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A Schneider Debriefing on Weingarten

March 7, 2014

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.

In Closing

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.”

Two points:

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.”

26 Comments
  1. Mercedes, I have to say this is one of the strongest and most courageous blogs Ive read in a long time. While I do not agree with you on some issues, this one cemented my respect for your honesty and intellect. Keep up the great work.

  2. Go0d job, very measured.

  3. John a permalink

    First rate presentation. You have done your job. And done it well. Case closed. The union membership, students and schools have been sold out by its president: she ‘likes’ Gates and Broad and wants a ‘seat at the table’. Weingarten is the sole beneficiary of maintaining a cozy pwesonal and funding relationship with the foundation moguls who what to destroy unions and public school.

    The sole question is what it will take to move Weingarten from her leadership position. Change will involve a massive and coordinated inter state movement spear-headed my rank and file membership. It will be a long up hill struggle, but it is a necessary struggle.

    • elliew123 permalink

      Randi Weingarten is at the table and the teachers are the meal. I

  4. Fantastic article, Mercedes. I really enjoyed this one!

    One thing, though: why does everybody still think the t-shirt thing bugged me? Look at my article, right under the picture of Randi, where I made fun of the carpeting. It was pretty clear that I didn’t care about the shirt. I was ready to burn the carpet, but couldn’t care less about the shirt.

    It wasn’t THAT event that bothered me. It was the event that happened in BATs afterward. I had to ask a question.

    Anyway, great stuff. Always look forward to reading your blog!

  5. ira shor permalink

    Yes, agree with others that this is a masterful brief against Weingarten’s betrayal of teachers, kids, and public schools. The lure of being a player massaged by the powerful is truly great to a careerist like Weingarten. Big question is how to get her and Van Roekel out of office? They manage labor for the corporations, in this case, teacher labor.

  6. Darin LaCoursiere permalink

    I want to learn how to shift the testing around I like that idea and playing their games! Darin

    Sent from my iPad

  7. I just got done watching the NPE video and I did not understand what Randi Weingarten was talking about especially when she referred to the dues increase. She seemed rather out of place among such focused speakers. Thank you so much for taking the time to describe all this. It really clears things up.

  8. Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Excellent analysis if the NPE CCSS forum and AFT president Randi Weingarten’s often perplexing supporting arguments for CCSS.

  9. Detroiter permalink

    Thank you Mercedes. Great article! I was there (great conference) but really needed this article, as the panel was incomplete. Thank you as always!!

  10. Evander permalink

    What do our LFT friends say about this?

  11. 2old2tch permalink

    Excellent analysis. Clear and concise. Keep it up.

  12. Hannah permalink

    Words of precision!

  13. In 2011 AFT devoted an entire issue of “American Educator” to the Common Core and the editors fully endorsed the Common Core Standards AND even called for a national Common Core curriculum…

    “…A curriculum sets forth that body of knowledge and skill our children need to grow into economically productive and socially responsible citizens. A common curriculum – meaning one that is shared by all schools – is what binds the actors together; instead of going off in radically different directions and inadvertently undermining each other, teachers, administrators, parents, textbook writers, assessment developers, professors of education and policy-makers all work in concert. A Common core curriculum – meaning one that fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time – leaves teachers ample room to build on students’ interests and address local priorities…

    This is an exciting new movement…but standards are just a beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. The essential knowledge and skills – the key to a rich life – must be set forth in a common core curriculum. It’s an idea who’s time has come”

    http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/winter1011/Editors.pdf

    http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/winter1011/

    Constitutional issues aside, I wonder does AFT still endorse a national Common Core curriculum and do most members support this position?

    When AFT editors assure readers that this national curriculum will account for “roughly 2/3” of instructional time were they referring to the learning time for at-risk, learning disabled, average ability, above average, gifted and talented etc. ?

    Surely the AFT editors are experienced classroom teachers and understand that it is foolish to suggest that policy-makers can design a national curriculum from afar and predict the amount of time it will take for students to achieve proficiency and master the curriculum when classrooms across the country have different numbers of students who possess a wide range of skills and abilities.

  14. Dr. Rich Swier permalink

    Great. Posted on DrRichSwier.com: http://bit.ly/1h0JGWm

  15. John Ogozalek permalink

    Maybe, since Bill Gates is such a key player in this core curriculum fiasco, there should be an effort to boycott as much of his empire as possible? (Or, perhaps this effort exists already?) It would be difficult to stop using Windows this moment (it’s on the computer right in front of me.) But as for BING…well, why not encourage every educator in the U.S. to avoid is at all costs? Treat BING like poison. I keep thinking that when I see Microsoft’s cheesy commercials: NEVER going there!

    As for Randi Weingarten…..well…I was a stone’s throw away from her at NYSUT’s June 8, 2013 Once Voice Rally in Albany. If I remember correctly, it was Weingarten who suddenly invited a high school senior up onto the stage that day. The young woman had helped organize a protest at her high school in response to all the standardized testing -among other issues. It was wonderful moment but a bit odd to see Weingarten championing real life student political activism.. I mean first I read the AFT magazine with all of its gung ho support for the common core’s canned corporate baloney. Then, there’s Randi, celebrating its antithesis. The core: top down, dehumanizing and scripted. That moment in Albany: spontaneous and inspiring…a tribute to students who actually are thinking critically.

    Hmmmmm,

    P.S. Your blog was recommended to me by a teacher at Hancock C.S. here in upstate New York. THANKS to all the great educators there!

  16. If you can challenge Randi intellectually, how about politically? She isn’t president-for-life, is she?
    This is a bit out of context, but I thought you would appreciate the subtle wit of a true scholar:
    “I have, in some cases, adopted his views either wholly or in part. In a few instances he does not really contest what I have said, but notices something I have left unsaid…Hence the number of points on which we differ is now considerably reduced; and I think a further reduction might have been made if he could have seen his way, in like manner, to adopting views from me.”
    Rev. W. W. Skeat, preface to the second edition of
    An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 1883

  17. AFT Union leader selling out to corporate privatization to advance her career. Do teachers have to pay dues for this? Talk about fox guarding the henhouse! Thank you for your very reasoned report.

  18. Janna permalink

    Congrats- I am sure your work had something to do with this. No more Gates $ for AFT. http://www.politico.com/morningeducation/?ml=ti

  19. Janna permalink

    True, and Randi did not give any money back or backtrack on CCSS. But I am fine with baby steps. I am continually impressed with the your fearlessness and tenacity. That is what it is going to take to change the tide. Thanks.

  20. Cindy Lutenbacher permalink

    Superb, Mercedes. Your analysis strikes true with everything I “know” about Weingarten–that is, everything I’ve read. She sold out the union and its denizens long ago, and this Common Core effort is right in line with her treachery. I beg you to keep speaking, researching, speaking, speaking, speaking. Your voice is powerful and needed.

  21. a disgusted retired teacher whose union leadership threw retirees under the bus permalink

    I have read your blogs on Weingarten and totally agree. In fact what’s happening right now to RI Teachers and state workers in the pension system should be front page news for all teachers to see how leadership can throw their members under the bus. Randi Weingarten and the national organization should have gotten involved. Instead they are part of the Settlement Agreement (SA) which through rank and file dues paying members in good standing to the curb.
    This Settlement Agreement scam especially the ballot is rigged…It is the biggest story to hit RI since the passing of the pension change law of Raimondo in 2011. It’s being discussed on the radio talk shows, in newspapers and on TV. The RI union coalition leadership sold out the membership-especially the retired teachers who will never see a yearly cola even though when teachers retired
    And this so-called settlement agreement written my Mr David Boies at $50 /an hour as a favor to Ms Raimondo the treasurer who wants to be governor- a strong believer in charters/privatization scams (her husband a former TFA Texas teacher now millionaire with corporate reform agend) – Mr Boies is the Clarence Darrow of lawyers- who has worked for Google, AL Gore with the hanging chads vote fiasco in Fl, worked on Google lawsuits ,etc etc., more credentials than Carter has pills has made it so that if you say NO you have no representation by the lawyer, can’t opt out and can’t litigate.
    This is wrong on many levels and I thought that some of this would have hit your blog telling people how this is the #1 case in the country–all eyes on RI–this will be the precedent case for every state to eliminate pensions and colas from workers who took the jobs based on a contract.
    And I’m sure you are aware that Wall Street is looking for money to invest and pension money is the last source of a treasure chest for them.
    Treasurer Raimondo took away teachers’ 3% cola and gave 4.5% fees to her hedge fund investors instead…this outrageous action is just as bad as the rigged balloting. A ballot with one box… the onus is on the NO voter…if you say YES you do nothing but if you disagree, you must mail it back.
    And it’s been on the news/Tv/Radio where dead people got ballots and legitimate members did not. The lists being used are old and updated and again when a ballot is not sent in it automatically becomes a YES vote—it is totally a rigged setup.
    Teachers need to see what is going on in RI because this will be the precedent for all other raids to teacher pensions in other states. This should be printed in your blog. The way I read about things that happen to other teachers in other states, they should be reading to what is happening to teachers and state workers in RI.
    And if Gina Raimondo- close pal to Bloomberg w/10 year Point Judith Investment business in Manhattan, becomes governor as she is plans to, kiss public school education good bye. She and husband former TFA Andrew Moffit (friend to NJ’s Corey Booker) will give the money to charters and privatization groups as well as to her hedge fund investors friends…This should be out there…

    http://www.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/content/20140319-problems-reported-with-first-round-of-voting-on-rhode-island-pension-settlement.ece

    http://www.providencejournal.com/politics/content/20140319-pension-settlement-ballot-sent-to-voter-who-died-in-2009.ece

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