The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend that she is “cautiously optimistic” that a deal will be reached to end Chicago’s teachers’ strike within a couple of days.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Thank you so much for being with us.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Great to be with you.
HUNT: The news, of course, the Chicago teachers’ strike. Is this likely to be settled soon, in the next couple of days? Is it likely to drag out for weeks?
WEINGARTEN: Well, as - as the week turned this week, we started being cautiously optimistic. I started hearing good things from both sides, from my union as well as from the management side, that positive movement had been made at the table. No one, no one, no one wants a teachers’ strike. We want to be back in classrooms teaching kids.
HUNT: So you’re cautiously optimistic it’ll be settled in maybe a couple of days.
WEINGARTEN: In a couple of days. You just don’t know if there’s going to be another hiccup, but I listen to the music, not the words. And the music is that there is real - there’s a real seriousness at the bargaining table about issues that are really, really important.
HUNT: Let me ask you about some issues. And I know this is not a prime issue there, but people reading the papers see Chicago teachers on average make about - a little over $70,000 a year. That’s - that’s higher - that’s about 50 percent higher than the average household income in Chicago. They say, “Now wait a minute. In a struggling economy, these - these men and women are doing pretty well.”
WEINGARTEN: Well, the - the strike is about a bunch of issues. Most importantly, what we do with public education. It’s - I - money is on the table. And frankly, it didn’t help that Rahm Emanuel actually canceled a raise that teachers had -
HUNT: But they’re going to make it up in their contract, aren’t they?
WEINGARTEN: Well, we’ll - again, I am cautiously optimistic. But everyone, including the union, understands the tough financial position that the city is in, and they’ve been close on the issue of money for several days now. This is the issue. What do we do to ensure that all kids, not some kids, have a great public education?
HUNT: One of the big issues is teacher evaluation. And the union has fought that proposal from the city, and yet as I read, it is not just a per se evaluation. It is - it is for the teachers - whether the students show improvement. Why shouldn’t you expect that of a teacher?
WEINGARTEN: So actually the issue on the table is not whether there should be an evaluation. That’s already been decided. It is how you do this. And this is - sorry.
HUNT: But no, but why - why isn’t what Chicago is asking, why isn’t that reasonable? That’s just saying that’s 40 percent of your evaluation will be whether your students improve in their scores.
WEINGARTEN: Actually - actually what’s the real issue is not what the component of “Did my kids learn it?” is, but it’s how to actually make that a reality. What happening across the country, Al, is that teacher evaluation, instead of being really about “Have I taught it and have kids learned it?,” it’s now being - becoming formulaic. And so the algorithm that pops out of a black box that Chicago is using or Tennessee is using and things like that, one year a teacher can be effective, the next year that very same teacher can be ineffective. Now what happened? What was the difference? The difference is this mathematical algorithm.
HUNT: Let me ask you about Chicago. There’s a number of people who have said this is really a clash of personalities out there and it’s more about Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Do you agree with that, and would it be different if Mayor Daley were still there?
WEINGARTEN: Well, I think that Mayor Emanuel did a lot of poking in the eye that he ought not to have done. He ended up doing - he ended up taking away a raise, trying to unilaterally implement some - a longer school day and doing a bunch of -doing a lot of poking in the eye. What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is 15 years of lots of reform go amok. And I think that what - so I’m not going to do the kind of compare and contrast between Daley and Emanuel. But what I am going to say is that I’ve watched in Chicago people being really frustrated that they don’t have the tools they need to do their job.
HUNT: But when you say 15 years go amok, that’s a serious indictment of Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, who ran the Chicago schools. He did a bad job?
WEINGARTEN: I think that this notion of top-down accountability to the exclusion of teaching and learning, this notion of being totally fixated on tests, of thinking that charters are the panacea -
HUNT: Is that Arne Duncan?
WEINGARTEN: Well, it’s - there are a whole bunch of so-called reformers -
HUNT: And he’s one of them?
WEINGARTEN: - that think these are the silver bullets.
HUNT: And he’s one of them?
WEINGARTEN: And I don’t think that it is - I don’t think that it is -
HUNT: I’m going to get you to say he’s one of them if that’s what you think.
WEINGARTEN: I have - I have said very loudly that the -that we’ve disagreed with aspects of Barack Obama’s education policy. I think their policy, including Arne Duncan’s policy, of being too fixated on measurements and competition is wrong. Having said that, there’s a bunch of what they do that’s right. But what you’re seeing play itself out in Chicago is this fixation on accountability, top-down sanctions and fear, as opposed to how you actually do the business of educating all kids.
HUNT: But you earlier sort of took the slap at the charter schools. There’s a long waiting list for charter schools in Chicago. Doesn’t that suggest that parents really would like that option?
WEINGARTEN: What parents want is a safe place for their kids, and the charter schools are viewed as the darlings by the city. If you actually look at the - at the results of the charter schools, they’re wildly uneven, and many of them don’t do nearly as well as the public schools. Parents - when you actually talk to parents, what they say is fix, don’t close, our neighborhood school. But I saw at Carver Elementary School this week when I was there, I saw some of the teachers were pointing to the charter school and saying, “They have state-of-the-art equipment. Our computers don’t work in Carver.”
HUNT: Final question. If this goes on for a while, is this hurting Barack Obama, two constituencies, unions and school reformers? Is it hurting his presidential run?
WEINGARTEN: Look, I think that there’s so many issues in the national election about whose side are you on, whether you’re for an economy that works for the middle class or whether people are on their own, that this issue is very localized. It does have national resonance because of how teachers are feeling, but I - I think that we need to solve this issue locally and then get on to doing the work we have to do to re-elect Barack Obama.
HUNT: Randi Weingarten, thank you. Thank you so much for being with us.
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