Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Rhee vs Weingarten in Newsweek

The Post's Newsweek magazine has an article up about pitting foes AFT President Randi Weingarten and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee regarding their views on tenure and performance based pay.
Weingarten and Rhee are the two principal actors on the most important stage in the ongoing drama of school reform in America. Almost three years ago, Rhee was brought in to fix what was arguably the worst school system in America. The public schools in the nation's capital were notorious for high costs and low performance. Rhee has taken direct aim at the holy grail of the teachers' union: the common practice of giving public-school teachers lifetime tenure under rules that make firing a teacher, no matter how incompetent, very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Rhee attempted to abolish tenure in exchange for offering merit pay—teachers who agreed to be judged by their performance could make up to $130,000 a year. But Rhee's offer was never even put to a vote by the union. Rhee ran directly into Weingarten, whose union represents the bulk of teachers in big cities across America.

Weingarten, a media-savvy and clever lawyer, can see that the days are fast ending when the teachers' union can count on the support of the Democratic Party and the passivity of the education establishment to protect teachers with near impunity. But she is putting up a spirited rear-guard action to preserve the long-established job security of her union members. The two women have been locked in negotiations for a new union contract in D.C. for more than two years. The battle is being closely watched at the White House, where President Obama has backed his reform-minded education secretary, Arne Duncan, and by school administrators and politicians all over the country. Rhee has a chance to set a strong example for weeding out incompetent teachers—if she doesn't overplay her hand against Weingarten, who is a formidable foe. "You have two strong-willed and very smart and determined women with very different agendas," says Chester Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. "It has an almost gladiatorial aspect to it."

Aside from graduating from Cornell, the two have little in common. During several long and short interviews with NEWSWEEK over the past year, Weingarten spoke in big, round, high-flown sentences, and then artfully changed the subject or lapsed into jargon when challenged with uncomfortable facts. In private negotiations, she is known for letting loose with fits of temper, real or contrived. In public or private, Rhee, whom we also spoke to several times, is direct and blunt to the point of rudeness. In negotiations, she is known for staying cool—or cold—though her eyes burn and bore in. Rhee and Weingarten, who first tangled about five years ago when Weingarten was running the New York City teachers' union and Rhee was testifying against her as the head of a nonprofit organization promoting school reform, clearly dislike each other.
Gotta love the picture they ran with the article.


Mari said...

Rhee almost has a 'talk to the hand' look.

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