Randi Weingarten answers critics at "Waiting For Superman" premiere
So, how does it feel to be the villain of the hottest new documentary of the year?
In "Waiting For Superman," the much-hyped education documentary, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is portrayed as the Lex Luthor to super-heroes of school reform.
"I made a choice a long time ago -- 20-30 years ago -- to make my life's work education," she told us Thursday. "It's in vogue to bash teachers and unions rather than celebrate the work they do to help kids. That being said, I'm a big girl. When you're in the public arena, you're going to take some hits."
Weingarten has some serious issues with the film, which she calls "well-intentioned" but flawed: It doesn't contain even one example of a successful public school, saluting instead charter schools and their managers, she said. On the plus side, the doc "does create a platform for people to talk about education. Simple solutions and silver bullets are not the answers. I wish it were so easy."
Nonetheless, she walked the red carpet Wednesday at the Newseum with "Waiting" director Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for his previous smash, "An Inconvenient Truth." Later, she joined her third post-screening panel with Guggenheim, D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others, reports our colleague Bill Turque.
Sitting at the edge of her seat, mic in hand, Weingarten tried to explain that unions are not the enemy of school reform and she doesn't want bad teachers in the classroom, either. But the A-list crowd (Bill Bennett, Al Franken, David Axelrod, Jane Harman) seemed to be rooting for the other panelists. A peevish Rhee, who called the Tuesday's primary results "devastating" for D.C. students, baited Weingarten: If the union is serious about reform, "then don't stick us with a lawsuit when I actually move ineffective teachers out." Righteous applause from the crowd.
Then again, maybe Rhee wasn't really in a mood for measured debate. The panel discussion took place less than 24 hours after Adrian Fenty lost his re-election bid, leaving Rhee's job on the line. On Wednesday, Weingarten wrote about D.C.'s vote in the Huffington Post: "We look forward to working with an administration prepared to move forward by working with us."
The Reliable Source
September 16, 2010; 3:08 PM ET
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