Wednesday afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute, Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, participated in a conversation on the role of teachers unions in public education. The event started with an introduction from Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at AEI, and then Weingarten followed up with a keynote speech. The event concluded with a “conversation” between Hess and Weingarten and a Q&A with the audience.
Prior to becoming AFT President, Weingarten was an attorney, a teacher at Clara Barton High School, and President of the NYC teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers. She referenced her background as a teacher during the discussion: commenting on the excitement that her students experienced when they excelled.
Weingarten spoke on a variety of issues, ranging from the Vergara v. California decision, to Common Core debates, even to the new contracts for New York City teachers. Throughout the discussion, Weingarten returned to the idea that the current focus of public discourse is not conducive to improving education in public schools. She stated that she would not take part in the conversation concerning the validity of the existence of teachers unions. Instead of focusing on the contemporary value of unions, she deflected the attention stating, “All that energy that’s being used to argue about that is not being devoted to actually help children succeed.” Whereas Weingarten did mention a few successful AFT initiatives and partnerships, she did so with the assumption that she was delivering a huge “surprise” on the audience. She used the lack of knowledge of AFT’s current initiatives to support the idea that the argument over union relevance is unsubstantiated and irrelevant.
When it comes to unions’ roles in public education, it seems that Weingarten’s answer is that a collaborative effort between all stakeholders is necessary. Although true,