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Randi Weingarten will be in Providence on Saturday to discuss the role of teachers in the state takeover engineered by neoliberal Governor Gina Raimondo. The governor is openly hostile to teachers and unions and a major supporter of privately managed charter schools. She hired Angelica Infante-Green as State Commissioner, although Green (ex-TFA) was never a principal or superintendent. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s rightwing Chiefs for Change.
Unfortunately, the current Commissioner just continues to do the same things that Joe Klein or Michelle Rhee would do. Rather than work with teachers, they’ve set up other ‘process’ committees that will come out and say all the things are wrong, and what teachers should do in collective bargaining to fix it,” said Weingarten. “It’s not as though we haven’t seen this movie before — you have to roll up your sleeves and work together and you have to lift the morale. You don’t create a situation were every utterance the boss says divides people more and more…”
Weingarten said that she believed Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza had allowed the schools to fall into disrepair — but that takeover by Rhode Island education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green was not necessarily the answer.
“Here you had a situation where you had city control and the mayor was not giving the school the resources they need — just look at the shape they were in. He was not going to play that role, so this was viewed as no worse than already divesting democratic control,” said Weingarten. “Raimondo made a case that she wanted to make things better, but what you’re seeing already, and this is why I’m so proud of my local union, is that you have to change the normal typical tired conversation when a school system is not as good as you wish it would be…”
There are are a couple of other people who were really good who they were considering for superintendent and they didn’t pick them,” said Weingarten of Providence. “The Hopkins report said we have a problem where people feel alienated and discouraged — Hopkins also didn’t spend a lot of time in schools that were working. Since that time our union has come up with recommendations of what to do and meet people halfway.”
“We put out the recommendations that were never taken up. We did some of them ourselves. If this is urgent, and things must be solved right now — and we came up with recommendations in September, and then they do none of them — it gives pause to the urgency,” she said. “We tried to do a bunch of different things to respond to the Hopkins report and we’ve had a couple of big professional development seminars and what we’re hearing from the other side is just give up your contract.”
“So what is all of this, I’ve been through this with Rhee and Klein, and it seems like the same playbook — say things are as bad as you can instead of trying,” said Weingarten. “And in vilifying people you create demoralization — you create a vehicle by which parents say, why am I even here?”
“If you think a change agent is someone who thinks they can do things to teachers not with them, they might be a disruptor, but that’s not a change agent,” said Weingarten. “Schooling is about what happens [with] the connective tissue between teachers, school staff and kids. Kids have to trust teachers — and the community has to as well — and when you have someone who tries to come in from on high and chooses to vilify and not deal with issues, that’s not going to help make things better in schools.”
“How do you create a school where community and parents trust their teachers when the superintendent says they’re not to be trusted? It may get someone headlines — but it’s not the way,” she said.
To my knowledge, there has never been a successful state takeover. Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority collapsed. Tennessee’s Educational Achievement Authority was a $100 million disaster.
The only districts that are targets for state takeovers are those with a black and brown majority. State officials think that eliminating democracy will fix the schools but it doesn’t and never has. It is a civics lesson to citizens and students of color that they are not capable of self-government.
Domingo Morel wrote a book called “Takeover” where he compntended that takeovers were about race and power, not education. Black and brown parents lose their political power and are subject to a colonial regime.