A Schneider Debriefing on Weingarten
On Sunday, March 2, 2014, I participated in a much-publicized Common Core (CCSS) panel with four other individuals as part of the Network for Public Education (NPE) first annual conference in Austin, Texas. (A 40-minute video of the CCSS panel can be found here; a five-minute video excerpt of my seven-minute opener can be found here.)
One of the panel members was American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. Weingarten was the only panel member in favor of CCSS. The rest of us, including moderator Anthony Cody, were against CCSS.
In this post, I would like to reflect upon my involvement on the CCSS panel, especially in connection with Weingarten. Much of what I have written is not available on video because the events and/or reflections occurred outside of the CCSS panel itself. Some of what I have written involves responding to Weingarten’s words here since there was neither time nor opportunity to do so during the panel session.
My Position on Weingarten
First, a clear word on where I stand in regard to Weingarten. I think she chooses to be involved with the likes of Bill Gates and Eli Broad because she likes them. I believe that the money they bring is a reason, but a lesser reason, for her sustained relationship with them. These two men bring with them power, and connections, and influence. Weingarten likes to be “at the table,”– their table. And their table is one that promotes the privatization of public education.
I believe that Weingarten’s continued involvement with Gates and Broad and their extensive network of moneyed, powerful cronies is destroying the union. The destruction shows itself in every pro-privatizing decision that Weingarten makes– and such decisions appear to be countless. It seems that every time I dig deeper in researching a Weingarten decision, privatization is the winner.
I believe that Weingarten is at least partly motivated to continue her Gates/Broad relationships because she always has an eye to the “where next” of her own career. She became a teacher temporarily in order to become a teachers union president; she was willing to jump into Hillary Clinton’s open senate seat in 2008 after having just been elected AFT president, and she continues to seek the next avenue in her career rise. The result is that Weingarten is willing to sacrifice the health and security of the union for her own career aspirations.
It is always my hope that Weingarten will forsake her allegiance to her corporate reform connections and focus on the well being of the union. However, with each new decision she makes, what I must face is the reality that Weingarten must be pushed into a political corner in order to eke out a couple of drops of concession that are for teachers (and, by extension, for the union) and against her beloved corporate reform connections. This reluctance showed itself in the CCSS panel regarding discontinuing Gates money for the AFT Innovation Fund (more to come on this) and it show itself in Weingarten’s dealings with New Jersey in the week prior to the NPE conference. (See this link for Weingarten’s letter to NJ Governor Chris Christie accompanied by my “deeper dig.”)
I have heard the excuse that being AFT president is a “difficult” job, insinuating that Weingarten should be excused for her reckless and repeated union-damaging decisions. I do not excuse her. She sought the job of teachers union president; based upon AFT’s 2012 990, she makes almost eight times my salary (W-2 and/or 1099 MISC have her compensation at $454,416), and she was elected to serve public school teachers.
If elected to serve us, then let her be accountable to us.
Schneider Has a Weingarten Vendetta (??)
I have actually had the term vendetta used to describe my interactions with Weingarten. First of all, a vendetta involves seeking revenge for a single wrong, perceived or actual. I am not seeking revenge. What I am doing is exposing Weingarten’s continued pro-privatizing dealings as I learn of them in the course of my research.
Yes, I am angry at Weingarten’s wrecking of my union and my profession. However, I am not cruel in my dealings with her.
Pointed, yes; cruel, no.
It’s called accountability. Perhaps she will begin to think about how her corporate-reform-friendly bent will come back to haunt her in my posts and elsewhere. (The education blogger network has become a force in its own right, and the press should provide a healthy pressure on those whose decisions impact the masses.)
Allow me to present some behind-the-scenes dealings to underscore my balanced motivations in interacting with Randi Weingarten.
When I agreed to participate on NPE’s CCSS panel, there was no mention of Weingarten as a panelist. So, I did not agree in an effort to have a “showdown” with Randi Weingarten. Anthony Cody invited me to participate because of my extensive writing on CCSS.
On December 30, 2013, I received an email from Cody telling me that Weingarten had accepted an invitation to appear as part of the NPE CCSS panel and that she did not yet know I also invited.
I phoned Cody to be sure that my appearance would be no surprise to Weingarten. I wanted her to experience no daytime-television-sensationalized shock at my being there. Cody assured me he had no such intention and that Weingarten would know that I was a panelist long before the event.
People with vendettas do not guard their opponents against shock.
On February 4, 2014, Cody asked my thoughts on the format for the CCSS panel. I asked him if Weingarten would be the only pro-CCSS panelist. He said yes; so, I proposed that she begin a structured seven-minute presentation time and be allowed three additional minutes at the end.
People with vendettas do not offer generous concessions.
One of my fellow bloggers told me that she assumed Weingarten demanded the extra time. Weingarten did not. I suggested we incorporate it since she was alone in her position; the remaining panel members agreed.
But there is another piece to this story. There was some email discussion over a conversational format for the panel. I did not believe this would work well with five people, and I noted as much. “Conversational hijacking” was too much of a possibility, and some panelists might be completely omitted from the discussion. However, my principal concern was for my own self control. I phoned Cody and told him as much: In an open format, I was much more likely to rip into Weingarten, and I did not want this panel to degenerate into the dregs of an ugly encounter. I asked Cody to “save me from myself” (my exact words). He assured me that he felt more comfortable with the structure originally proposed and to which Weingarten had initially agreed. (She later wanted the more open format.)
People with vendettas do not ask others to help them maintain control against potentially unruly, “vendetta-related” upset.
Prior to the NPE conference, I had not met Weingarten. I wanted to do so in a low-key manner. So, after serving a chauffeur on Saturday night (the first conference night and the night before the CCSS panel), I introduced myself to Weingarten, who was at the Mariott at a reception for NM Governor Howie Morales. The reception was ending– it was 10 p.m.– and I walked up to her, said my name, explained that I wanted to introduce myself before tomorrow, then excused myself and left. No fanfare. No showing off in front of a group of friends. Just a moment of ice breaking in an effort to make tomorrow’s introduction a smoother moment.
People with vendettas do not “break the ice” via low-key introductions.
So, yes, my intention was to confront Weingarten’ pro-CCSS position but to do so in a professional and controlled manner.
(An aside: Before I published my open exchange with Weingarten in November 2013, I not only informed her that I was writing an open letter to her; I sent the letter to her and gave her a full week to respond if she chose to prior to my posting the letter. Then I sent the finished post to her prior to publishing, including her response, and told her the exact time and locations of the posting. And let us not forget my December 2013 defense of AFT against the Center for Union Facts. No vendetta.)
Schneider Was Too Controlled (??)
Allow me to address the pendulum as it swings to the other side, namely, that I was too controlled. Some audience members expected me to rip into Weingarten. First of all, my intention was to destroy her logic for supporting CCSS– not her. I believe that this was accomplished not only by me but also by the other three anti-CCSS panel members.
There were some addiitonal Weingarten statements on which I would have liked to comment in real time. Nevertheless, time did not allow for all panelists to say all that they wanted during the panel. We had a schedule to keep.
That Sunday afternoon, I was able to elaborate on my position regarding the influence of philanthropy dependence (the money as well as the power and connections) as such concerns Weingarten and others receiving philanthropic “assistance” to a packed room as part of the philanthropy panel discussion. Plus, I am writing my candid “debriefing” as part of this post.
Should Randi Weingarten and I ever engage in a one-to-one discussion of AFT involvements with those known to actively promote the corporate reform agenda, my discussion will be much more direct– never cruel– and likely without much raising of my voice– but like the skilled and precise slicing of a surgeon’s scalpel.
The Weingarten-BAT Incident
In this post, I wish to respond to Weingarten’s words during the CCSS panel. First, allow me to sidestep to her auditorium entrance.
Her privatizer-friendly positions make Weingarten a polarizing figure. And she is very much the politician, seeking to be regarded as a member of whatever group whose opinions she is trying to sway.
(In planning for the NPE conference, fellow blogger Jon Pelto created a group for conference panelists. A number of bloggers were on this list and were trying to arrange a bloggers meeting. At one point Weingarten entered the conversation and asked, “So am I a blogger? Or just a participant?” I wanted a clear boundary. I responded, “Randi, you are a participant.”)
On the morning of the NPE CCSS panel, Weingarten wore a BAT (Bad Ass Teachers) t-shirt.
Apparently Weingarten passed the BAT table and asked for a t-shirt. A BAT took her photo and created a meme. The entire event disturbed blogger Kris Nielsen, who responded on March 3 with this post. The next day, March 4, blogger Denisha Jones answered Nielsen. I particularly like what Jones notes here:
…Taking a picture of Randi Weingarten in a BAT t-shirt did not make BAT’s suddenly reverse their stance on CCSS. And let’s be clear, Randi Weingarten put on the BATs t-shirt. BAT’s did not put on a Randi Weingarten t-shirt and allow themselves to be photographed. [Emphasis added.]
The BATs did not endorse Weingarten. One simply gave her a t-shirt.
I am careful about my associations. My education reform writings have made me popular with a variety of groups, some of which I would not otherwise choose to ally. Anyone may choose to reblog my work. However, I am careful where I choose to become actively involved, be it webpage, or magazine, or blog, or speaking engagement.
And I never don a logo in order to mimic belonging.
Weingarten’s Opener (And My Written Commentary)
In her opening remarks, Weingarten equates “national standards” with CCSS. She admits that she “believes in national standards.” However, the push for CCSS is that they are not “national”– they are “state-led.”
If the public were fine with “national” CCSS, there would be no push to “rebrand” in an effort to trick the public into believing the standards are unique to individual states.
In my opener, I state that “national standards” does not equal CCSS, and that “national standards” must be voluntary.
In her opener, Weingarten also acknowledges that AFT “was approached” to “review” CCSS.
Not “write.” Not “develop.” Only “review.”
Not to mention the passive voice, “was approached.” Top-down.
She adds, “There was a bunch of give and take, and they changed the standards in a lot of different ways.”
Note the top-down “they.” “They” have the power. “They” have the final word. And in the end, “they” decided to make CCSS rigid.
Weingarten admits that she believes CCSS is “inappropriate for K thru 2” and that she knows this “because people have used them how inappropriate they are.”
No mention of the need to pilot before implementing. No mention of the damage to student, teachers and schools for forcing implementation of untested CCSS.
How about grades 3 thru 12?
Weingarten jumps to the “real problem is the testing, which comes from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”
The real problem is that all of Race to the Top (RTTT) attempts to be a “standardized NCLB”– rigid standards so that curriculum and test makers can pattern their wares after the CCSS template. Testing is the offshoot of the CCSS hub.
Weingarten states that the “problem” is that “testing has conflated with everything else that happens in school.” She does not admit her contribution to the destruction brought about by testing dependence, not the least of which is her taking money from Gates for VAM and not declaring VAM problematic until the month following the expiration of the Gates grant. Neither does Weingarten acknowledge her contribution in tying Newark teachers into VAM (see Newark link above).
Weingarten maintains that it is the testing emphasis that makes “people feel like they have no voice whatsoever.”
It is not the testing alone. It is the entire spectrum of reforms intentionally and strategically pushed down the collective school and community throats by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the National Governors Association (NGA).
Weingarten focused her argument on “finding a way to break through on the fixation on testing and the fixation on test scores.”
The way to destroy the CCSS tests is to destroy CCSS. In my opener, I offered the advice for teachers to form committees and to start shuffling CCSS around. Doing so sabotages CCSS as a template for testing.
The through answer is to obliterate CCSS. No CCSS, no CCSS tests.
AFT and Gates Money
During Weingarten’s second time speaking (recorded at end of video), Weingarten attempted to defend AFT’s accepting Gates money by noting that it was one percent of the total AFT budget. (According to the AFT 2012 990, AFT spent $190 million from July 2011 to June 2012. About.com has AFT’s annual budget at “over $170 million.”) She offered the audience the concession that at the July convention,she would ask members to vote on a five-cent dues increase in order to continue the AFT Innovation Fund. She asked the audience if that would be okay. The audience applauded.
Weingarten implied that “so little” Gates money does not matter. However, it apparently does since not accepting “the next round” for the AFT Innovation Fund means a dues increase. The current Gates grant for the Innovation Fund and CCSS ($4.4 million) expires in May 2015.
Note: There was no mention of returning any Gates money. There was also no agreement to not accept Gates money in the future– just not for the Innovation Fund.
The Gates money matters to those who take it. However, the connection to Gates and the power that such connection brings matters to those benefiting from his circle of power more than does his money.
A five-cent annual annual dues increase for all 1.5 million AFT members yields $75,000 in additional revenue.
A two-dollar annual dues increase for all 1.5 million AFT members would yield an additional $3 million in AFT revenue.
I would like to challenge Weingarten to offer AFT members the total amount that AFT dues must rise in order for her to say no to all corporate-reform-associated philanthropic money given to AFT.
I would also like to challenge her to stop making contributions out of AFT money to those who openly advocate the corporate reform, corporation-benefiting, test-driven, teaching-profession-undermining agenda.
At the close of the NPE CCSS panel, Weingarten spoke last. She reiterated that she likes CCSS and added that her reason was “personal” and connected to her time “as a teacher.”
First, as the president of a national teachers union, the “bottom line” for continued support of CCSS cannot be “personal.” Weingarten is the leader of 1.5 million union members. Support for any program must put union membership ahead of personal preference.
Second, Weingarten concluded her time “as a teacher” in 1997. Thus, she has been away from the classroom for seventeen years. In a conversation over dinner, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis observed to me, “I have been away from the classroom for only three years, and I am out of touch with what is happening there now.”
I returned to the public school classroom in 2007 after teaching at the university level. My 2007 return is worlds away from what I know as a classroom teacher in 2014.
For me, CCSS is indeed “personal,” for it is very much associated with my daily classroom experience. But may I always offer a more detailed, factual, research-based reasoning for railing against corporate reform and its ardent supporters than to simply note, “It’s personal.”