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AFT's Weingarten Talks Michelle Rhee, Common Core, Pitfalls in Obama's Education Strategy

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, has famously called for a moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing until states and districts have totally and completely implemented the Common Core State Standards.

The first round of tests linked to the common core aren't supposed to hit states until the 2014-15 school year ... so when does Weingarten think that states will be ready to go forward with holding schools accountable for getting students to meet standards that have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia?

We still don't know the answer on that one. She wouldn't pinpoint a date certain during an interview that will air on C-SPAN's Newsmakers.

"There are some places you can see the transition taking a year, and some places ... take what John White just did in Louisiana, he's saying the transition is going to take 10 years," she told me during the C-SPAN interview. "The point is, the moment that you start this transition in a thoughtful way kids will succeed."

I also asked Weingarten whether she had changed her tune on the education overhaul plan in the District of Columbia, which included a much-more robust teacher-evaluation system that took into account growth on student test scores. When those were rolled out, Weingarten's union fought then-chancellor Michelle Rhee tooth-and-nail on the evaluations, and pumped a whole bunch of muscle and money into un-electing her boss, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

But the District was a standout this year on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP, the nation's report card. So is Weingarten eating her words?

Apparently not. In fact, she doesn't see the new teacher-evaluation system as an important ingredient in D.C.'s success.

"The dominant D.C. reform for 4th graders, which the mayor [Democrat Vincent Gray] will tell you, right now is not what happened with evaluation or with any of the things that Michelle Rhee did," she said.

The secret to D.C.'s success in her mind? Early-childhood education. "This is the first group of 4th graders that actually had pre-kindergarten. So what this is saying to us is that all-day kindergarten and prekindergarten is one of the most important investments that you can make if you want to see progress for all kids. ... There's a lot of other states and cities that did exactly what Michelle Rhee was suggesting in terms of evaluations that didn't do really well." And she thinks that demographics are part of the picture "the fact that D.C. is becoming more and more middle class, you're seeing that reflected."  

Weingarten also made it clear that she thinks that the Obama administration's strategy on education overhaul—using big competitive-grant programs to drive reform—was the wrong way to go.

"I'm not going to grade the Secretary of Education, but what I will do is this. I like [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan ... I think what happened was that strategy of the administration, from the beginning, was wrong. I was very, very, very very grateful that they understood that the [federal economic] stimulus was absolutely essential in order to backfill for the huge budget cuts that were happening. ... To then leverage that with Race to the Top and to basically tell the world that within three-and-a-half nanoseconds everything was going to change in terms of American education, that's what I think the mistake was," she said. "When you suggest to a country that all you need to do is change a couple of laws in a state capital or just announce that you are adopting common core then people have an expectation that if it's not done in two nano-seconds, then we're failing."

Who is Weingarten's top choice for the currently vacant post of chancellor in New York City?

Great question. She won't say.

"If I threw out a name you would be assured that that person would never be chancellor," she said.

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