Randi Weingarten is the President of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that represents more than 1.4 million educators. We invited her here today to talk about the mass firing of 74 teachers in Rhode Island last month.

The profile of the issue was raised dramatically when President Obama voiced his support for the firings on Monday, in a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability,” he said. “And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests — 7 percent.”

As Michael Whitney noted here yesterday, that’s quite a contrast to Obama’s defense of bankers who have received multi-million dollar bonuses and enormous government bailouts as a reward for their continued failure.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has applauded the Rhode Island firings.

At issue is a new Obama administration policy, which places more stringent requirements on schools than No Child Left Behind  in order to qualify for $3.5 billion in federal aid:

Duncan is requiring states, for the first time, to identify their lowest 5 percent of schools — those that have chronically poor performance and low graduation rates — and fix them using one of four methods: school closure; takeover by a charter or school-management organization; transformation which requires a longer school day, among other changes; and “turnaround” which requires the entire teaching staff be fired and no more than 50 percent rehired in the fall.

In response to the firings, Weingarten released his statement:

We are surprised that Superintendent Frances Gallo, who wants to fire every school employee, has not accepted any responsibility herself, especially since she has been at the helm for three years. We also are disappointed that Gallo and the state education commissioner have rejected my overtures to meet and discuss what is best for the students of Central Falls and also have said no to former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chaffee’s proposal for mediation. It is simply wrong to say no to kids and to parents who want to improve their children’s school.

She also indicates that Duncan did not speak with teachers before weighing in on the mass firings.

There appears to be some movement today on negotiations.

We’re delighted to have President Weingarten here today to discuss what is happening in Rhode Island, as well as other education issues that are facing her union in the wake of state budget crises and funding cuts.

Please welcome Randi Weingarten in the comments.