Head of AFT Surprises TV Host by Calling for Bad Teachers to Be Fired

Weingarten previously defended teachers caught helping students cheat on standardized tests

Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten / AP

The head of the American Federation of Teachers claimed on Monday that she wanted to see bad teachers removed from classrooms despite previous defenses of teachers caught helping students cheat on tests and others who were inebriated in the classroom.

Randi Weingarten appeared on Fox Business Network’s Kennedy on Monday evening to debate teacher tenure and public school reform. The libertarian talk show host posited, "The best teachers should be the ones that are rewarded. Worse teachers should not be given tenure."

The head of America’s second largest teachers union seemed to agree with this statement.

"Let me just say this, there should not be a bad teacher in school. If someone is doing what you said, they should not be teaching," Weingarten said in response.

"I have changed your mind. I love it," Kennedy said.

Weingarten defended teachers suspected of helping students cheat on standardized tests. She blamed administrators when teachers and exam proctors at more than 30 New York City schools were caught cheating in 1999.

"The incidents cited in the report range from overzealousness on the part of some educators to a few instances of outright fraud, largely under pressure from supervisors," she said in a statement to the Associated Press. She later dismissed the scandal as "overblown and misleading," going so far as to blame students.

"The children's allegations make up the body of the report, and the denials are buried in the footnotes … I don't want to trample on children, but there is a sweeping indictment here of the entire system that we don't think is borne out by the facts," she told the New York Times.

Additionally, Weingarten has been an ardent supporter of teachers in so-called rubber rooms, places in which teachers suspected of running afoul school rules—everything from cheating and violence to sexual contact with students—spend their days while remaining on the public payroll.

Weingarten, then-head of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, told the New York Daily News in 2008 that rubber rooms were "demoralizing, horrible places," comparing the sites to Guantanamo Bay.

Weingarten’s union went as far as to defend a teacher accused of drunkenly passing out in her classroom and another Department of Education facility on two separate occasions.

The union website maintained that the school system tried to prosecute the teacher in order to purge higher-paid senior employees from the city payroll. The teacher, who was granted anonymity by the New Yorker, disputed the union’s portrayal of her story, saying that UFT had "its own agenda."

"My case had nothing to do with seniority. … It was about a medical issue, and I sabotaged the whole thing by relapsing," she told the New Yorker.

While she may not think bad teachers belong in classrooms, she has failed to collaborate with school reformers to help root them out. When former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg proposed teacher evaluations in 2007, Weingarten called it "disgusting."

"It's signaling to principals that rather than working to support teachers, the school system is going to give you a way to try to get rid of teachers," she told the New York Times.

AFT did not respond to interview requests.