The Women at the Front Lines of the Teacher Tenure Fight

The new issue of Newsweek is largely devoted to school reform. One of the stories in its cover package is a she said, she said, tale-of-the-tape...

The new issue of Newsweekis largely devoted to school reform. One of the stories in its cover package is a she said, she said, tale-of-the-tape about the two women at the center of the fight over teacher tenure. At stake: Whether school districts will one day be able to easily remove poorly performing teachers within their systems.

On one side is Randi Weingarten, the head of the nation's second-largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers. On the other is Michelle Rhee, Washington D.C.'s schools chancellor. As we've written before, the teachers' unions are starting to get the feeling that they're the odd men out in the school reform debate, as both people on the left and right point their fingers in their direction for protecting teacher tenure. Rhee, on the other hand, has managed impressive improvements in D.C.-and proposed swapping out tenure for merit-based pay. She has, however, during the course of her reign, proven herself to be no stranger to controversy.

Here's where the sides stand now:
Rhee, who seems to have momentum on her side, wants to show that she is rewarding good teachers, not merely bashing bad ones, by making teaching a prestigious job-hard to get, hard to keep, and well compensated. Weingarten is insisting on protections to make sure her union members cannot be tossed out arbitrarily or unfairly. Both sides want to give teachers more money and encourage their professional development, and both sides want to be able to declare victory, so a compromise should be possible-perhaps preserving tenure in concept (to give Weingarten cover) while giving school administrators more power to move against teachers who are failing their students.

Weingarten photo (cc) via Flickr user Center for American Progress; Rhee photo (cc) via Flickr user David Clow - Maryland