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Meet the Press transcript for Sept. 26, 2010

Transcript of the September 26, 2010 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, featuring Mike Pence, Chris Van Hollen, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Robert Bobb and Randi Weingarten.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, from New York, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS.  This morning we kick off a weeklong commitment at NBC News to Education Nation.  We will try to cut to the core of the crisis in public education.  This weekend's opening of the emotional documentary "Waiting for `Superman'" is a powerful reminder that too many schools are failing our children, and America's competitiveness is suffering as a result.  Are resources the answer?  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced he will donate $100 million to Newark, New Jersey, schools.  How do we ensure the best teachers are in the classroom?  What reforms are working?  And what can each one of us do to help?  Our discussion with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; leading reformer and chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools Michelle Rhee; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools.

Announcer:  Live from New York City, this is a special edition of MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY:  But first to politics and the fight for Congress.  Will the House, in this divided campaign season, fall to the GOP?  If so, what will Republicans do in power?  This week Republican leaders in the house unveiled their Pledge to America, a campaign manifesto that is the 2010 of the GOP's Contract with America from 1994.  The highlights:  extend the Bush tax cuts, cut spending, and repeal healthcare reform.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH):  Our Pledge to America is that the Republicans stand ready to get it done and beginning today.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  But the question is are these new ideas or more of the same? Here to debate that question, among others, one of the architects of the Republican pledge, the chairman of the House Republican Congress, Representative--Conference, rather, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana. He's here in New York.  And the man responsible for electing Democrats to the House this fall, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Welcome both of you to MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY:  We're here in New York.  Congressman Pence, good to have you here with me on, on our breezy set here this morning.  We'll be able to get through that.

I want to get to the pledge and its contents and this whole debate about whether these are new ideas or not...


MR. GREGORY: just a moment.

But, Congressman Van Hollen and Congressman Pence, I want to start on the narrow issue of tax cuts and the big tax cut debate that is part of this midterm campaign.

We know, Congressman Van Hollen, that the Senate has kicked off the decision--kicked it back, I should say, till after the elections to take on whether or not the Bush tax cuts should be extended.  What will the House do on this important question?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Well, David, the House will vote before these tax cuts expire at the end of the year.  Whether we vote before the election or not is something we'll take a look at.  But I want to be very clear as to what the stakes are here because what the Republicans have said is that they're going to hold tax relief for 98 percent of the American people hostage until they can get permanent tax breaks for the top 2 percent, even though that would blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit, something that would be added to the credit cards of our children and grandchildren, and slow down economic growth and jobs going forward.

MR. GREGORY:  But what about the timing?  Because you say it's probably not till after the election.  I've talked to economists, read their words this week, who say the longer you wait the more uncertainty.  Why not put it to a vote before the midterms?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Well, we are absolutely going to get this done before the end of the year.  We may well take it up before the midterms.  But, as you've heard from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, they are insisting on holding the tax cuts for most of the American people hostage until they get these breaks for the very top.  And we don't think that we should be adding $700 billion to our deficit.  That's fiscally reckless at a time that we need to be imposing some fiscal discipline.  We should not be adding red ink that's going to have to be picked up by others and, and put us more in hock to China and other countries.

MR. GREGORY:  OK.  All right, Congressman Pence, you can...

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  That just does not make sense.

MR. GREGORY: can take on the substance of that.  But first, answer this question about the time, maybe, because this is where the news is, should the House take this up before the midterm vote?

REP. PENCE:  David, there is no question that there should be no higher priority for the Congress of the United States today than making sure that no American sees a tax increase in January of 2011, not one.  I, I, I have to tell you, this, for all the world, seems like a moment where Congress is putting politics ahead of prosperity.  You know, it--what, what they're proposing here, even a--even if they found some way to just extend middle class tax relief, would be an enormous tax increase in January on job creators in this country.  You know, higher taxes won't get people hired.  Raising taxes on job creators won't create jobs, and the American people know that.

But let me say one last thing.  I, I...

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  David...

REP. PENCE:  ...I think it would be unconscionable for this Congress to adjourn without giving the bipartisan majority in the Congress that wants to extend all current tax relief an up or down vote.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  But let me ask you this because this is a key question.

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  David--wait, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, hold on, Congressman, I'll get right back to you.  But I want to ask this key question.  In this Pledge to America that...

REP. PENCE:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...that we'll talk about in, in greater detail in just a moment, is this commitment to bringing down the deficit.

REP. PENCE:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  As well as extending the tax cuts.  How do you answer the charge from Democrats, from the president as well, that you don't have a way to pay for extending the tax cuts, and yet you're committed to deficit reduction?

REP. PENCE:  Well, look, in the Pledge to America, which I look forward to chatting about, we say, look, we've got to do something to get this economy moving again.  We give real and meaningful proposals to begin the process of reining in runaway federal spending by both political parties...

MR. GREGORY:  But, but how do you pay for the tax cuts is the question.

REP. PENCE:  ...and reforming the government.

Look, job one needs to be to create jobs.  The American people know the last thing you want to do in the worst economy in 25 years is raise taxes on small business owners and family farmers.  We have to vote before Congress adjourns for the political season, the fall elections, on an up or down vote.  More than 30 Democrats support extending all the current tax relief.  And, and we're calling on Speaker Pelosi and leaders like Chris, give us an up or down vote, let the Congress work its will and give the American people certainty...


MR. GREGORY:  Congressman Van Hollen, go ahead.

REP. PENCE:  ...that there will be no tax increase.

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  David, this notion that Mike's talking about, that you need to have these tax breaks for the very top to create jobs and economic expansion, Mike, those tax rights are in effect right now.  They're in effect right now.  I don't see all this job creation as a result of those tax cuts. They've been in effect for nine years.  At the end of those nine years, we've seen losses of millions of jobs.  So this, this story that somehow those breaks for the very folks at the top create these jobs is, is just nonsense.

And I want to make one other point because they have...

REP. PENCE:  Well, but the--there's no question...

MR. GREGORY:  Hold on.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  ...they have--they--one other point.  They have tried to mask this as an issue with small businesses.  Well, it turns out that only 2 percent of small businesses are affected.  And when you look at the definition of small businesses, you find that they're big hedge funds, big Washington lobbying firms, KKR, Pricewaterhouse.  Because, under the definition of tax code, anything that's an S corporation qualifies.  So I want Mike to tell us whether he really believes that KKR, whether Pricewaterhouse, whether those are the kind of small businesses that need help?  Because that's the folks that they're trying to help out.  We don't...

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask a different question about taxes.

REP. PENCE:  Well, well, look...

MR. GREGORY:  Wait a minute, I want to...

REP. PENCE:  Can I respond to that, though?

MR. GREGORY:  Well, in just...

REP. PENCE:  I think he makes a very good point.

MR. GREGORY:  OK, go ahead.

REP. PENCE:  If the current tax relief was enough to get this economy moving again, the economy would be moving and it's not.  What, what Chris and the Democrats in Congress and the administration continue to insist on is a tax increase in January of 2011.  But I want to stipulate to the point.  That's why Republicans, in the Pledge to America, called for a 20 percent business deduction on all business income immediately, to be voted on in this Congress. We think there needs to be more pro-growth tax relief to get the economy moving again.  But, for heaven sakes, let's not raise taxes on job creators.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, but let me ask you a bigger question about tax cuts or tax hikes.  You say in the Pledge to America that you want to bring spending down to 2008 levels, which you well know is not enough to really seriously tackle the deficit, even if you bring it back to 2008.  So the question for you, and I'll ask Congressman Van Hollen, how can you rule out tax hikes as we move forward if you want to get serious about tackling the deficit?

REP. PENCE:  Well, look, I, I--number one, I think you rule out tax increases because our problem isn't that the American people are taxed too little, our problem is that Washington spends too much.  In the Pledge to America we call for cutting discretionary spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, cutting the amount of funding allocated to Congress, freezing all pay on nonsecurity federal employees, ending federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ending TARP.  That'd save a trillion dollars over 10 years alone. And, you know, reducing discretionary spending back to those 2008 levels, that would be--I mean, that would save $100 billion this year.

MR. GREGORY:  That's fine, but that doesn't...

REP. PENCE:  We, we can get there through fiscal discipline and reform.

MR. GREGORY:  ...that really doesn't tackle the deficit completely.

Congressman Van Hollen, the question for you and for Democrats, can you rule out tax hikes as we move forward to be serious about cutting the deficit?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  I'm sorry, David, what was the question?  I couldn't hear you.

MR. GREGORY:  Can you--do you really rule out tax increases not just for the wealthiest Americans, but even for the middle class, if we're going to get serious about dealing with the deficit?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Yeah.  Yeah, we think it would be a big mistake to raise taxes on 98 percent of the American people.  And I want to go back to this point that Mike raised about small businesses.  The president and the Democrats have proposed tax cuts for small businesses to generate new activity.  In fact, the president's just said let's provide 100 percent write-off for investments made between now and 2011.  And what was interesting was they had this big ceremony for the pledge at a small business site, within hours they came back to the Hill and voted against the Small Business Lending Bill which, in addition to increasing access to credit for small businesses, contains significant tax cuts.  And Senator Voinovich, who's a retiring Republican senator said it's time for the Republicans to stop playing politics when the American people are hurting.  And I hope they will begin to do that because...

MR. GREGORY:  Let...

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  ...they violated their pledge within hours about cutting taxes to small businesses.

MR. GREGORY:  You know, as you go back to 1994, Congressman Pence, there was the Contract with America, and one of the big issues, if you go back even to interviews I've done with Republican leaders till after the election of President Obama, was that this wanted to be the party of new ideas.

REP. PENCE:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  And, in fact, this, this pledge has been criticized for being anything but new.  Where satire is most effective, Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" this week raised this issue by comparing some of what was said in 1998 by Speaker--rather, who wants to be speaker, Boehner, John Boehner, to what he said in unveiling the pledge.  And this is what it looked like.

(Videotape, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Thursday)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER:  (From September 23) A smaller...

(From March 3, 1998) A smaller...

(From September 23) ...less costly...

(From March 3, 1998) ...less costly...

(From September 23) ...and more accountable...

(From March 3, 1998) ...and more accountable...

(From September 23, 2010 and March 3, 1998; in unison) ...government in our nation's capital.

MR. JON STEWART:  Wow.  That's--I don't even know what to say.  This thing's not even a sequel.  It's like a shot-by-shot remake of your--I thought the pledge was you were humbled and going to come back with fresh new ideas. Wasn't that the pledge?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  So what's new here?

REP. PENCE:  Well, ending bailouts and cutting spending in Washington, D.C., is a new idea, David.  And the truth is, look, Republicans didn't just lose our majority in 2006, we lost our way.  We walked away from the principles of fiscal discipline and reform that minted our governing majority back in 1980 and again in 1994, and the American people walked away from us.  What, what we have in this proposal is not, not necessarily new.  The idea of fiscal responsibility, pro-growth policies, openness and transparency in government are solid, American ideas.  What Republicans are committing to in this Pledge to America is taking important first steps in this Congress to steer our national government back to those basic practices and principles.

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman Van Hollen, do you agree?  Is this a return to core principles or is this a rehash?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Look, this is a rehash.  It's a recycling of the Bush economic agenda.  They put a new front page on it, but otherwise this is a Xerox copy.  Their whole answer to everything seems to be give the folks at the very top a tax break, and then they want to undo the regulations and reforms on Wall Street.  I mean, the problems on Wall Street led to catastrophe around the country, millions of people lost their jobs, and they're trying to do what lobbyists tried very hard to do, but didn't succeed, which is to say, "Let's put those guys back in charge." And I--it is a return to the Bush economic agenda.  There's no doubt about it.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let me follow up...

REP. PENCE:  David, David...

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  I would point out...

MR. GREGORY:  Let me follow up on this point.

REP. PENCE:  (Unintelligible)

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  ...this is not...

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman Pence, hold on, let me follow up on this point...

REP. PENCE:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...which is where you think this is a credible economic argument.  You voted against TARP.  You opposed the stimulus, as did other Republican leaders.  And yet people, economists who have looked at this from both sides of the aisle, Robert Samuelson writing in Newsweek who is a more conservative columnist on economic matters, says that the aggressive actions taken, going back to TARP and then followed through by this administration, most definitely had an impact on GDP, on the fact that we don't see unemployment approaching 16 percent.  Is it credible for Republicans to ask for the vote this November when, effectively, you would've let the financial system teeter off the edge of a cliff?

REP. PENCE:  Well, it--look, Republicans weren't prepared to let the financial system teeter off a cliff.

MR. GREGORY:  You voted against TARP.

REP. PENCE:  We just thought taking $700 billion...

MR. GREGORY:  What would've happened if, if you had not passed TARP?

REP. PENCE:  Well, David, we just thought taking $700 billion from Main Street and transferring it to Wall Street was a profoundly bad idea.

MR. GREGORY:  That's good rhetoric, but what would've happened to the financial system?

REP. PENCE:  Now we...

MR. GREGORY:  Who in the financial system thinks it didn't stabilize the system?

REP. PENCE:  Yeah, look.  Republicans, Republicans had a proposal, it was a backstop, not a handout.  It--we could've, we could've worked out this as a lot of the post-mortem analysis suggested we could.  Look, this is not a choice between the failed economic policies of the present and the failed economic policies of the past.  I know that the Democrats want to frame it that way.  What Republicans are saying is we have to get back, we have to end the era of borrowing and spending and bailouts and government takeovers.  We have to repeal Obama care lock, stock, and barrel, oppose their cap and trade schemes, and then we've got to get back to the practice of fiscal responsibility and the kind of policies that'll get this economy growing again.

MR. GREGORY:  Name me one painful choice on spending the Republicans are prepared to make, that there could be some real blowback for politically, that they'll stand by if they want to reduce the deficit and rein in spending?

REP. PENCE:  Well, look, I, look, I, you know...

MR. GREGORY:  I read through this.  I want to know where is the painful choice that you're prepared to make on spending?

REP. PENCE:  Look, I, I never thought you'd ask.  Look, cutting discretionary spending.

MR. GREGORY:  On what?

REP. PENCE:  Down to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout...

MR. GREGORY:  Name the painful choice on a program that you're going to cut.

REP. PENCE:  Look, we could reduce, we could reduce government employment back down to 2008 levels.  That's $35 billion over 10.  We could eliminate government programs like the Save America's Treasures programs.

MR. GREGORY:  (Unintelligible).

REP. PENCE:  That's $300 million.

MR. GREGORY:  Talk--what about entitlement spending?  Are you going to raise the retirement age...

REP. PENCE:  Look...

MR. GREGORY: John Boehner suggests might be a good idea on Social Security?

REP. PENCE:  Look.  Well, you know, in--the last time I was on this program, I told you we'd keep our promises to seniors and near seniors, but for Americans under the age of 40, we absolutely have to begin to reform Medicare and Social Security in ways that'll ensure its long-term fiscal solvency.  But let me assure you, the Pledge to America is not the end-all, be-all, it's meant to be a good start.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Congressman Van Hollen, what about President Clinton who said this week on MSNBC, "Perhaps the Democrats need a pledge of their own.  They need a card with three or five of the top points that they're going to campaign on." What would those be for Democrats in the fall and do you take his advice?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Well, the Democrats have set out what their plans are. We're going to continue as the president has said to focus on providing relief to small business going, going forward.  We have a bill coming to the floor of the House this week that I hope Mike Pence and his colleagues will join us on to try to make sure that we are not put at a competitive disadvantage by the Chinese currency manipulation.  We're going to continue to focus on clean energy jobs and incentives for clean energy, and we're going to continue to focus on the economy.

And I have to say, when you look at the Republican so-called pledge, you find a lot of phony numbers.  Let me give you an example.  They say they're going to, they're going to save $16 billion by getting rid of TARP.  Mike, we voted to get rid of TARP already.  It was part of the Wall Street Reform Bill that Republicans opposed.  That bill terminated TARP.  And yet, in this pledge, they're pretending that they're going to find savings from shutting down something that we've already shut down.  That's the kind of thing I think people are tired of.  Earmarks.  They've made all this talk about how they were going to end earmarks.  We reformed the earmark process.  We said no more earmarks that distort the private market by going to for-profit, private entities.  There's not a word in there about that.  I assume that they're going to go back to their old ways...

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  ...when they quadrupled earmarks.


REP. VAN HOLLEN:  It's hard to take seriously, given their record here, and it is the same old, same old.

MR. GREGORY:  I've got...

REP. PENCE:  Look, different from the Democrats, we Republicans refuse to request any earmarks this year whatsoever.  We've imposed a self-imposed moratorium on earmarks, and we're going to end earmarking as we know it...


REP. PENCE:  ...if we have a chance to lead the Congress again.


MR. GREGORY:  I'm going to leave that, I'm going to leave that part of it done.  We have about 10 seconds left.

Congressman Van Hollen, you're in charge of getting Democrats elected in the House.  How bad will November be at this point in time in your judgment?

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Democrats are going to do very well.  We're going to keep the majority because the choice we've talked about here, they said they were listening to the American people.  One of the biggest recommendations was to end these perverse tax breaks that encourage offshoring, outsourcing of American jobs.  We've closed down some of those loopholes.  We're going to continue to do it.  There's not a word about the outsourcing problem in America in that pledge, not one word in 46 pages.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Those are the kind of choices people are focusing on in this election.

MR. GREGORY:  We're going to leave it there.  The debate will continue as we move forward in this campaign.  Congressman Pence, Congressman Van Hollen, thank you both very much.

REP. VAN HOLLEN:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  And up next, here in New York, we kick off NBC's weeklong commitment to Education Nation.  How can we best reform our failing school system and make America competitive again?  Our special discussion with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; D.C. Schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee; American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten; and Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb, only here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY:  Coming up, we kick off NBC's Education Nation with an in-depth discussion about our nation's public schools.  What are the solutions?  How do we get the best teachers in our classrooms?  Right after this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  And we are back live from 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York to kick off NBC's Education Nation.  It is our weeklong look into the state of our country's education system.  Joining me now, four key voices in the struggle to improve public K through 12 education, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit public schools, Robert Bobb; the chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, Michelle Rhee; the U.S. secretary of Education, Arne Duncan; and the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten.

Welcome to all of you for such an important topic, an important commitment, I think, by NBC News, as well, to really exploring it this week.  And we begin now.

What's getting all the buzz right now in the reform movement is this film, "Waiting for `Superman,'" which has debuted this weekend, and I wanted to play just a portion of it that talks about the huge challenge we face, one of the disturbing facts in our education system, as they show in the movie.

(Videotape, "Waiting for `Superman'")

Narrator:  Since the 1970s, U.S. schools have failed to keep pace with the rest of the world.  Among 30 developed countries, we ranked 25th in math and 21st in science.  The top 5 percent of our students, our very best, ranked 23rd out of 29 developed countries.  In almost every category, we've fallen behind.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And look at a snapshot from our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on the question of education in terms of the public view of how education is.  Seventy-seven percent in our poll give our public schools a C grade or lower.  And in terms of the state of public schools, 58 percent in our poll, if we look at the next screen, 58 percent believe that major changes or complete overhaul is needed.

And, indeed, Secretary Duncan, an overhaul is in the works.  Where are we right now in terms of reform?

SEC'Y ARNE DUNCAN:  We've made tremendous progress.  But let me be clear, David, as a country, we have a long, long way to go.  We have to educate our way to a better economy.  Education is an economic strategy.  When you see us being 20th in, you know, math and science, we've fallen in one generation from first to ninth in college graduates.  That's unacceptable.  And we're paying a terrible price today with a tough economy because we've lost our way educationally.  That's why we're pushing so hard for reform.

MR. GREGORY:  It's important to point out, as well, there's a lot of money in the reform movement right now.  You got most of it.  You got billions of dollars as Education secretary to give as part of Race to the Top.  President Bush, who started No Child Left Behind, that will be reauthorized, you hope, certainly.  Where are we with those?  Because you're giving money, but there's a lot more conditions to really drive accountability.

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  Well, to be clear, we're not investing in the status quo.  So with Race to the Top, which actually represents less than 1, less than 1 percent of total K to 12 spending nationally, you see 36 states raising standards, not dumbing down things, not lying to children anymore because of political pressure.  You see most states removing barriers to innovative schools.  We've seen every single state eliminate the linking of teacher evaluation and student achievement.  It's remarkable, remarkable progress encouraged at the local level.  That's what we're investing in, great leadership, great courage at the local level.

MR. GREGORY:  I, I want to talk throughout this about, not just raising problems, but talking about solutions, because I feel like we dwell on the problems so often it's not always constructive.

Michelle Rhee, there's a political storm in Washington about education and about the mayor losing his primary, and I'll get to that in just a minute. But I want to start with you and ask you what's working since you've been chancellor?  What's the good news?

MS. MICHELLE RHEE:  Well, the good news is what we've shown over the last three and a half years in Washington, D.C., is that if you prioritize education, if you make it the number one issue in the city, if you have the political leadership and the courage to make tough decisions, that you can see tremendous progress in a short period of time.  Over the last three years we've gone from being, you know, worst, you know, amongst all urban jurisdictions in the country to actually leading the nation in gains in our progress of students on the NAEP examination in both reading and math.  So, I think, it basically shows that if you have, if you have a, a, a singular focus and you really are prioritizing, making those tough decisions, that, that progress can, can result.

MR. GREGORY:  And, Mr. Robb, what are you finding in Detroit about what's working right now?

MR. ROBERT BOBB:  Well, a lot of things that are working in Detroit.  I think I'd like to go back to what Secretary Duncan mentioned, and that is, although our state did not win in the Race to the Top competition, considerable reforms were advanced by the governor and the state legislature and the secretary of--I mean the, the superintendent of public instructions.  And so we are implementing those programs, although we do not have the, the funding in place.  In particular, more time spent with, with our teachers and, and, and, an additional expanded day for our students, and much more rigor that we're putting in our classrooms so that we can, we can compete in the 21st century.

MR. GREGORY:  Randi Weingarten, I want to go back, all the way back to 2002 and No Child Left Behind and President Bush and listen again to how he framed what has become the major driver in the reform movement, and that is accountability.  Watch this.

(Videotape, January 8, 2002)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  I understand taking tests aren't fun.  Too bad.  We need to know in America.  We need to know whether or not children have got the basic education.

No longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance.  No longer is it acceptable to keep results away from parents.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And President Bush isn't often given credit for driving accountability because No Child Left Behind became unpopular.  And yet, indeed, that accountability is what the Obama administration has built on. As--is accountability, at the core of this, working?

MS. RANDI WEINGARTEN:  So, you know, President Bush was right.  Tests aren't fun, but they're absolutely imperative to do.  But what happened when No Child Left Behind was, it all, it became all about the tests as opposed to about teaching and learning.  So accountability is essential as a tool, not as a goal.  The goal is, how do help 50 million school children in the United States of America get a great education.  And so, ultimately, we need to have a couple of other tools like engaged, robust curriculum, like a real focus on teacher development, like a real overhauling of the teacher evaluation system. And if we look at what the countries that have outcompete--that outcompete us do, is that there's a huge investment in teachers as well as looking at accountability.  Accountability, absolutely essential; top to bottom accountability as well as bottom to top.  But it's not the whole story.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, but let's be specific then.  Michelle Rhee, in Washington, D.C., you closed schools, you fired teachers.  There was a lot of controversy around that.  Randi, if you believe in accountability, what happened in Washington--Michelle, you start--when you did fire teachers and close down schools that weren't performing?

MS. RHEE:  Well, we certainly got a tremendous amount of pushback.  And I think that Superintendent Bobb knows this as well.  You know, people are uncomfortable when you change what is currently in place.  And so what we looked at over the last three and a half years, for example, we closed 23 schools in the first year, we've closed several schools after that because we cannot continue to pour the same amount of resources into a faulty system. We, we were shrinking in terms of the number of students that were coming to school every day in DCPS, but we never downsized the number of schools that we had.  The result of that is that we were spreading our resources way too thin and the, the--we were--the, the citizens and the students weren't feeling the amount of money that we were spending every single day.

You know, in terms of the teacher accountability, yes, we've been--we've held a very, very high bar.  We've said it's no longer going to be acceptable for teachers who are ineffective to stay in the classroom.  And, you know, we've gotten a tremendous amount of pushback about that.  And I think--I mean, you said we were going to talk about the election.  But if you talk about the mayor's election, a lot of what you heard from citizens was, "Well, they fire teachers." And what you, unfortunately, didn't hear about that was we didn't fire teachers to be mean, because were callous or didn't care.  We wanted to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom simply because we think our children deserve better.

MR. GREGORY:  And you talk about accountability, and yet the teachers unions, you say they don't--you shouldn't be demonized, but you just, you sue the district when, when there is accountability, when teachers get fired.  Is that, is that the constructive response?

MS. WEINGARTEN:  Actually, you know, the last suit that we did was actually about trying to find out the basis upon why--which some of the teachers were fired.  And, ultimately, we're still waiting to get the FOIL request and things like that, the Freedom of Information request.  But at the bottom of this, David and Michelle, we changed the contract to make it more transparent and cohesive, to give Michelle and the district more tools on teacher quality. We gave the teachers more tools, we gave the district more tools.

The issue in terms of us is to make sure that teachers get the tools and conditions they need to be effective and to make sure that there's fairness. We know the teacher tenure system is broken, and we want to fix it.  There are different ways we fixed it in Detroit, working with the district there; different ways we fixed it in, in Washington; different ways we fixed it throughout the country.  So the issue is how do we make teachers effective? And also, with all due respect, how do we give the good teachers--there's three million teachers in the United States of America and 133,000 schools. How do we give those quiet, unsung heroes the tools and conditions they need to help all children?

MS. RHEE:  But with all due respect, let me say that we, you know, in addition to identifying the ineffective teachers who needed to be terminated, we also identified 16 percent of the teachers in D.C. who we rated as highly effective, and we said to them, "We are going to recognize and reward your work.  We're going to compensate you at the level that you deserve to be compensated at." So, with our new contract now, we will be able to pay the most effective teachers who are teaching in high poverty areas and in high need subject areas nearly double the amount that they were previously making. So we are going to use the approach of making sure that the best people are rewarded.  But we also have to have the flip side of that, which is, "If you are not effective, then you can no longer be in the classroom."

MR. GREGORY:  Secretary Duncan, what happened in Washington, D.C., that concerns you?  Mayor Fenty did not win for re-election in his primary.


MR. GREGORY:  There's a real question--and I guess, Michelle, I should ask you, are you going to stay as chancellor of D.C. schools?

MS. RHEE:  Well, I think that's something that we still have to determine. And I have to talk to Vincent Gray, who is the, the, the presumptive mayor. But I think the important thing to realize is that education reform can continue in D.C., regardless of whether I'm there or not.  It can continue as long as the leadership is willing to continue to make the incredibly tough decisions that we've made over the last three years.

MR. GREGORY:  It's--but, Secretary Duncan, this is a political question, but it's germane.  You didn't campaign at all for Mary--for Adrian Fenty, the mayor.  You said you don't do politics.  And yet this past week, you said you would campaign for congressional Democrats in the midterm election.  Why didn't you campaign for Fenty when the blowback against teacher accountability can be so severe in some of these local districts?

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  Right.  Well, I'm, I'm a huge fan of what he and Michelle have done.  By any measure, the public schools in D.C. are dramatically better today than when they started.  I stood with Mayor Fenty multiple times.  I invested $75 million in the district because of its leadership.  And he can walk out with his head held high.  When the story of D.C.'s school reform is written, a huge part is going to be around his courage and his leadership. There are thousands of local primaries around the country, I can't weigh in on every single one.  There are national candidates that I need to support who are going to drive school reform.  But Mayor, Mayor Fenty did, I think, a remarkable job of dramatically improving the quality of education in D.C.

MR. GREGORY:  But let me just stop you.

Mr. Bobb, this is one of the issues that, that reformers talk about.  You can't denationalize this, this effort.  I mean, what happened in Washington, D.C.--and the unions were a part of this in terms of opposing what the mayor and, and Michelle Rhee did--if you--if we make it about individual jurisdictions, the unions are very powerful.  Those who, who oppose some of these reforms in the status quo are powerful.  Is it good enough for national leaders to step back and allow the individual districts to have at it themselves?  Can you prevail and reform when it's this tough?  You know what it's like in the school district.

MR. BOBB:  It's very tough.  I think that national leaders have to be involved and engaged at the local level as well.  I mean, the reform movement, what we're doing in Detroit cannot take place without very strong support from, let's say, Governor Granholm, Mike Flanagan; in Michelle's case, Adrian Fenty.  Every major decision that I have made, I have been sued either by local leaders, school board members.  And there is a sense of urgency in these urban school districts.  You cannot sit back and let children--and not take care of what, what's needed for children, particularly more rigor in the classrooms, more effective leaders--not just teachers effective leaders.  I mean, I, I moved 51 principals this year alone.  The school leadership at the building is significantly as important as the teachers that we put before our children in the classrooms.

I mean, I know that Michelle went through the process of closing schools in, in Washington, D.C.  We--in 2000, we had 167,000 students in the Detroit public schools.  Today we're educating about 84,000, 85,000 students.  In the two years that I've been the emergency financial manager, we've closed 59 schools.  It is very difficult politically, it's hard on a community, and it's also challenging for parents and students.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, and we're going to take a quick break here. We're--and then we're going to come back and I want to talk specifically about what is really at the core of this debate, which is how do we make sure we get the very best teachers in front of our students, and how does accountability achieve that?  We'll talk about both sides of that when we're back with our panel right after this brief station break.


MR. GREGORY:  And we're back, live from 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, to continue our discussion about public school education.

Randi Weingarten, I want to get to this issue of how we get the best teachers in front of our students.  And let's get right to this point.  I'm a parent, I have three young kids.  If I go into my child's classroom and I'm basically told, "Look, this teacher's really not doing that well, but we want to give them another year, see how they do this year.  We want to try to develop them a little bit, so maybe by, you know, maybe not in this year, but maybe next year, things will get better." That's not good enough for me as a parent.


MR. GREGORY:  So show me--tell me specifically what you representing teachers across the country have done to avoid that reality when it appears that, in fact, the unions have said to people like Michelle Rhee, you can't get rid of these people, you can't just fire them willy-nilly if you don't have the right results.  You're demonizing the teachers.

MS. WEINGARTEN:  So that result, when an administrator says that to a parent, is not good for anyone.  Teachers don't want it, parents don't want it.  And, ultimately, what we need to do is we need to invest in teachers from the moment that they go into teacher preparation until every single day that they're in a classroom.  Most of us--I don't know, you know, Michelle has told these stories about when she started to teach, I've told these stories of when I started to teach, I wasn't a very good teacher my first year.  I was a better teacher my second and third years.  So there's going to be some investment lag that happens in terms of teachers.

MR. GREGORY:  But, Randi, we're not talking about a learning curve here. We're not talking about starting out teachers, Michelle.  We're talking about teachers who have been in the system for a long time...


MR. GREGORY:  ...who have failed to perform year after year, and yet, frankly, removing them is the hardest part.


MS. WEINGARTEN:  So let me, let me just go right to that.  No one wants a bad teacher, David.  Not teachers, not parents.  When I asked our members this question, overwhelmingly they want us to find the tools and conditions to help teachers do better.  And what we've tried to do now, what we've realized, is that the evaluation system is totally and completely broken in the United States.  So our union has tried to invest in creating a new evaluation system. There's about 50 or 60 districts that are trying to do that.  We've tried to figure out who is good, who is not.  If they're not good, we help them.  If we can't help them, we have to weed them out of the profession.  You're absolutely right...

MR. GREGORY:  But is that happening, is my question.

MS. WEINGARTEN:  It is now starting--you know, it is now starting to happen in the last two years in a greater rate than we've ever seen before.

MR. GREGORY:  But I want to give Michelle a chance to respond.  Is that happening from the--you've been head of schools, is that how you see it?

MS. RHEE:  I mean, let's be honest that, first of all, our new evaluation system where we actually use student achievement data, how much a student progresses, to determine whether or not a, a, a teacher is, is effective or not, we implemented that because we have the power within the district to implement whatever evaluation tool we want.  So we, we got a lot of pushback, and we still get, get tremendous pushback from the, from the unions.  So, for example, we just identified about 241 educators of this last summer who were, were not effective or did not have the proper certification, etc.  And when we did that and then said, for the ineffective teachers, people who got that on their evaluation, through a robust evaluation, looking at multiple things, "You are now being terminated," then we get slapped with this, you know, huge class-action grievance, basically, saying, you know, "We're grieving the way that you did this." But the bottom line is that if these people are ineffective, and if, as President Weingarten says, nobody wants ineffective teachers in the classroom, then you can't fight us every step of the way when we're moving in that direction.

MR. GREGORY:  What...

MS. WEINGARTEN:  But, David, we are not...

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let me, let me, Secretary Duncan, let's, let's--what do you see...


MR. GREGORY: the sense of the overall here?  Because this is really the core, isn't this?

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  That's right.  It is the core.  And let's just take a step back.  The status quo isn't working for children, and it's not working for the country.  And what the president fundamentally gets is we have to educate our way to a better economy.  What do we do?  We have to reward excellence in, in education, we have to reward great teachers, and we have to be much more strategic in how we get great principals and great teachers to go to historically underserved communities.  We have to provide much better support for teachers who are trying to become world class; and those teachers where it's simply not working, we have to be much more swift in how we move them out.  So it's not working at any levels.  It's not working for the stars, it's not working for those in the middle, it's not working for those on the bottom. If it's not working for any adults, it's definitely not working for the children in this country.

MR. GREGORY:  Mr. Bobb, this is in part a policy question, in part a political question.  As you've looked at, say, what Michelle Rhee has done in Washington with Mayor Fenty, how can they better implement accountability in a way that keeps in mind that there are a lot of teachers, a lot of communities like Detroit, like Washington, D.C., that rely upon those jobs?  We're in a severe economic recession.  How do administrators go about accountability in a way that doesn't create the political blowback, whether it's lawsuits or whether it's political blowback at the polls?

MR. BOBB:  Well, definitely you have to have--you have to be able to communicate these issues.  What it is what you're doing has to be communicated, how you're doing it has to be communicated, and then what processes you're going to put in place to help individuals succeed.  And those who do not succeed, they have to leave the system immediately.

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  David...

MS. WEINGARTEN:  But, David...

MR. BOBB:  I mean, we just--in Detroit public schools, we just--we have a new teacher contract.  And this year, for the first time, we actually have a new teacher evaluation system that's being put in place.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BOBB:  We're, we're borrowing from what's being done in D.C., we're borrowing from what's being done in, in Denver.  And those--we have to have an effective way in which we can evaluate teachers.  But you know what...

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  David...

MS. WEINGARTEN:  David, let...

MR. BOBB:'s not just the evaluation of teachers.



MR. BOBB:  We have to look at the entire system.


MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. WEINGARTEN:  Yes.  David...

MR. BOBB:  We have to look from principals to everyone through that whole school.


MR. GREGORY:  Secretary Duncan.

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  We need dramatic change.  Let's, let's be real honest here. What was going on in Washington for decades was an absolute disgrace for children.  What's been going on in Detroit for far too long is a disgrace. Those children in both cities had been desperately, desperately underserved. Change is hard.  There is going to be blowback.  When you challenge the status quo, that is difficult, but we have to have the moral courage to do the right thing by our children, and we have to give the children of Detroit a chance. Detroit's going in a much better direction, thanks to, to Superintendent Bobb's leadership.  Washington's going the right direction.  Change is going to continue to be hard.  We'll continue to get pushback...


SEC'Y DUNCAN:  ...but we have to keep going forward.

MR. GREGORY:  And so...

MS. WEINGARTEN:  And in most...


MS. WEINGARTEN:  And in both of those places, David, in both of those places, even though it was hard, the union stepped up and did a contract with Robert Bobb.  The union stepped up and did a contract with Michelle Rhee.  The union sometimes asks to make sure that things are not arbitrary and capricious, but let me ask, let me ask--say this as well, there are many other districts like the ABC District in Los Angeles, like the New Haven District, where the union has stepped up with managers who want to work with us, where we are making that kind of change.  So the issue is, for us, about insuring that we do the some--some of the things that the secretary said, because it's not just about the issue of looking at a snapshot of whether a teacher is bad or good.  It's about developing teachers.  It's about not spending the $7 billion that we spend right now...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  But let's just...

MS. WEINGARTEN: teacher turnover.  We have to do things that help kids every single day in classrooms, which means investing in teachers like they do in the countries that outpace us.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Hold on.  I want to bring up the Colorado law about evaluation of teachers.  And really the crux of it is it's a tough law.  You supported it.


MR. GREGORY:  Of course, you don't represent a lot of teachers out there, so the political stakes were not, frankly, as high for you.

MS. WEINGARTEN:  Actually...

MR. GREGORY:  Hold on one a second.  That's a reality, because you represent a lot more teachers in other districts, and we all know that.  But what they did there is have tougher evaluations and said, "After two years, you could be removed." Do you support that as a national model?

MS. WEINGARTEN:  We support--if you help teachers be the best they can be and evaluate them fairly, then if they have to be removed, they have to be removed.  The one thing we want is to not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Ultimately, we have to fix the due process system to make sure that it's not glacial process.  We have to fix the evaluation system, but more importantly, we have to give teachers and kids the supports they need so that they can grow, and that's what happens in the countries that out compete us.

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  David...

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask one question.  Mr. Secretary, you can make your point, too, I want to address what Mark Zuckerberg has done with Facebook, $100 million to the Newark City schools.  It's tremendous, but what is the role of that private money?  Because I've talked to business leaders who say, you know, "Look, we're only operating on the fringes here, a lot of money. You can't deal with some of the core problems." And money, as we've talked about, is really not the big issue here.

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  Change is the issue.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

SEC'Y DUNCAN:  And we're seeing whether it's Mark in Silicon Valley or the phenomenal movie "Waiting for `Superman'" from Hollywood, the country is starting to take notice.  The country.  You guys, a couple days summit on education.  This has become the national topic.  People know we have to educate our way to a better economy.  That money invested in the status quo is throwing good money after bad.  That money to drive fundamental change and reform, just like Race to the Top, it's going to lead the country where we need to go.  So that generosity, that investment from a private sector, it might not seem like a lot of money.  Our Race to the Top, $4 billion sounds like a lot.  We spend $650 billion a year on K to 12 education.  Less than 1 percent is changing the country.  Mark's money in Newark, other money in Detroit, Washington, Chicago, right here in New York, L.A., that private money, all of us have to invest.  The parents, the business community, philanthropy, all of us need to be investing in public education.

MR. GREGORY:  I've, I've got a minute 30, and, Michelle, I'll come to you first on this.  I walked out of the film "Waiting for `Superman,'" and my first reaction was as a parent.  And I ask myself, not as the moderator of this program but as a parent, what am I going to do to help?  What can the individual who is moved by this do to make some a difference, so we're not just scratching our head and saying, "Gosh, this is so hard"?

MS. RHEE:  Yeah.  That, I think, is the fundamental question.  People have been asking me that, you know, since, since they've been viewing the movie. And I think what we need, quite frankly, is a national movement around this, so that people, it doesn't matter if they live in, in Idaho or New York or, or California, who want--who, who are watching the movie and saying, "This is absolutely wrong.  We're doing an injustice to our kids.  How can we do better?" We actually need a national movement of people, you know, whether it's giving $10 or whether it's Mark Zuckerberg who's giving $100 million.  I mean, the money that we got from our external funders really did leverage--provide us with the leverage that we needed to sign this revolutionary contract.  And now it's having reverberations across the country.  And I think that people can't underestimate how much a phone call to a politician, you know, dollars invested can really help to see some major changing.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  We're going to have to leave it there.  The other piece of advice I got is, you know, if you drive by a public school, even if your kids don't go there, walk in and ask how you can help, whether you can tutor or provide resources to a teacher.

MS. RHEE:  Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY:  I think there's a lot we can do just on that baseline level.

Thanks to all of you.  A conversation that will continue here at NBC News for the week and around the country for sure.  Thank you all very much.

We'll take a break.  We'll be right back.


MR. GREGORY:  Programming note before we go.  Stay tuned to NBC News and MSNBC all week for more on Education Nation.  Brian Williams will moderate a special teacher town hall today at noon Eastern on MSNBC.  Plus, President Obama sits down with Matt Lauer on the "Today" program tomorrow.

And a special Web extra we want to tell you about on our Web site today to mark the 50th anniversary of the great debates of 1960.  We teamed up with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics to present a special discussion on those historic and first-of-their-kind presidential debates between Vice President Richard Nixon and then Senator John F.  Kennedy, one of which took place in NBC's Washington studio that is now the home of MEET THE PRESS when we're actually back at our home studio.  We talked to journalists and staffers who were part of history 50 years ago about what happened behind the scenes and the significance of those debates on our political landscape today.  It's all on our Web site at  You can also follow me on Twitter at David Gregory, as well, for more on that and other topics.

That is all for today.  We'll be off next week for NBC sports coverage of the Ryder Cup golf tournament, but we'll be back the following week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.