Mayor Villaraigosa attacks UTLAHe 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.