Teachers union president Randi Weingarten and one of her chief adversaries, charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, provided some of the conflict expected during their live television debate tonight. But by the end of the segment on NY1’s “Road to City Hall,” host Dominic Carter had gotten the pair to agree to visit each other’s schools, and Weingarten had suggested that she’s prepared to jettison the word “tenure” when it comes to negotiating with charter schools, which typically are not unionized.
Moskowitz kicked off the debate with a trademark attack on the teachers union, saying that inflexible, “top-down” union contracts inhibit schools from flexibly meeting student needs. She said later in the segment that teachers are “fleeing” traditional public schools, noting that 7,000 people applied for just 52 teaching positions in the four Harlem Success charter schools that she runs.
Weingarten appeared exasperated as she told Moskowitz that such a characterization of the teachers contract is outdated. “Maybe it’s been a long time, in terms of you not looking at the UFT-Board of Education contract,” she said. “There’s a lot of flexibility in that contract these days.”
Weingarten repeatedly emphasized that she wasn’t interested in making the conversation a debate about unions vs. charter schools. She said charter schools should be considered incubators for innovation, reiterating a statement she first made last week at an event hosted by the conservative Manhattan Institute. “Let’s make them great laboratories of labor relations as well,” she said.
“I would love it if we could do some contracts in your schools,” Weingarten said to Moskowitz. Later, Weingarten said, “Eva, listen, let’s try to not continue a path of conflict. … In your schools, let’s find a way to do due process without the word tenure.”
Moskowitz didn’t indicate that she was interested in having Weingarten’s union represent her teachers. But she did say that she objected to hearing her disputes with Weingarten characterized as a “catfight.” “I don’t believe this is a personal debate, I never have,” Moskowitz said. “This is a genuine difference about how to fix an incredibly important problem.”
As the segment was ending, Weingarten offered Moskowitz something of a peace offering: An orange shirt from one of the charter schools that the UFT runs, which accompanied an offer to have Moskowitz visit the UFT’s schools. Moskowitz accepted the shirt and the invitation, extending one of her own to Weingarten.
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to be discussing the differences between the two women’s theories of school reform on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. The show will focus on the school wars raging in Harlem.
A couple of other highlights from tonight’s showdown: The pair hashed out some of their differences on the cue cards that the UFT recently distributed to City Council members during a hearing on charter schools. That story, which GothamSchools broke, got widespread attention and escalated to the point that Moskowitz demanded publicly that Weingarten retract a statement suggesting that Moskowitz was a hypocrite because she used to receive suggestions from the union when she chaired the council’s education committee. “I actually didn’t say that,” Weingarten said tonight. “I thought it was hypocritical to say that the process of that kind of lobbying and reaching out was wrong.”
Weingarten also mentioned two union-driven innovations that are pending. First, she mentioned that she spoke with KIPP founder David Levin yesterday as the two prepared to testify in front of the House of Representatives education committee about creating a contract for his schools. She was presumably referring to KIPP AMP in Brooklyn, where teachers recently gained union representation after a legal battle. Weingarten also said she is working with the Gates Foundation to revamp the process by which teachers are evaluated, a process that is currently at the center of education policy debate.