I moderated the opening session of the summit and Petrilli, and some others, are upset that I didn’t really stick it to UFT President Randi Weingarten, who, along with Larry Rosenstock were the two panelists there to discuss how various entrepreneurial ideas interact with the current system. During the session one questioner even asked why there wasn’t more bare-knuckle debate during the session.
But I think that sentiment actually illustrates a big part of the problem here. Though some people thought she got away with murder it seemed to me that Weingarten made her bottom lines pretty clear*: She’s not a fan of principals having the authority to hire and fire, won’t support laying people off even if there are not jobs for them because school districts are downsizing, and sees some promise in some of the new social entrepreneurial ventures but is pretty cautious there. She made those points in a way that this audience, of pretty informed education people, could clearly understand them. And, because those are positions pretty at odds with a more dynamic and agile education system the demarcations were pretty clear and important to air.
Aside from making folks like Mike feel good, I’m not sure the purpose that would have been served by having a lot of blood on the floor by moderating like a prosecutor. In fact, a big problem with reform right now is that teachers’ union activists have become addicted to the theater surrounding reform. It’s hard to get anything done because everyone needs the spectacle and that becomes the end. The reform community shouldn’t fall into the same trap. This isn’t about having exercises in bear-baiting or show trials at conferences, it’s getting something done to serve kids better than they are served today. That means trying to find common ground and where it doesn’t exist having the debate.
I surely don’t agree with everything Randi said but I respect her a great deal for coming and having the conversation and New Schools for inviting her and encouraging this dialogue. There is too little of that.
*For my money the real news at the panel was when Weingarten said that New York officials had apologized for the TNTP report on excessed teachers. In this world of blackberries that statement had apparently already been relayed back to Gotham before the panel even ended and David Cantor, the spokesperson for the schools had this to say:
We consider it to be entirely persuasive and hope it shapes opinion in New York City and across the nation. We have never said anything to the contrary.
There was a lively exchange during the q and a between Michelle Rhee, Tim Daly, and Weingarten over the TNTP data. After watching it, I’ll stick by my original take on this, it simply will not sell at the Rotary Club and whether the number is $18 million or $80 the taxpayers won’t stand for paying people over time who are not working and this is really not a smart fight for the teachers’ union to take on.