Mayor Villaraigosa attacks UTLA

He calls for evaluation, seniority, tenure reform

Los Angeles Mayor Antionio Villaraigosa, who cut  his teeth organizing for United Teachers of Los Angeles, unloaded on the union in a speech Tuesday at a conference in Sacramento sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Characterizing the UTLA union leadership as “one, unwavering roadblock to reform,” the mayor called on the union to come to “the reform table, ready with ideas” – specifically to change tenure laws and teacher evaluations, which he called currently “meaningless.” He disparaged the process of awarding tenure, a system of complex due process rights, to 97 percent of teachers after only two years on the job.

Villaraigosa has tangled with the UTLA before, most recently when he supported the ACLU in filing suit to block layoffs by seniority that decimated young staffs in some of the 21 low-performing schools the mayor brought under his control through his Partnership Through Los Angeles Schools. But his remarks were unusually confrontational for a mayor who, along with other leading Democrats, has steadfastly allied himself with organized labor. Villaraigosa directly referred to the growing split between teachers unions and Democrats who are calling for school reforms on behalf of another core group of Democratic constituents: minorities and low-income voters.

While reaffirming his support for the right of workers to unionize and bargain, he added, “… union leaders need to take notice that it is their friends, the very people who have supported them and the people whom they have supported, who are carrying the torch of education reform and crying out for the unions to join them.”

Villaraigosa called “our unsound, unstable and insufficient school finance system and our lack of a meaningful evaluation system to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom” two of the biggest problems facing public schools.

But even with an effective evaluation system, he said, “we cannot continue to automatically guarantee lifetime employment to all teachers, nor can we make decisions about assignments, transfers and layoffs solely on the basis of seniority. Tenure and seniority must be reformed or we will be left with only one option: eliminating it entirely.”

In a panel discussion (which I moderated) following Villaraigosa’s speech, California Teachers Association  President David Sanchez said that classroom teachers should not be blamed for problems that have been caused by devastating budget cuts. And he warned that the current school environment, heightened by layoffs, would scare off  potential teachers needed to replace the 100,000 teachers who will retire in the next decade.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Mike Hanson, another panelist, said that if forced to make a binary choice, he’d side with the mayor. But it shouldn’t come down to that. Lasting progress in Fresno has resulted through collaboration with teachers, with a common focus on student achievement, he said.

And Stanford University School of Education professor Linda Darling-Hammond said she was taken aback by Villaraigosa’s reference to eliminating the process in which bad teachers get pushed from school to school. “This isn’t just about doing away with the ‘Dance of the Lemons,’ it is about chopping down the trees that grow bad lemons,” the mayor said.

Darling-Hammond said that teachers should be trained and professionally supported to develop skills and good teaching practices. A good orchardist carefully feeds, prunes and cultivates a harvest – and doesn’t arbitrarily cut down 10 percent of the trees in the orchard every year, she said.

UTLA President A. J. Duffy issued the following response to Villaraigosa’s speech, as reported in Jack Chang’s blog in the Sacramento Bee: “Schools succeed when everyone – parents, teachers, school districts, and the community – work together. UTLA has and continues to work in collaboration with all stakeholders. Pointing fingers and laying blame does not help improve our schools. UTLA will continue our partnership with all parties to overcome the devastating effects of the  budget cuts on the education program for our students.”

That commitment notwithstanding, the UTLA and CTA are said to be gearing up for a multi-million dollar campaign next year to oust reformers on the Los Angeles Unified school board.

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  1. PPIC should have given the time alloted to Antonio Villaraigosa’s corrosive personal attack of UTLA leadership to Linda Darling-Hammond.

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  2. It amazes me that teachers are blaming the current budget cuts for the low academic achievement of low-income kids and kids of color.  These kids werent learning when the schools had money!  I understand that the current fiscal crisis isnt making things any easier – and I empathize – but lets get real about which populations do not get served regardless of the cash flow.  Additionally – I am growing weary of it not being anybody’s fault that these kids are getting pushed out of our schools prepared for life on the sidelines of America.  Adults need to stop bantering about who is and who isnt to blame and get about the business of TEACHING kids.  And Im sorry, but if you are a teacher – your job is to teach.  If kids arent learning – whose fault is it exactly???

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  3. There are neighborhood, non-charter schools in California that serve demographically-diverse, income-challenged, high English-language-learner, low Parent-Education-Level communities and that achieve high Academic Performance Index results.  The best practices at those schools can and should be highlighted.

    It’s not about bashing teachers or bashing the budget or bashing the list of “we don’t have enough” this or that.  Yes, California underfunds our schools.  Yes, we’re looking at even greater cutbacks in coming years.  Yes, class sizes are growing.  Yes, we have an achievement gap of painful proportions.

    Nonetheless, there are neighborhood non-charter schools performing at high test score levels even when indicators would lead one to expect such schools would perform at lower test score and proficiency levels.

    We all should hold every local elected official accountable to know which schools in their communities are over-achieving and which are under-achieving based on each school’s demographics.  It’s not that difficult to learn about the schools in one’s community.   Just head over to  Click “Accountability Progress Reporting” and demand that your city council members, community college trustees and even your local planning commissioners are aware of what’s going on in your hometown.  And, ask them to champion successes and to seek to shore up underperformance.  There absolutely are some neighborhood non-preferential admission schools that serve ALL local kids and demonstate outstanding proficiency levels – even with income, language and parent education challenges.

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  4. The time to worry about the “achievement gap” for poor children is when they show up in Kindergarten. Kids don’t show up to school playing on a level academic playing field.

    Our EL population could achieve more if CA had high quality bilingual education available.  The CA voters, seeming to channel Arizona, in its wisdom made that a near impossibility. There is no reason for kids to be sitting on ther content-area hand for the 5 to 7 years it takes to master cognitive-academic English.

    Teachers do teach and students do learn; however, starting behind and losing more learning during breaks means most poor and EL kids never catch up. Of course, to even mention socio-economic factors is: “making excuses.” This charge is made in a frenzied effort to insure no one mentions that efforts to eliminate even some of the scoio-economic differences will take resources and that takes revenue. Yikes! That means taxes. We know how far efforts to get the wealthy to pay their fair share will go. CA will continue to lag in class size, counselors, librarians, books and all that comes as a consequence of being 48th (or 50th?) in cost-of-living weighted dollars per child for K12 education.

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  5. Yes, Gary. Mentioning socio-economic factors is making excuses. Without the quotes.
    Perhaps you should re-read what Chri9s Stampolis wrote just ahead of you — there are schools that do much better than their socio-economic profile wold suggest. Simply search among schools with 10  on their similar school API ranks. But many don’t, and you are making excuses for them. Whether you think so or not.
    It is bad enough to argue that schools cannot do anything for 13 years to close the achievement gap for kids that show up with it in Kindergarten. It is worse when  many schools just make this gap grow larger every year.  California educational gaps did not suddenly appear in the last few years when our revenues dropped. California educational gaps did not close when California had its fat seven years around the turn of the millennium.  So, yet again, you are making excuses. Whether you admit it or not.

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  6. I don’t think Gary is making excuses – The ELL issue is huge.  But we can’t go back to the old bilingual programs (I’m sure Gary would agree with this).
    We need high quality English Language Development programs, plus a better, more effective form of “bilingual education” that the Chinese communities have been doing for years…
    Saturday School!
    Many Chinese communities in Los Angeles County have learned over the years that it would be extremely difficult districts to provide Chinese-language support – so they send their kids to Saturday school.  No, these parents aren’t rich – just organized.
    In Saturday school, the kids learn to read and write in Chinese (L1 Language Development), then they get tutoring in reading, writing and math in English and Chinese.
    Districts would be smart to visit and learn from these Saturday schools and help the Latino community organize Spanish/English bilingual Saturday schools.

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