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Randi Weingarten answers critics at "Waiting For Superman" premiere

Davis Guggenheim and Randi Weingarten at the premiere of "Waiting For Superman" at the Newseum, 2010. (Steven Purcell)

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."

By The Reliable Source  |  September 16, 2010; 3:08 PM ET
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Thank heavens for someone like Randi Weingarten. Hopefully over time the errors in "Waiting for Superman" will come out.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 16, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

So...where was/is the NEA? It represents more teachers than the AFT....seems like they've been in hiding since Obama was elected.

Posted by: ilcn | September 16, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee's dirty little secret is that the gap between the high-performing DC students and low-performing DC students is as great as ever, and the teacher-bashing reforms haven't closed that gap.

How could it happen that the wealthier areas of DC gets all of the best teachers and, therefore, have created the best students? Even the NY Yankees have bad years, in spite of the largest payroll in baseball. Could the achievement gap have something to do with the culture of the STUDENTS?

Posted by: scsmits | September 17, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

educationlover54 - please provide a summary of the errors.

Posted by: curiousinva | September 17, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

While it is true that teachers' unions protect ineffective educators. It is also true that getting into a Charter School isn't an inclusive lottery Rather, hard working involved parents research Charter opportunities. They make sure they fill out the paper work and often wait on lines to submit materials. Then they wait. The poor unfortunate kids with disengaged, often disfunctional homes, are never included in the lottery. Skimming the top and making comparisons is dishonest. Somewhere between the teachers unions and the reformers is a truth that no Superman will speak.

Posted by: catymaye | September 17, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

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