Teachers Skeptical Of Obama's Education Plan

President Obama is proposing a massive rewrite of the No Child Left Behind policy. But many teachers are skeptical. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says the president's plan gives teachers full responsibility but no authority.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, some reaction to the proposed education overhaul, from the head of a powerful teacher's union. Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. RANDI WEINGARTEN (President, American Federation of Teachers): It's great to be here.

BLOCK: And the Education secretary said today that there's a lot in this proposal that teachers will like. What do your members say about that?

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Look, this is the beginning of the discussion, and we will work day and night to make this work for kids. But we are actually concerned that the blueprint places 100 percent of responsibility for improvement on teachers, but doesn't give them the support and resources they need to get the job done. So there are lots of fantastic rhetoric in the secretary's testimony today that teachers will, of course, love. But what teachers really want, they want the support of the federal government as well as the support of their principals and administrators, to actually do their jobs as opposed to just being told what it is that they should do.

BLOCK: Well, Secretary Duncan addressed a few of those points today. He said that for the first time, districts and states are being held accountable, too -it's not just teachers - and that there's more funding in this program. They're asking for more money specifically for teacher preparation, teacher development.

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Well, what's happening right now is that states and localities are facing devastating budget cuts - in the magnitude of about $180 million for the next school year. We need millions and millions of dollars in districts around the country to just try and maintain the core instructional program, including all of the professional development moneys that they now have to try and get their arms around new curriculum and new ways of teaching, and innovative ideas. All of that is being eliminated at the very same time as the secretary is talking about how to make things better. We're very concerned about the reality on the ground - and the rug being pulled out from kids. And so even though a couple of billion dollars is really important, it's pretty minimal compared to the 180 billion that's being cut.

BLOCK: I want to ask you specifically about teacher evaluation, because Secretary Duncan talked about this today, and he specifically mentioned your union. He said he went to your union's convention. And when he said the current teacher evaluation system is broken, he said your membership cheered, and he actually referred to you specifically by name. He said he asked you to tell him about one place that's doing teacher evaluation impeccably well, were his words. And he said you couldn't think of one.

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Actually, what the secretary asked me was whether there was any districts that were doing the new overhaul of teacher evaluation that I had actually proposed in January, and I said no. But this is the bottom line: I got the same applause when I said - a couple of hours before the secretary did -that we need to fix our broken teacher evaluation plan. And we need to fix it. And we came up with a template, which the secretary actually loves. And so we've said, use that template as part of the new reauthorization of ESEA.

BLOCK: If there is a failing school - and obviously, there are many - a lot of the focus of this plan is on that bottom 5 percent, schools at the very bottom of the heap. Would you say that replacing teachers in those schools is part of the solution?

Ms. WEINGARTEN: You know, I have stood in front of groups of schoolteachers and have actually said I agree that a school should close. I have turned around -when I was the president of the UFT in New York City, we turned around many, many schools with a researched-backed turnaround program. That's what we need to do. It's time to actually start using what works, not simply talk about what sounds good.

BLOCK: Do you think this plan from the Obama administration is an improvement on No Child Left Behind?

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Look, we all know No Child Left Behind needs to change. And there are things about this proposal that are so much better than No Child Left Behind. But we need to make it work. And ultimately, if the balance is off, then it's not going to work, and then it's not going to be any better than what we have right now.

BLOCK: Randi Weingarten, thank you very much.

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Thanks.

BLOCK: Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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