Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Teacher Has Second Thoughts on Weingarten

by Robert C. Rendo
English Language Arts Teacher, Westchester County

In 2006, when I had written  an article in the NY Teacher Paper about Randi Weingarten, I extolled her leadership virtues by examining her role in actualizing parity to bring city teacher salaries in line with those of the gentrified suburbs. She also compromised tremendously in that “victory” by helping Michael Bloomberg secure mayoral control of the New York City public schools and then extending the working day for teachers, amounting to 15 more days a year. The “leveling” didn’t exactly produce a flat terrain, and pay for city teachers, while increased, still lagged behind about $7,000 on average for top capped salaries.

With regard to Ms. Weingarten, I’ve since then had a reversal of observatory fortune and am getting in touch with my inner Diane Ravitch. Like Ms. Ravitch’s “one-eighty” on NCLB, I’m now seeing Weingarten in a high wattage spotlight, as opposed to the rose colored light I once shed on her in my article. Ms. Weingarten was at the “We are One Rally” on April 9th in Times Square. I saw that the only transparency she exuded was the two way mirrored window pane plucked straight from a stage set. She was cheering us protestors with her shiny high pitched, fast talking, inflection filled speech. Yet, her rhetoric remained acutely incongruent to her past and present actions. Randi Weingarten is, within her own drama queen-to-centrist spectrum,  a substantial obstructionist to true educational reform.

I want to remind everyone at that rally that Weingarten, a teacher for 9 months in her whole 20 year career, paved the path for Bloomberg to control and damage the NYC public schools by demoralizing teachers with a test-obsessed, mostly data driven, and castigative professional culture. Not to mention, Bloomberg now runs an opaque process where no one gets to see too much of what goes on behind the scenes; whatever democratic components he has in place, like the Panel for Education, are little more than cosmetic democracy. His hiring of Cathy Black was a swift smack in the head to teachers, administrators, cognitive scientists, students, and parents. When I saw Weingarten up at that speaking post at the rally, I was reminded that this was the very same figurehead who was completely behind mayoral control and instrumental to getting Bloomberg this post.

 Bloomberg’s appointment as a education leader is a dot that can be directly connected to other dots of non-teaching occupations and unions. He’s a prominent powerbroker for the rich and an indifferent plutocrat whose policies weaken the middle and working classes.The contradiction of Ms. Weingarten, president of the AFT, and Mr. Bloomberg, president of the rich, stick out like a sore, open, liquidy infected blister.

I am also reminded of Weingarten’s successful move to feature Bill gates as a key note speaker at the AFT convention this year. How can that NOT send the wrong message to us teachers, yet also, reveal Weingarten’s true “reformer-deformer” orientation? Gates is among the most anti-teacher and anti-teacher union plutocrat in the United States; not to mention he is emotionally disconnected from the student-teacher bond and has no background in education. He has preached his cavalier and politicized acceptance of several self-dogmatized, bizzare precepts: 1) class size doesn’t matter; 2) the length of time it takes teachers to become adept and experienced is only 3 years); 3) there is a non-necessity of having a masters degree or higher to become a teacher; 4) there is a non-necessity of factoring in student poverty to teacher evaluation; 5) there is an innocuous need to replace, in part, real teachers and the human bond part with virtual learning. How much more counterproductive to children’s intellectual development can Mr. Gate’s Aspberger-ish and disconnected notions be?

Yet  again, we turn to Ms. Weingarten, who cherry picked at one of the most visible and symbolic forums this year at the AFT convention.

Finally, there is the UFT debacle wherein Weingarten, and then later on, Michael Mulgrew, suppressed information regarding Iris Blige, the Medusa-inspired principal who was found guilty and fined by the DOE of giving directives to her assistant principals to issue “U” ratings to teachers without actually having them observed. The UFT deliberately chose not to pursue this case when one of the affected teachers was sent to a rubber room. The virtual absence of coverage, press conferences, rhetoric, and plain truthful advocacy is key to revealing Ms. Weingarten’s corruption and incompetence. And now we all get to relish those same branded hallmark qualities in her at the national level.

It is my succinct hope that the more people are keenly aware of Weingarten’s “all-about-eve” style representation of teachers nationwide, the more there will be a movement to seriously and perhaps aggressively unseat her. It remains a critical goal to replace her with someone who will militantly stand for those who educate rather than for ideological, philosophical movements that are dressed up to imitate advocacy for teachers. But then again, Weingarten is a master at self-promotion. I can see her sparkling up her public image a little by dancing with the stars or showing up on a revival of “What’s My Line?” Yet, the real Randi Weingarten couldn’t possibly ever stand up due to her own self serving denial and paralysis. A strong but peaceful grass movement to form and mobilize a national teacher union where the president is directly elected by teachers - as opposed to being elected by a cronied tier of upper delegate management, is a start in the right direction to restoring health to a union that is diseased by its leadership.


Philip Nobile said...

From firsthand knowledge I can confirm Mr. Rendo's revisionist view of Randi. I was once an admirer, too. Now I know there's no integrity there, neither intellectual nor personal. Here's the short, instructive story.

In 2005, OSI substantiated my allegations of Regents tampering and cover-up at Cobble Hill High School in Brooklyn. OSI's dogged inquiry led to the resignation of the ringleading assistant principal, the removal of the principal, a reprimand for the LIS, and the tainting of then Region 8 Superintendent Marcia Lyles and Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina, who were ultimately protected by Tweed. In 2006 Randi lauded me in City Council testimony and in her column as a "brave" whistleblower.

But in 2007, SCI issued a corrupt report exonerating all the guilty parties and smearing me as a false accuser--despite the confessions of three teachers, one of whom was the AP's boyfriend and future husband, a damaging NYSED statistical analysis concluding that the Regents scores were unlikely by chance, and the inexplicable forensic failure to audit the disputed exams! Naturally, I wound up in the rubber room on unrelated corporal punishment charges of which was acquitted only last December.

For almost a year Randi refused to meet with me or read my 140-page evisceration of SCI's transparent 67-page cover-up. Klein not only endorsed SCI's bs but removed Theresa Europe as OSI Director, fired her deputy, and forced the resignation of the OSI investigator, an ex-NYPD detective named Lou Scarcella,who dangerously pushed the probe all the way up to Tweed.

Eventually, I embarrassed Randi into backing me up against Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon. At a meeting with UFT Secretary Michael Mendel, NY TEACHER reporter Jim Callaghan, NYSUT lawyer Chris Callaghy and me, she revealed the reason for her previous resistance. As I suspected, she owed Condon. She had asked him, she said, to put an end to Klein's early swiftboat campaign, claiming that Klein had tapped somebody at Tweed to dig up dirt on her and leak it. She warned Condon that if Klein didn't stop, she would go public and blame the mayor. Condon and his boss, Commissioner of Investigation Rose Gill Hearn, got the message and muzzled the slimeballing Chancellor. But not until Scarcella spoke to Randi at my request and imparted inside information about Condon did she agree to turn on him and vouch for me ON THE STEPS OF CITY HALL.

Over many months the promised city hall press conference evolved into a call to Juan Gonzales at the Daily News. Randi made this adjusted pledge at a meeting with Mendel, Callaghan and me a few days before departing for Washington in July 2009. She asked me to supply the talking points for Gonzalez, which I happily did and passed them on to Mendel.

I never heard from Randi again--no explanation, no apology, no Gonzales column. But following my acquittal on the trumped up 3020a charges, I sought out Mendel and reminded him of Randi's promise and betrayal. He said he would get back to me. That was two months ago. I'm still waiting and Randi's still playing games for Team Randi.

Anonymous said...

I began to feel the union was selling off the family silver just about the time when the tier one members were retiring. It reached a climax when they sold Mayor Bloomberg the keys to the school system for a large 10k raise for the tier one teachers. As if on cue bloomberg came in as most of the tier one had gone. Like rats on a ship they knew what was going on. The union sold out plain and simple. Randy Weingarten led the union into a dumpster excepting the tier one.