President, American Federation of Teachers
The New Yorker named Randi Weingarten one the most influential leaders in New York education. Crain’s put her on the list of the 25 most powerful women in New York City. This acclaim came before the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union of 1.5 million teachers, elected her president in 2008, which elevated her power and influence to the national level.
In an era where wealthy business-minded education reformers publically blame the teachers’ union for America’s education gaps, Weingarten’s job as the face of the union is formidable. In the recent education documentary, Waiting for Superman, she was made the villain. But despite public animosity, Weingarten, a former lawyer, doesn’t mind the heat. She speaks frequently to a hostile press, meets with her critics at every opportunity, and shows up at public events where she’s clearly the only one on her side. But, what’s more interesting is that at every conflict-filled session, she genuinely seems there for the dialogue, and not the rhetoric. She represents the union, but also manages to collaborate on the problems.
Adapting to the times, she has taken some unexpected actions. She focused the union on innovation, accepted charter schools so long as they do not take funding from public schools, allowed for standardized tests to be a limited measure of teacher effectiveness, and promoted using a master teacher corps to improve teacher performance. Randi Weingarten invited Bill Gates to speak at the 2010 AFT convention, a move met with both enthusiasm and protest by union members. She keeps her friends close, but her enemies closer.