Teachers union's Weingarten gives some ground

Outside of Wisconsin's dispute with labor unions,  there's a bigger attack coming -- against unionized teachers, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"This is a direct attack on freedom," said one teacher.

In six states, (Fla., Idaho, Ind., Nev., N.J. Tenn.) plus New York City and Los Angeles, the issue now is tenure -- lifetime job protections that prevent good teachers from being fired on a whim. But tenure also, critics say, protects bad teachers from being fired at all.

Into this battle -- unpredictably -- has stepped Randi Weingarten.

Randi Weingarten speaks on unions

"We wanted to fix the problem," said Weingarten.

Last week, Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union with 1.5 million members, proposed new rules to evaluate and fire incompetent teachers. Any teacher judged "unsatisfactory" would get one year of guidance called an "improvement plan." Teachers who fail to improve would then face a dismissal hearing within 100 days.

"We wanted to make sure were focused on teacher quality, student instruction and on fairness," Weingarten said in an interview with CBS News.

Weingarten insists this is not a response to the fight in Wisconsin -- but is an answer to the biggest complaints about tenure.

"It has effectively become in some places a job for life, which is wrong," said Weingarten.

Weingarten thinks everyone, including unions, should take responsibility.

"I am saying that all of us should be taking responsibility," said Weingarten.

Still, there are questions about her union's commitment to teacher quality. In Washington, D.C., after reformer Michelle Rhee fired 200 low-performing teachers, Weingarten's union spent a $1 million supporting a new mayor who'd promised to fire Rhee.

She says he worked so hard to defeat Rhee because "her view in terms of education is fundamentally different from my view."

Rhee -- who now runs a reform think tank -- says Weingarten is right to take on teacher tenure but wrong to give the worst teachers so much time to appeal.

"I don't think we can continue to have processes and procedures in place that allow an ineffective teacher to stay in the classroom for years and years," said Rhee.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.

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