Chancellor Joel Klein smiled when reporters asked him what he thought about being mentioned in yesterday’s Washington Post as a possible Secretary of Education for Barack Obama. (He was mentioned twice: in a news story and in this column by Ruth Marcus.) The president of the teachers union, Randi Weingarten, who was recently named head of a national teachers union, probably had a different expression on her face.
She called the mention of Klein an “old rumor” that surfaced because Klein is friends with Washington reporters who don’t know the day-to-day realities of the city schools. She suggested that Klein would be a poor choice for Secretary of Education. “This is a period of time where everybody has to step up and share responsibility,” she said. “One of the reasons that the teachers in New York City are deeply troubled about Joel Klein is because he’s had a history of being a lightning rod.”
She compared Klein’s brand of education activist — yes, that’s our nameless reformers — to the McCain campaign’s attacks on Barack Obama during the election:
“The folks that say collaboration is overrated, and I’m going to do whatever I’m going to do because I’m the reformer and you’re not, and, you know, they’re bad and I’m good — it’s the same demonizing that Barack Obama just went through in the last election. It’s mean spirited and it’s intended to distract, as opposed to actually rolling up your sleeves and doing it.”
Weingarten’s opinion would quite likely have been more influential had Senator Hillary Clinton been the president-elect. Clinton and Weingarten are friends, and when Clinton’s star was rising she was rumored to be a possible choice for Secretary of Education or Secretary of Labor.
Still, teachers unions traditionally have sway over Democrats, and Weingarten has spoken to Obama’s transition team. Who would she prefer as Education Secretary? “If I am hopefully in the place in which I would give my choices, it would be to the transition team and not publicly,” she said.