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‘Reclaim the promise’ of public education: AFT leader

American FederatiTeachers President Randi Weingarten speaks Thursday Gary Teachers Uniconference West Side Leadership Academy. |  Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks Thursday at a Gary Teachers Union conference at the West Side Leadership Academy. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune

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Updated: December 2, 2013 12:43PM



GARY — Brash-talking American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Thursday the privatization of education in Indiana led to financial gain for those who championed it.

Talking to Gary Community School Corp. teachers at their two-day conference at the West Side Leadership Academy, she spoke passionately on her theme, “reclaiming the promise of public education.”

Weingarten, a lawyer and former Brooklyn history teacher, has led the 1.5 million-member AFT since 2008. She’s the first openly gay leader of an American labor union.

In his introduction, Gary Teachers Union President Joseph Zimmerman said Weingarten stands for the betterment of education.

“It used to be that this room was full,” he said of the West Side auditorium. “For every seat that isn’t filled, it isn’t that someone didn’t show up. It means we lost students.”

He said students left for charter schools, private schools and to “violence in the streets.”

Zimmerman said Weingarten has been arrested twice this year — in Philadelphia at a school closing protest and in Washington at an October immigration rally.

“Randi does not back down to anybody,” said Zimmerman. “We have somebody with us today who will support us.”

Weingarten quickly mentioned former state school chief Tony Bennett, who lost his job as Florida’s top school leader after newspaper stories disclosed he changed the grade of an Indiana charter school headed by an influential donor.

“Rather than be honest, they just changed it. You know what these guys are up to. It’s not just using austerity as a ruse.”

Weingarten said Wall Street has awoken to the profitability of education.

“When they see public education, they see 800 billion dollars of assets,” she said.

As reforms move forward, Weingarten advised teachers to follow the money.

“People pay into campaigns because they want the profits that privatization reaps. That’s not going to go away, that’s who these people are.”

To reclaim the dream, Weingarten said schools need resources and good management. “You can’t just throw things at people and say, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Weingarten said it would surprise her audience to learn she supports the tenets of Common Core, a controversial national standards curriculum that’s under review in Indiana. Bennett was one its chief backers.

Weingarten said her experiences as a teacher tell her that nationalizing standards will address inequities in American education.

It can’t just be Common Core, she said. Students need to be engaged with art, music and physical education, she said.

“Common Core isn’t a silver bullet.”



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