dialogue were for the good of all then it should have between the two of you. In my opinion this was done to discredit a great woman who has sacrificed time , money and life to make life more pleasing and accessible for all.
    Disappointed and outraged.

  13. teacher permalink

    Regarding CCSS, I think Randi hit the nail on the head when she said that no, they’re NOT a silver bullet. And quite frankly, there is no silver bullet in education. There’s not one set of standards, or curriculum, or quick fix for all that is wrong with our education system.
    That doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is much promise with CCSS. We can’t afford to do it wrong.

    • Ray Gaer permalink

      Silver Bullets are only used kill fictional vampires and they are pure fantasy. I agree there are questions to be asked about what has happened but the real question is what is the intended outcome. The CCSS are an opportunity to redefine teaching by teachers in their classrooms again. We are finally set free from scripted, robotic, mile wide inch deep curricular blunders created by short sighted test makers making obscene profits off the public school cash cow. Teaching is knowledge and the art of delivery and not an assembly line of facts without application.

      Common Core is a start and not a finish.

    • “There is much promise with CCSS”

      HA HA HA HA HE HE EH HE HE HEH HAH EHAHA HO HO HOHA!

      I’m glad I wasn’t drinking my iced tea when I read that one!

  14. LeShawna permalink

    Randi is being a smart president by understanding the need for open dialogue with those whom you have differing opinions. There is a lot of money on the so called reformers side, but we have something much more powerful, the trust of the communities where we serve. Randi has always been instrumental in making sure teachers & parents stay connected in our fight for the best public schools possible for every kid. Thanks Randi!

    • Commercial.

    • Susan Muchmore permalink

      An Open Letter to Randi Weingarten:

      I am a member of the rank and file of the American Federation of Teachers. I was a founding member of our local. I am the AFT. I am the boots on the ground. I am not trying to climb up the sordid ladder of victory on the backs of teachers like so many politicians. I am in the streets, spending hours trying to jump through the Common Core maze. I am the teacher who hasn’t seen a raise in years because state funding, once promised, is being held up in the courts. I am the teacher attending umpteenth in-service sessions to learn how to teach, throwing my 29 years of experience by the wayside. I am the teacher who hears hallway chatter about so and so getting a 4 and I only got a 3.5. Yes, Randi, it has come to this. And you aren’t helping.

      I have just read your response to my fellow teacher, Mercedes Schneider, as well as the comments to your response. I am totally disgusted at the self-serving tone. Prolixity doesn’t mask your efforts to steer the argument away from the important issues Schneider raised. Why didn’t you just answer the questions in a succinct manner instead of spending so much time defending your honor? You may not have intended this but intent and perception often are at odds.

      I am not as polite as Dr. Schneider so I will put my questions in simple terms. Again, this is the perception of your leadership within my union:

      1. Honesty is important. Credentials are important. Veteran teachers are very sensitive to those who pretend to be educators. Why have you tried to hide your limited full time teaching experience? It’s the cover-up that gets you in trouble.
      2. Follow the money. Why not admit that accepting Gates funds was not in the best interest of AFT Rank and file? Funds that go to supporting the “reform” efforts of corrupt politicians are not in my best interest, especially when I see local funds and my time redirected to Charter Schools and Common Core implementation, including instructional time being devoted to workshops and testing,
      3. Statistical manipulation is suspect. Statistics are the politician’s best friend. They can be twisted to support any end. Why have you continued to report that a majority of teachers endorse Common Core? It just is not true.

      You represent me; you represent the rank and file. Please do not continue to demean and misrepresent those of us who see the scam perpetrated on teachers in the name of reform. We need leadership who will carry on a true conversation with our membership, and not react to an honest inquiry of one of your members in the manner that you did with Dr. Schneider.

  15. Diane is wise and astute, as usual. The “left” has a long and agonizing history of self-immolation – with more time spent bickering among themselves than fighting the other side. Seemingly very little has changed. The teacher unions, both at the local and national level have the resources to pursue policies and the political clout to back it up. I give Randi credit for answering Mercedes in such detail.

    Leo Casey was more offended at Mercede’s letter than Randi.

    Change is made at the polling place and in the corridors of power: in city halls, in state legislatures and in the halls of Congress. Changing the direction of education means changing “No Child Left Behind,” and that is an extraordinarily difficult lift. To simply say that anything Gates or Broad supports is inherently bad is emotionally satisfying but politically ineffective. Changing long established laws requires coalitions – you may not love your coalition partners – you need each other to bring about change.

    To bring about change Diane and Randi and Mercedes and the blogging networks must work together.

    I see the Common Core, at least at the secondary level as aspirational goals- not significantly different than the standards of the past.

    Railing against “corporate takeovers” must be converted into achievable policies … Randi has the ability to coalesce divergent groups, and to write op eds for the NY Times. Each attack on Randi is applauded by the Murdochs and the Rhees.

    I attend each and every monthly Delegate Meeting in my local. Teachers are frustrated by the implementation of the Common Core, by the paperwork burdens, an administration fixated on data for the sake of data, I hear little criticism of the CC itself. The just-released teacher evaluation data in New York State found 91% of teacher “high effective” or “effective” and 1% “ineffective.” (this does not include NYC that is a year delayed in implementation).

    I was at a political event last night, and chatting with a local businessman, he worries about rising taxes the slow economic recovery and asks, “Is there an answer? Can you guys really teach all kids? Do parents really care? Are we pouring money down a black hole?” It took me a half hour , hopefully, to convince him that we can make a difference, we can educate kids, and, our tax dollars are well-spent.

    If we spend our time attacking each other the public will turn their backs on schools.

    What can we agree on? Can we develop an action plan to achieve agreed upon objectives? Or, we can bash each other and post comments for those with whom you already agree?

  16. Ray Gaer permalink

    Sun Tzu says of short retorts, “When the other side keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for the other side to advance.”

  17. cord permalink

    Weingarten/Teachscape/Gates..is that something like the military/industrial/congressional complex?

  18. To all would-be Weingarten supporters;

    On November 4, 2013, on my lunch break at school, I walked in on a phone call that I was not supposed to hear. It involved the attempts of AFT officials to have my local union “rein me in.” My local union had no intentions of doing so. I do not like having AFT stretch its political arm right into my school day. So, here is my recourse:

    If you desire to leave a comment singing her praises, allow me to redirect you to the posting of this entry on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

    http://dianeravitch.net/2013/11/04/an-open-exchange-between-mercedes-schneider-and-randi-weingarten/

    I will not be posting any more of your comments here.

    You may write of your favor for Weingarten and her actions; however, that does not change the fact that she has been granted a permanent NY teaching certificate having only one semester of full-time teaching to her credit (she admitted as much re: her full time teaching in an email to me); ir does not change the fact that AFT has taken $11.3 mullion from Bill Gates and is promoting his supposed educational agenda, and it does not change the fact that Common Core is manufactured, enforced, and top-down, with Weingarten supporting it in the same inflexible manner as do Arne Duncan, John King and John White.

    So sing away, Weingarten troops, but you will not be doing any more of it on my blog.

  19. klmk55 permalink

    As a former classroom teacher (8 years) and now teacher educator (20+ years) I thought both letters were reasonable–it is reasonable for Mercedes to share concerns and ask for change on three points and reasonable for Randi to not share the concern and defend her actions. There is one point I want to make about lived experience: while I would certainly want a leader who understands my professional reality I am not certain he/she literally has to have walked in my shoes to advocate for me. In other words I don’t think the fulltime/part time; credentialed/volunteer teaching is a great concern provided the leader has the skills and empathy to imagine the experience. For instance I think it odd that many colleges of education require only people with public school experience as professors. My teaching experience in a rural state with fairly hands-off policies led me to have a very different experience than my colleagues in higher Ed who had taught in urban environments so why these particular disparate experiences were considered necessary for us to function as teacher educators puzzles me. One can imagine an experience, process it, and gain understanding–I think that is what John Dewey argues in “How We Think” and Kieran Egan advocates in Imaginative Education– two Ed. philosophers that have changed the face of education.

  20. Ray Gaer permalink

    Mercedes, I want to thank you for your journalism and the pursuit of truth. Your articles about the amounts of money that have been poured into organizations through Gates is eye opening and has created more questions in my head than answers.

    I work in the ABC Unified School District in California and as part of the AFT Innovation Grant program my union and district received a little over $400k over a three year span. The ABC Federation of Teachers along with ABCUSD were awarded this amount after coming up with a joint administration/labor initiative within our district that would promote student achievement at a school site level. Taking this money to use for our local needs had to be thought of very carefully and there were many who questioned the motivations of receiving said funds.. All of us realized that some of that money was Gates Foundation money and money from other private donors. There were many questions about the ethics of using private business funds for our project of promoting labor/management partnerships at a school site level.

    I was in Seattle when Bill Gates spoke at the AFT National Convention and I was part of a team that was invited to a Gates social mixer during the Convention. I know there is a lot of controversy about the politics of that time and believe me it was very strange to be in the company of the Gates Foundation after hearing about their negative influence on our educational institutions at that time. I don’t profess to understand the intensions of the Gates foundation but I do know that ABC was able to use those Gates funds to promote student achievement through labor/management partnerships, a concept foreign among most districts in the United States. Was it right for a District in desperate need of funds in one of the lowest funded states of the union to take private money to pursue academic achievement? That is a good question and I thank you for the information you have provided through your investigations on the CCSS. All I do know is that ABC was able to use private money to create an alternative model of educational reform focused on student achievement and without those funds we would of been unable to move this project.

    The resulting publication created from this project can be found here:

    http://www.abcusd.k12.ca.us/pages/ABC_Unified_School_District/Community/AFT_Innovation_Grant

    Post or don’t post I do thank you for the discussion you’ve created.

    • Ray, thank you for writing. I appreciate your candor.

      I understand the dilemma regarding taking Gates money for a project that could benefit a district.

      I did not follow your link, but forgive me if terms like “student achievement” leave a bad

      The truth is that we belong to those whose money we take. The more money we accept– and the greater the dependence upon such money– the more we sell off our independence.

      Weingarten’s actions as AFT president bespeak a loss of independence and an allegiance to the coffer.

    • “to use those Gates funds to promote student achievement through labor/management partnerships.”

      If you believe that the Gates Foundation wishes to promote “labor/management partnerships” I have some great ocean front property to sell you cheaply at Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri. Hurry, call today as the lots are going fast!!

      • Ray Gaer permalink

        The ABC Project was indirectly funded but the creation and design was independent of outside modification. ABC has a strong history of labor management partnership focused on student achievement and has the research to prove that partnerships are an effective strategy for creating educational reform.

      • That “partnership” is one way and labor is the loser.

        Not only that but to focus on this nebulous, nefarious concept of “student achievement” belies the true intention of that partnership as it focuses solely on end results (test scores) and not on the teaching and learning process-which is what “labor”, i.e., teachers would prefer to concentrate on.

      • Ray Gaer permalink

        I disagree with your statement that labor is a loser. If you were to actually look into depth at the ABC partnership you would see otherwise. Labor has benefited greatly from this approach. Look before you make a sweeping generalization.

    • Ray,

      I guess what it comes down to is that I’ve seen so many “labor/management” partnerships be a disguise to keep labor in its place that I an quite jaded. Kind of like the methods that are used to garner “consent” these days in schools. It basically means that either you buy into what administration wants or hit the highway, even though you can show (and I’ve even had them agree) that what they are doing is harmful for the students. Delphi techniques, etc. . . .

      I’ve been on the management side and the labor side in my prior work experiences and I’ve only seen two management situations that I consider “good” that actually included the “peons/workers” in the changes that were made. But to think that a process that Gates funded would be what I considered a good one, sorry but I believe that my ocean front property at Lake of the Ozarks will sell before I change my mind on that SOB.

  21. Erol permalink

    I’m not hear to defend Weingarten. Leaders should be held accountable, and I don’t think your requests are unreasonable, if politically challenging. But my question is whether this tact is a strategic one. Does this post (and the ones sure to follow) advance the defence of public education? If the goal is to push back on CCS implementation, does attempting to discredit Weingarten’s authority accomplish that? Are you hoping that by turning up something damning in Weingarten’s past, you can pressure her to reverse her position on CSS? Obviously, your motives are your own.

    However, your issues with Weingarten may be better handled internally, as challenging as that can be. You’re a member of her union. Are you planning to run against Weingarten in the next national election? Is there a larger strategy in place for a slate of rank-and-file AFT members to run against the current administration that begins with this inquiry?

    If the answer is no, then what does this questioning of Weingarten’s credentials accomplish, apart from potentially giving ammunition to the ed reformers also trying to topple the President of the AFT? Who would replace Weingarten should you turn up something truly damaging that forces her to step down? How would you guarantee that the new president wouldn’t adopt similar positions?

    To change leadership requires more than a talented mudslinger. Blogs are, by their nature, parochial media outfits. They can contribute much of value to an organized campaign, but on their own act merely as voices in the wilderness and outlets for the likeminded to vent. I hope to see you take the energy and insight on display in these pages and build a national movement among teachers for new leadership. But it would be quite disappointing if this post is merely to stick another finger in Weingarten’s eye.

    • This was no effort to “stick a finger.” I have learned that some folks do not respond except if placed under public pressure. I exchanged emails with Weingarten privately. She knew for a week that I planned to write this post. She had opportunity to negotiate with me. She chose not to do so.

      The details that Weingarten reveals in her response far exceed the detail in my open letter. I purposely omitted them.

      I could have written a more powerful post but chose not to. I could have blindsided Weingarten but chose not to.

      I did not create the issues raised in my post. These have been a long time coming.

    • Erol
      I say YES to the idea that Mercedes is advancing the defense of public education by exposing union leaders like Randi Weingarten who have done so much to deflate the militancy of teachers all over the nation who want a rigorous defense of public education from the very people who supposedly represent them. The fundamental lack of democracy and one party rule in the UFT in NYC which Randi headed for a decade permeates throughout the nation. Let’s take the majority of so-called Randi defenders. Almost every single one is on the payroll of the UFT. How do I know? They are the very same people who inundated the MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) blog during the election last spring even using the same names. They attacked our presidential candidate, Julie Cavanagh, the mother of an 8 month old for not attending delegate assemblies when her child was sick. Then they questioned whether she should have run given she had a baby. When we brought up Randi’s legacy in NYC — she was extremely unpopular even in her own Unity Caucus – believe it or not they WOULD NOT defend her, saying instead that she is gone and talking about how wonderful her replacement was — bringing new life and integrity. So how much fun to see our old Unity pals out here to do what they refused to do in the UFT election — defend Randi. I wonder whether they are submitting time sheets for their work.

  22. Susan Muchmore permalink

    Erol – Reading between the lines – are you really accusing Dr. Schneider of some sort of political blackmail aimed at Randi Weingarten? And the idea that education reformers want to topple Randi Weingarten is absurd. She is touting their agenda. If you are a teacher and member of the AFT I ask that you read my earlier post. I realize I am risking being labeled a “talented mudslinger” like you have dubbed Dr. Schneider but at least I will be in good company…I have reposted below:

    I am a member of the rank and file of the American Federation of Teachers. I was a founding member of our local. I am the AFT. I am the boots on the ground. I am not trying to climb up the sordid ladder of victory on the backs of teachers like so many politicians. I am in the streets, spending hours trying to jump through the Common Core maze. I am the teacher who hasn’t seen a raise in years because state funding, once promised, is being held up in the courts. I am the teacher attending umpteenth in-service sessions to learn how to teach, throwing my 29 years of experience by the wayside. I am the teacher who hears hallway chatter about so and so getting a 4 and I only got a 3.5. Yes, Randi, it has come to this. And you aren’t helping.

    I have just read your response to my fellow teacher, Mercedes Schneider, as well as the comments to your response. I am totally disgusted at the self-serving tone. Prolixity doesn’t mask your efforts to steer the argument away from the important issues Schneider raised. Why didn’t you just answer the questions in a succinct manner instead of spending so much time defending your honor? You may not have intended this but intent and perception often are at odds.

    I am not as polite as Dr. Schneider so I will put my questions in simple terms. Again, this is the perception of your leadership within my union:

    1. Honesty is important. Credentials are important. Veteran teachers are very sensitive to those who pretend to be educators. Why have you tried to hide your limited full time teaching experience? It’s the cover-up that gets you in trouble.
    2. Follow the money. Why not admit that accepting Gates funds was not in the best interest of AFT Rank and file? Funds that go to supporting the “reform” efforts of corrupt politicians are not in my best interest, especially when I see local funds and my time redirected to Charter Schools and Common Core implementation, including instructional time being devoted to workshops and testing,
    3. Statistical manipulation is suspect. Statistics are the politician’s best friend. They can be twisted to support any end. Why have you continued to report that a majority of teachers endorse Common Core? It just is not true.

    You represent me; you represent the rank and file. Please do not continue to demean and misrepresent those of us who see the scam perpetrated on teachers in the name of reform. We need leadership who will carry on a true conversation with our membership, and not react to an honest inquiry of one of your members in the manner that you did with Dr. Schneider.

    • Susan Muchmore permalink

      Whoops, The above repost was an open letter to Randi Weingarten.

  23. You were exactly right about the union declining Gates money and taking a strong stand re CC. Think your message diluted by issue of her credentials. I believe that the more salient issue is that she is politically naive and completely indifferent to the use of political power. What in the world would motivate her to endorse Obama at the start of his campaign and get absolutely nothing from doing that?
    She should resign.
    I am sure she is a lovely person but the war for the profession of teaching and to maintain public schools is too precarious to tolerate her level of incompetence.

    • The issue of Weingarten’s credentials is the tip of an integrity iceberg. She is trying too hard to not publicize the details of her teaching background. I think there is an issue so huge here that it could possibly overshadow even her accepting millions in Gates funds.

  24. Sandra Herrera permalink

    I would like Randi to teach in Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia for one month. Afterwards, she can explain how and why CCSS is so beneficial to education. Also, quite frankly, I resent Randi being touted as my representative. She has never represented public education in a manner that it deserves. Her response letter is unprofessional and smacks of being “one of the good ol’ boys”.

  25. Sean Ahern permalink

    As a NYC teacher since 1999 I have seen seniority contractual protections decimated by tradeoffs made by Weingarten when she was the local president of the largest local union left standing in NYC and probably the USA. Is it any wonder that the labor movement is in such dire straits when the so called leadership is dancing quadrilles around the oligarchy and channeling Margaret Thatcher’s words to the membership to the effect that “There is no alternative?”

    In 2002 Weingarten supported the passage of mayoral control in the NYS Legislature which set the stage for the imposition of the corporate school agenda in NYC; school closings, the destruction of the majority of large comprehensive high schools, a free ride for charters, patently ridiculous evaluation schemes, mandatory grade retention, the disappearing of Black and Latino educators, increased segregation by race and class, the hiring of non unionized teachers at charters, teaching to the test and the list goes on. She didn’t do it, she just opened the door for them. What did she get in return? Or, to put it more accurately, how did she sell this to the membership while she was UFT President? She dressed up her own abject surrender with a 22 year longevity clause that gave teachers nearing retirement a substantial boost to their pensions and an extended day which increased teachers pay and most importantly final average salary used to determine pensions. She played the top of the pay scale against the bottom as the local leadership had done since the mid 1970’s. Working a longer day for three years before retirement is alot different that doing it for 25 years. Is it any wonder that the large majority of working teachers in NYC today don’t even vote in a UFT election? This is Weingarten’s legacy and end game for the caucus she represents. Fact is that the median salary for a NYC teacher today, discounted for inflation, is less than it was in 1972. Let her house scholar, Leo Casey do the math and suggest a way out of this dead end negotiating strategy.

    Even with shrinking job opportunities, retention rates for NYC teachers is among the lowest in the country and that should give a fair minded observer some sense of what working and learning conditions really are like in NYC where we have the “mighty, mighty union.” What good is all the real estate holdings of the UFT (two large office towers adjacent to the stock exchange), 40 billion $ in the Teachers Retirement System, a very large and well paid full time staff when, all the members see is worsening learning and working conditions, tradeoffs, givebacks and senior teachers today who are walking around with targets on their backs praying for retro pay (no contractual raise since May 2008) in the age of austerity and government shutdowns? As for the suggestion that Weingarten is a closet progressive compared to the old Shanker cold warriors, I point readers to her abject groveling before the witch hunt led by right wing zionists and the NY Post who drove out the Lebanese American Principal of the Khalil Gibran School and basically killed the school. Weingarten in effect joined a lynch mob and gave credence to a post 9-11 witch hunt. Oh yes “intifada” is a very very bad violent word, bad enough to end the career of Debbie Almontaser, a well respected educational leader who had the bad luck to share an office with a arabic women’s group that sold a t-shirt with the slogan “Intifada Now” enblazoned across the chest, in Arabic no less! And the audacity to defend free speech. Weingarten as a Progressive? Read up on how she endorsed Pataki , the former Republican NYS Governor when he threw some money into the pot to settle a contract shortly after he derailed a landmark decision (DeGrasse) that would have forced the state to implement fair funding for NYC schools; not just some sweeteners so she could sell another lousy contract to a benumbed membership but a substantial structural shift in the school funding formula.

    Weingarten as a Progressive? There has been a 42% decline in the number of new Black and Latino teachers hired in NYC since Weingarten supported mayoral control, an about face on diversity in the school staff that had been making slow but steady progress since the 1970’s. Only after she departed the scene did the local take tentative steps to address this regressive hiring policy. Additionally, during her tenure as UFT President, thousands of NYC teachers, dis proportionately Black and Latino, were fired in 2002 without a murmur of public protest from her. Weingarten is first and foremost a lawyer and at best lawyers are supposed to be advocates for their clients but even in this respect she failed abysmally . In 2012 a court ruled that the certification test used to dismiss thousands of teachers in 2002, dues paying members of Weingartens former local, was never validated and these litigants do in fact have standing before the court as a class. A court ruling ten years after the fact is hardly consolation for the termination of a career. Many of those teachers who were left to seek legal redress on their own initiative with the support of other lawyers working pro bono are now deceased. Everyone makes mistakes but not Weingarten. Undeterred, readers may recall her recent joint statement with Klein, former NYC schools Chancellor and now consigliere for Rupert Murdoch, calling for a national teacher certification exam! Apparently from her and Klein’s point of view certification exams worked so well in NYS, why not go national with it! These are not the actions of a progressive minded person.

    And as for her loyal house scholar, indefatigable defender, Leo Casey, let me point readers to his recent criticism of Anthony Cody, a blogger/educator and critic of the corporate education reform. Casey takes issue with Cody’s pointed criticism of the corporate education reform, denying that the latter exists as a concerted national campaign. You see Weingarten and Casey think they are very clever and nuanced in their approach, treating each corporate and philanthropic entity encircling public education as an individual case with whom points of collaboration and consensus may be found. Its called “triangulation”, a strategy that has moved us further and further away from social and economic equality as a nation and has further divided and weakened unions.

    I think Weingarten’s actual record as UFT president is much more important than whether or not she taught for more than a semester. Casey’s denial of the existence of a well coordinated corporate education reform is sophistry and his outraged defense of Weingarten’s record as a classroom teacher is rather besides the point. Our putative leaders are singing a lullaby to the membership and consorting with the enemies of public education while the oligarchy undermines democracy. This is dangerous for as Beaudelaire remarked, the devil defeats humanity when he convinces us that he doesn’t exist.

    • Weingarten’s publicly declaring the details of her teaching experience is a matter of integrity. Her dodge is evidence of an integrity dodging iceberg of compromise.

      • Weingarten’s personnel file was obtained through a FOIL. Her answers to you don’t match the file. This is an area to clarify.

      • No file available for me to view. All links dead.

        NYC teaching certification record was available.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. An Open Exchange Between Mercedes Schneider and Randi Weingarten | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Finding Common Ground: The Complex Task of Building Coalitions and Understanding the Difference Between Friends and Enemies | Ed In The Apple
  3. ObamaCore
  4. Center for Union Facts… Yeah, Right. | deutsch29
  5. Center for Union Facts… Yeah, Right. – @ THE CHALK FACE

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