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“Our Collective Challenge”

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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,

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Questioning Support of Common Core

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On June 18th, The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Engaging in a conversation with Frederick Hess, AEI’s director of education policy studies, Weingarten firstly shared with the audience that the need for debate—a dialogue with different people.

As it currently stands, the AFT union is comprised of about 1.5 million members including K-12 educators, administrators, and guidance counselors. According to Weingarten, unions are not monolithic. Members are not shy to share their opinions on what they may like or dislike concerning the education system. They engage in debate, or as Weingarten would say: “conversation.”

During her conversation with Hess at AEI, Weingarten spoke to an issue that has remained at the center of educational debate for more time than it should: Should schools keep or disregard the Common Core?

Although Weingarten did not reply with a resounding “yes,” her anecdote showcases that she is an advocate for the standards. Before Weingarten was a teacher, she served as a lawyer. With that professional backing, she can now confidently say that the Common Core would have helped far more than any tool could to teach students the importance of civics, the Bill of Rights, and things related to the American governmental system.

At Clara Barton High School, Weingarten notes that the majority of students were from African-American and Latino backgrounds; she remembered them hating her for the manner in which she taught. Weingarten then witnessed them engaging in debate and intellectual conversation and she watched their self-esteem grow. In her words, they went from an attitude of “no-no-no!” to a determination that exclaimed, “yes-yes-yes!” Weingarten believes that if we can get the strategies right on how to teach kids intellectually and the best way to overcome resistance, then kids will be able to

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The Conclusion to an Educational Journey

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Three weeks ago I was starting my first day at the Center for Education Reform (CER), and now I’m concluding my experience with the organization. My experience with CER has been educational and I have acquired more knowledge about the education field as a result. My daily task included uploading information from articles that were sent to my email daily into CER database. Everyday I learned something new, whether it was a school facing closure, a new policy being introduced, teachers being evaluated, or even the teachers union advocating for what they believe in. As a junior in high school I’m used to loud students on a daily basis but at CER the environment is completely professional; and I soon caught on to what the adult work environment is like.

During my second week at the organization all of the interns had a pizza lunch, in which they gave me advice on college and answered any questions of mine. Today is my last day and I am thankful for having the opportunity to complete a fellowship at CER. My knowledge about education has increased since being at CER but now my time at the organization has come to an end, and everything that I have learned about education will be displayed this upcoming year when I complete my senior thesis assignment. Senior thesis is a requirement for graduation and the main assignments include a fifteen-page paper on a public policy topic as well as a presentation. I look forward to completing my thesis on a topic that revolves around education because I can apply everything that I have learned while working with CER. Thanks for everything Center for Education Reform!

Imani Jenkins, César Chávez Charter School Fellow

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