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Poverty plays role in ho-hum global ranking of US students, educator says

'Things like poverty ... really matter,' Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says in assessing results of international student achievement tests. To do better, the US needs to value public education more, she adds.

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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on Dec. 4, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Michael Bonfigli/ The Christian Science Monitor

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Randi Weingarten has served as president of the American Federation of Teachers, a 1.5 million-member union, since 2008. Ms. Weingarten was the guest at the Dec. 4 Monitor Breakfast.

The Monitor: What do the results indicate from the latest achievement tests for 15-year-olds worldwide?

Weingarten: "What does it say that the United States is pretty much in the middle of the pack on mathematics, science, and English?... No. 1, it says that things like poverty ... really matter."

How can the US boost test results? 

"The countries that outcompete us ... deeply respect and value public education. [The US also needs to be] preparing teachers, supporting teachers [and parents who] are really engaged, not just told what to do."

What do you think of the ruling in Detroit's bankruptcy case that public pensions are not protected?

"The ruling is very troubling morally and ... it is wrong legally and obviously it will be appealed.... The deferred wages that people expected ... all of a sudden they don't have."

What is the significance of the rollout of Common Core State Standards in 45 states and Washington, D.C.?

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"The governors and the state [education] chiefs were right about saying let's figure out a set of standards ... aligned to what kids need to know.... This is what didn't happen." 

How should teachers address bullying in schools? 

"The fear of being yourself is something that we ... really have to be mindful of every single day that we teach."

What role do teachers play in students' lives?

"We are physicians of the mind. We are who unlocks a future for kids."

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