Michelle Rhee: Worse Than A Union Assassin

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Union Chief Seeks Contract Talks With Rhee

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 17, 2008; 1:54 PM

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said today she has asked for a meeting with D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in an effort to reach agreement on a contract between the District and the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU).

"I've reached out to the chancellor," said Weingarten, who heads the 1.4 million-member parent organization that includes the WTU.

The AFT has been providing behind-the-scenes support to WTU President George Parker for many months. But Weingarten's statement, which came during a question-and-answer session following a morning speech at the National Press Club, is the first acknowledgement of her direct involvement in the year-long talks, which are being closely watched by educators and labor leaders nationwide.

Negotiations have stalled over Rhee's two-tiered proposal to provide huge raises and performance bonuses to teachers who agree to give up their tenure for a year, risking dismissal. Teachers unwilling to risk tenure would receive smaller, but still significant, bonuses and raises.

Weingarten said she was not sure a date was set but that a meeting seemed likely soon.

"George Parker and I are anxious to meet with the chancellor. I hope that will happen. There's been a lot of buzzing back and forth trying to find a date," she said.

Dena Iverson, Rhee's spokeswoman, said late this morning that she could not immediately confirm whether a meeting was scheduled.

Weingarten's comments came following her first major policy speech since her election to the AFT presidency this summer. Weingarten, who remains president of the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City teachers union, appealed to elected officials to protect schools from deep budget cuts as a result of the financial crisis. She also said that without close collaboration with teachers, school reform would be difficult.

"Without the buy-in of teachers, student success is unlikely," Weingarten said. "With teachers' buy-in, student success is unstoppable."

She said the union was prepared to find common ground with school officials on controversial issues such as performance pay and tenure -- the job security system regarded by many critics of public education as a safe harbor for ineffective teachers.

Weingarten said the AFT had called on local unions to make the process of winning tenure more rigorous, through programs that featured peer assistance and a system of "master teachers" who could help novice teachers improve and "counsel unsuccessful colleagues out of the profession."

She also cautioned school administrators, policymakers and opinion leaders to reconsider their demonization of teachers unions as the main impediment to school reform.

"Think of a teacher who is staying up past midnight to prepare her lesson plan . . . a teacher who is paying for equipment out of his own pocket so his students can conduct science experiments. . . . These are the people the AFT represents. Make no mistake about it -- when you attack us, you attack them."

Weingarten did not mention Rhee by name in her prepared comments. But during a brief interview after her speech, she criticized Rhee's consideration of measures that would release the District from legal obligation to bargain with WTU. These include seeking revival of the city's ability to open non-union charter schools, and legislation that would declare a post-Katrina-style "state of emergency" that would effectively allow Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to create a new, union-free school system.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Fenty and Rhee are considering pursuit of the measures.[emphasis mine]

"I completely disagree," Weingarten said. "It's totally at odds with what I talked about today."
Update: D2 route has some interesting stuff about Rhee, and DC, and WaPo, and Kaplan, and other interesting stuff.

If you care about education, and not Rheeform, you need to educate yourself. Read blogs. Read teacher blogs. Read my blog!

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