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In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Randi Weingarten is taking union pension funds away from hedge funds that attack teachers’ pensions. Leading hedge funds have contributed to organizations that want to eliminate defined-benefit pensions and substitute 401k plans for them. The hedge fund billionaires have also taken the lead in funding nonunion charter schools.

Randi has pushed the investment committees of unions to withdraw their pension funds away from hedge funds that are subsidizing attacks on teachers’ pensions.

Defenders of the hedge funds say that the unions should seek the best return on their funds, without regard to the politics of the hedge fund.

Randi has the better side of this dispute. Why should teachers invest their pension funds in a company that wants to take away their pensions?


Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer and dozens of other hedge-fund managers have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools in New York City and into groups that want to revamp pension plans for government workers, including teachers.

The leader of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sees some of the proposals, in particular the pension issue, as an attack on teachers. She also has influence over more than $1 trillion in public-teacher pension plans, many of which traditionally invest in hedge funds.

It is a recipe for a battle for the ages.

Ms. Weingarten started by targeting hedge-fund managers she deemed a threat to teachers and urged unions to yank money from their funds. Then she moved to Wall Street as a whole.

Her union federation is funding a lobbying campaign to eliminate the “carried-interest” tax rate on investment income earned by many money managers. It is trying to defeat legislation that would increase the charitable deduction in New York state for donations to private schools. And it has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing 25 Wall Street firms of violating antitrust law and manipulating Treasury bond prices.

‘Given your strong support…for an organization which is leading the attack on defined benefit (DB) pension funds around the country, I was surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.’
—Randi Weingarten, in March 15, 2013, letter to hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb

Some pension funds have withdrawn money from hedge-fund managers criticized by the teachers union. And some hedge-fund managers stopped making donations to advocacy groups targeted by Ms. Weingarten.

Hedge funds, reluctant to buckle to the pressure, say Ms. Weingarten is doing a disservice to the teachers she represents, because funds should aim solely to earn the highest possible return on their assets. The personal beliefs or donations of hedge-fund managers, they argue, shouldn’t be a factor in that decision. At least one manager, Mr. Loeb of Third Point LLC, has increased his donations to a charter-school group, citing Ms. Weingarten.

Sander Read, chief executive officer of Lyons Wealth Management, which hasn’t been targeted, likened what Ms. Weingarten is doing to “hiring a dentist because of their political beliefs. You may see eye to eye on politics, but you may not have great, straight teeth.” None of the hedge funds targeted by the teachers unions would discuss the matter publicly, a sign of how sensitive the battle has become.

Ms. Weingarten said in an interview: “Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?”

The battles are rooted in a political fight over how to improve public education. Republicans have long sought major changes, such as creating new competition for public schools, including charter schools. Democrats largely have supported solutions backed by the unions, particularly increased spending for existing schools.

About a decade ago, some liberals joined conservatives in pushing to expand charter schools. Those efforts received financial support from hedge-fund managers including Mr. Loeb, Mr. Singer of Elliott Management Corp. and Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment Corp., who together kicked in millions of dollars.

Some of those involved in the effort cast public-school teachers and their unions as obstacles to improving education. The reputation of the teachers union took a beating.

When Ms. Weingarten was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, she aimed to restore public trust in public-school teachers and their unions.

As she rose in the union, she got close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Last summer, the federation became the first union group to endorse Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign. Ms. Weingarten sits on the board of the super PAC supporting her candidacy, and the American Federation of Teachers has donated $1.6 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Ms. Weingarten’s federation represents about two dozen teachers unions whose retirement funds have a total of $630 billion in assets, a big chunk of the more than $1 trillion controlled by all teachers unions. The federation doesn’t control where that money is invested; the unions themselves do. But Ms. Weingarten can make recommendations.

She instructed investment advisers at the federation’s Washington headquarters to sift through financial reports and examine the personal charitable donations of hedge-fund managers. She says she focuses on groups that want to end defined-benefit pensions. Many of the same entities also back charter schools and overhauling public schools.

In early 2013, the union federation published a list of roughly three-dozen Wall Street asset managers it says donated to organizations that support causes opposed by the union. It wanted union pension funds to use the list to decide where to invest their money.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank that supports increasing school choice and replacing defined-benefit pension plans with 401(k)-type plans for future government employees, is one of the groups to which donations were viewed unfavorably.

Lawrence Mone, its president, says the tactics amount to intimidation. “I don’t think that it’s beneficial to the functioning of a democratic society,” he says.

After KKR & Co. President Henry Kravitz made the list in 2013, Ms. Weingarten got a call from Ken Mehlman, an executive at the private-equity firm and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Mehlman said KKR had a record of supporting public pension plans, according to Ms. Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten agreed, removed Mr. Kravitz’s name from the list and invited Mr. Mehlman to talk about the firm’s commitment to public pensions at a meeting in Washington with 30 pension-fund trustees representing 20 plans that control $630 billion in teachers’ retirement money.

When Cliff Asness of hedge fund AQR Capital Management LLC found out Mr. Kravitz had gotten off the list, he called Mr. Mehlman, a friend. Mr. Asness also hired a friend of Ms. Weingarten’s: Donna Brazile, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has been a paid consultant to the American Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Brazile arranged a lunch meeting between Mr. Asness and Ms. Weingarten, where they discussed ways to work together. Not long after, Mr. Asness’s firm paid $25,000 to be a founding member of a group that KKR’s Mr. Mehlman was starting with Ms. Weingarten to promote retirement security.

Mr. Asness was removed from the list. A year later, when Ms. Weingarten noticed he continued to serve on the Manhattan Institute board, she considered putting him back on.

In September of last year, when the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, considered increasing its hedge-fund investments, Ms. Weingarten saw another chance to apply pressure.

Dan Pedrotty, an aide to Ms. Weingarten who runs the hedge-fund effort, spoke to a Calstrs official about Mr. Asness’s continued service on the Manhattan Institute’s board. The Calstrs official then called Mr. Asness.

In December, Mr. Asness said he would step down from the Manhattan Institute board. His spokesman says he already had made the decision at the time of the call, after reassessing time spent on the boards of several nonprofit groups.

“Randi is committed to helping hard working employees achieve the secure retirement they deserve,” Mr. Asness said in a written statement.

Mr. Loeb, founder of the $16-billion Third Point fund, has been more combative. He is a donor to the Manhattan Institute and chairman of the Success Academy, which operates a network of charter schools in New York City.

‘I can appreciate that it may be frustrating for the certain plan sponsors to invest with managers who have different political views or party affiliations, an issue they must come to terms with due to their fiduciary responsibilities.’
—Daniel Loeb, in March 22, 2013, email to union leader Randi Weingarten

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Loeb, Ms. Weingarten noted his support of a group “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds” and said she was “surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.” Seeking business from union pension funds while donating to the group, she wrote, “seem to us perhaps inconsistent.”

The two agreed to meet.

Mr. Loeb emailed Ms. Weingarten, noting his fund’s average annual return of 21% over 18 years. “I completely respect the political considerations you may have and understand if other factors dictate how funds are allocated,” he wrote.

A week later, Ms. Weingarten wrote back to reiterate that unions were wary of investing with Mr. Loeb “given the political attack on defined benefit funds.”

In response, Mr. Loeb asserted that it must be “frustrating” for unions to invest with funds that “have different political views or party affiliations.” He added: “At least we can rejoice in knowing that as Americans we share fundamental values that elevate individual opportunity, accountability, freedom, fairness and prosperity.”

The meeting was called off, and Mr. Loeb was added to the list.

At a fundraising dinner that May for his charter-school group, Mr. Loeb stood up and said: “Some of you in this room have come under attack for supporting charter-school education reform and freedom in general.” He called Ms. Weingarten the “leader of the attack” and pledged an additional $1 million in her name.

“Both Randi and I believe America’s children deserve a 21st century education, and I hope the day comes when she embraces the positive change created by public charter schools,” Mr. Loeb said recently in a written statement.

In late 2013, state union officials pressed a Rhode Island pension fund to fire Third Point. The following January, the pension fund did just that, pulling about $75 million from Mr. Loeb’s fund. A spokeswoman for the state treasurer said at the time that Mr. Loeb’s fund was too risky.

Roger Boudreau, a member of the teachers union and an elected adviser of the Rhode Island fund at the time, says the donations played a role. “It’s fair to say that those kinds of donations are going to be looked at very critically,” he says.

Around that time, a giant billboard appeared above Times Square. “Randi Weingarten’s Union Protects Bad Teachers,” it read above a picture of her scowling face.

Ms. Weingarten immediately assumed the hedge-funders were behind the attack. The entity listed as the billboard’s sponsor is the Center for Union Facts, a Washington-based advocacy group. The group declines to disclose who paid for the billboard.

“We all guessed it had to be people like Dan Loeb,” Ms. Weingarten says. Mr. Loeb declined to comment.

The billboard kicked off a campaign against Ms. Weingarten by the Center for Union Facts, including radio and newspaper advertisements. “She’s the head of the snake, so it was appropriate to go after her personally,” says the group’s president, Richard Berman.

The ads directed people to a website that said she oversaw a “crusade to stymie school reforms and protect the jobs of incompetent teachers.” It listed her salary and called her a “member of the elite.”

In September 2014, Mr. Berman sent a 10-page letter to lawmakers, union officials and opinion leaders charging that Ms. Weingarten‘s “ineptitude is a threat against America, against hard-working teachers, and especially against our nation’s children.”

Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, responded in a letter to union leaders that Mr. Berman represented a “front group whose mission is to vilify and destroy unions.”

The Center for Union Facts, led by Richard Berman, is a rightwing, virulently anti-union public relations firm that specializes in demonizing unions; it has also defended the tobacco industry against critics.

This is great news!

 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted and wrote on her Facebook page yesterday that she supports parents who opt out of the PARCC tests. She had previously spoken out of behalf of opting out when participating in a parent-teacher rally at Fort Drum, New York. Yesterday she said that if she were a parent of children in the public schools of New York, she would opt out too.

 

Opting out is not about helping the teachers’ union or opposing accountability. It is a message to governors and legislators, to Congress and the Obama administration that testing is out of control. Testing is not teaching. Since the passage of NCLB in 2001-02, billions of dollars have been spent on test prep and testing. In the case of the Common Core tests, the results are not reported for 4-6 months, the teacher is not allowed to see what students got right or wrong. The tests have no diagnostic value. None. They are used solely to rank and rate students, teachers, principals, and schools. Furthermore, they are designed to fail the majority of students because of the absurd “cut scores” (passing mark) pegged to NAEP’s proficient level. We are the most over tested nation in the world. Enough!

 

Any politician who advocates for the tests should do one simple thing: Take the eighth grade math test and publish your score.

 

Thank you, Randi, for personally endorsing opt out! Encourage your members across the nation to join those who are defending their students and their profession. It is hard to stand up alone; in unity there is strength.

 

 

She wrote on her Facebook page:

 

 

I have been in NY alot fighting shoulder to shoulder with educators and parents against Cuomo’s wrongheaded actions. I was asked the question abt opt out today and this is what I tweeted out.

 

We believe parents have right to opt-out & tchrs shld be able to advise parents how. We’ve said it repeatedly, are fighting for it in ESEA.

 

@lacetothetop et al have asked what I’d do if I had kids in NYPS—based on what I’ve seen, if I had kids, I’d opt them out of the PEARSON (PAARC) tests this yr

 

It’s crazy what’s happening in NY, w/ Cuomo leading the misuse of testing. We understand why @NYSUT and parents are calling for an opt-out

AFT President Randi Weingarten Calls for Full Release of Test Questions

WASHINGTON— Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten following news that a portion of the Common Core-aligned testing questions were released in New York as teachers and community members protest the overuse of testing in Albany.

“Releasing just some of the Common Core-aligned test questions in the middle of the summer doesn’t cut it. Parents and educators repeatedly have called for the full release of the questions—even taking our call to the Pearson shareholder meeting this past spring.

“We renew our call for the full release of the test questions—in a timely manner and in a way that is most useful for parents, educators and kids—not in the middle of the summer and right before the test results are announced.”

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Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond have co-authored a major new statement on accountability.

They write that:

“If we assume that the goal of accountability should be better education, the test-and-punish approach must be replaced by a support-and-improve model. A new approach should ensure that students get what they really need: 1) curriculum, teaching, and assessment focused on meaningful learning, 2) adequate resources that are spent wisely, and 3) professional capacity, so that teachers and school leaders develop the knowledge and skills they need to teach much more challenging content in much more effective ways.”

They add:

“Implementing the standards well will not be accomplished by targets and sanctions. It will require more adequate and equitable resources and greater investments in professional capacity, especially for currently underfunded schools that serve the highest-need students.

“Raising standards in ways that punish children and educators for not meeting them produces the wrong responses from schools. Evidence shows that, rather than improve learning, sanctions tend to tamp down innovation, incentivize schools to boost scores by keeping or driving out struggling students, hasten the flight of thoughtful educators from the profession, and disrupt learning for students whose local schools are shut down.”

They use Néw York as an example of how do accountability wrong, and California as an example of how to do it right.

There are some very good ideas in their statement. I would add my two cents: when some children and families live in such desperate circunstance, not even the best standards, curriculum, assessments, and professional development will be enough to create equality of opportunity. Some kids have tooany strikes against them, and that is a societal failure.

In one of her very best articles, AFT President Randi Weingarten names the real retirement crisis. Many American workers, having paid into pension funds, will retire into a life of poverty because of a campaign to wipe out defined benefit pension plans.

Randi writes:

“America has a retirement crisis, but it’s not what some people want you to believe it is. It’s not the defined benefit pension plans that public employees pay into over a lifetime of work, which provide retirees an average of $23,400 annually (although some public officials fail to make their required contributions to these and then claim they are unaffordable). It’s not the cost of such plans, which may ultimately cost taxpayers far less than risky, inadequate and increasingly prevalent 401(k) plans. It’s not Social Security, which is the healthiest part of our retirement system, keeps tens of millions of seniors out of poverty and could help even more if it were expanded. The crisis is that most Americans lack the essential elements of a secure retirement–pensions and adequate savings. They’ll depend on Social Security to stave off poverty once they stop working, and it will not be enough.

“The crisis is that the economic collapse that started in 2007, triggered by fraudulent and risky financial schemes, wiped out many Americans’ personal savings and decimated many state and city pension investments. And while the stock market and many pension investments have rebounded, for numerous Americans the lingering economic downturn, soaring student debt, diminished home values, the responsibility of caring for aging parents and other financial demands have made it hard, if not impossible, to save for retirement.

“The crisis is that the median retirement savings for all working-age households–according to the Federal Reserve–is $3,000, and only $12,000 for those near retirement. And that retirement insecurity is made worse by state-sponsored pension theft in places like Illinois, where public employees are being robbed of pension funds they earned and contributed to over decades of public service.”

Matt Taibbi and David Sirota “have written about the vast sums spent to undermine the retirement security of ordinary Americans. John Arnold, for example, a former Enron executive who walked away with a fortune from the bankrupt company, has spent tens of millions in his crusade to deny public employees guaranteed benefits at retirement. This, after public pensions reportedly lost more than $1.5 billion as a result of their investments in Enron.

“Their investigations have exposed the hypocrisy of some Wall Street hedge fund managers like Dan Loeb, who seek to profit from public employee pension funds at the same time they support abolishing such benefits. The problem is the hypocrisy–not hedge funds or Wall Street per se. And it’s their disconnectedness from the economic pressures regular people face every day just to meet their basic needs, pressures that only grow once their working years are over.”

We must muster the will to protect retirees and workers so that they do not consigned to a life of poverty, courtesy of billionaires who are whipping up a public frenzy against their fellow citizens.

Randi Weingarten believes in the promise of the Common Core standards, and she has strongly defended them.

But she recognizes that the rushed implantation, notably in New York, jeopardized the standards.

In this post, Randi says that the standards must be separated from the testing.

They must not be used to rank and rate teachers or to apply value-added measurement, where teachers are judged by computer-generated algorithms.

She writes:

“It’s time to call the question. Will the powers-that-be continue to be more concerned with creating a testing and data system that ranks and sorts schools and educators, in the quest for the perfect industrial algorithm to judge teachers, students and schools? Or will they look at the evidence and join educators, students and parents in fighting to reclaim the promise of public education?

“We can’t reclaim the promise of public education without investing in strong neighborhood public schools that are safe, collaborative and welcome environments for students, parents, educators and the broader community. Schools where teachers and school staff are well-prepared and well-supported, with manageable class sizes and time to collaborate. Schools with rigorous standards aligned to an engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and that includes art, music, civics and the sciences — and where all kids’ instructional needs are met. Schools with evaluation systems that are not about sorting and firing but about improving teaching and learning. And schools with wraparound services to address our children’s social, emotional and health needs.”

We know who “the powers that be” are. Will they listen?

Randi Weingarten has come out in opposition to value-added modeling (VAM), the statistical measure that judges teacher quality based on the test scores of their students. This is great news! As I have often written here, VAM is Junk Science. It also is the centerpiece of Race to the Top, which makes the absurd assumption that good teachers produce higher test scores. Researchers have shown again and again that test scores–including their rise or fall–says more about who is in the class than teacher quality, and they reflect many other factors, including class size, peers, school leadership, prior teachers, curriculum, etc. Furthermore, VAM places too much emphasis on testing and leads to a narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, gaming the system, and cheating. Teaching cannot be reduced to an algorithm.

To those tempted to chastise her for changing her mind, I say we should welcome and salute anyone with the courage and insight to give up a previously held position in the face of evidence. A few years ago, I changed my mind about things I once believed, like the value of school choice and high-stakes testing. Now, let us hope that others who support VAM see the light.

This morning’s Politico Education says:

“NEW TACTIC ON TEACHER EVALUATIONS: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is launching a campaign against using value-added metrics to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Her mantra: “VAM is a sham.� That’s a notable shift for the AFT and its affiliates, which have previously ratified contracts and endorsed evaluation systems that rely on VAM. Weingarten tells Morning Education that she has always been leery of value-added “but we rolled up our sleeves, acted in good faith and tried to make it work.� Now, she says, she’s disillusioned.

“– What changed her mind?Weingarten points to a standoff in Pittsburgh over the implementation of a VAM-based evaluation system the union had endorsed. She says the algorithms and cut scores used to rate teachers were arbitrary. And she found the process corrosive: The VAM score was just a number that didn’t show teachers their strengths or weaknesses or suggest ways to improve. Weingarten said the final straw was the news that the contractor calculating VAM scores for D.C. teachers made a typo in the algorithm, resulting in 44 teachers receiving incorrect scores — including one who was unjustly fired for poor performance.

“– What’s next? The AFT’s newly militant stance against VAM will likely affect contract negotiations in local districts, and the union also plans to lobby the Education Department.”

Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Randi Weingarten have co-authored a terrific article about why little children should not be subjected to standardized testing.

They write:

Young kids learn actively, through hands-on experiences in the real world. They develop skills over time through a process of building ideas. But this process is not always linear and is not quantifiable; expecting young children to know specific facts or skills at specified ages is not compatible with how they learn. It emphasizes right and wrong answers instead of the developmental progressions that typify their learning. 

Young children need opportunities to engage in active, age-appropriate, play-based learning. They need to figure out how things work, explore, question and have fun.

Such experiences have been shown to have significant educational and social benefits for children. And studies show that early childhood education provides a high rate of return for society’s investment.

They explain that standardized testing is counter-productive for young children.

This should be read by policymakers, especially in Washington, D.C., and state legislatures.

Parents don’t need to read it, because they already know that standardized testing is inappropriate to “measure” their child’s readiness for college-and-careers, or for anything else.

Early childhood educators know it too. They have issued statement after statement decrying the insistence by policymakers that little children who barely know how to hold a pencil should pick a bubble.

It is time to stop labeling children as “successes” or “failures” based on what the testing industry determines is right for their age.

One day, we will see similar articles about standardized testing for students in grades 3-12.

Standardized tests have their uses for older children, but only as an audit function, not as a measure of the knowledge and skills of individual children.

Students should be tested primarily by their teachers, who know what they were taught. The teachers can get instant feedback and use the information from their tests to help students who need help, and to recognize where their teaching didn’t click.

Isn’t it amazing that we became a great nation without standardized testing?

The nation’s mad love affair with standardized testing reaches the height of absurdity when children in the early grades and in pre-kindergarten are subjected to the tests.

Carlsson-Paige and Weingarten are right: Stop now. Let the children learn and play and develop as healthy, happy human beings.

I thought Randi wrote an excellent letter in response to Mercedes Schneider’s questions. I repeat, as i have in the past, that Randi is a personal friend. We disagree about the Common Core, but that does not diminish our friendship. The fact that Randi engaged in this dialogue shows her willingness to listen to criticism and to respond thoughtfully, as she did. This is a trait I admire. I too have been the subject of harsh attacks, and I usually ignore them. I don’t have enough years left to fight all my critics, so I try to look ahead, not let them pull me down. But Randi chose to engage, and I admire her for doing so.

Many commenters have continued to criticize Randi, and Leo Casey, who has worked with Randi for many years and is now director of the Albert Shanker Institute of the AFT, responds here to the critics:

Leo Casey writes:

Mercedes Schneider’s blog 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