United Teachers Los Angeles dukes it out with Mayor Villaraigosa over education reform
In a December speech heard around the halls of LAUSD, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa charged that United Teachers Los Angeles was the biggest obstacle to education reform. Ouch. With L.A. schools' dismal ranking and graduation rates, he implored the teachers union to join the education reform team. Rather than going the "united we stand, divided we fall" route, however, he embarrassed the union. From the full transcript:
When we fought to change the seniority-based layoff system that was disproportionately hurting our neediest students, the teachers union fought back.
When we fought to empower parents to turn around failing schools and bring in outside school operators with proven records of success, the teachers union fought back.
And now, while we try to measure teacher effectiveness in order to reward the best teachers and replace the tiny portion who aren't helping our kids learn, the teachers union fights back.
It's not easy for me to say this. I started out as an organizer for UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles), and I don't have an anti-union bone in my body. The teachers unions aren't the biggest or the only problem facing our schools, but for many years now, they have been the most consistent, most powerful defenders of the unacceptable status quo.
"These charges are all despicable lies," said Randy Childs, a teacher and UTLA member. In a commentary for SocialistWorker.com, he wrote, "[I]n the real world, UTLA fiercely supports -- and has spent years fighting for -- a whole array of school reforms that support student learning and would tremendously shake up the actual status quo in education."
Joining the backlash are UTLA chapter chair Kirti Baranwal and Gillian Russom. "Just because we oppose some of the ideas that the mayor calls 'reform' -- evaluating teachers based on student test scores, charter school takeovers and eliminating seniority protections -- he accuses our organization of opposing educational change," they wrote in Friday's Op-Ed. "We question whether his 'reforms' are intended to improve education or to scapegoat teachers. What we want instead are reforms that will allow us to better meet the needs of all of our students in the public schools. We ask the mayor, how is this a partnership when instead of helping to foster school-based reform, you use your position as a bully pulpit to attack our union?"
Whether Villaraigosa's speech will have any real impact remains to be seen. "He's the invisible man," a veteran of local government told Jim Newton for a recent column about the mayor. "He has no impact."
While UTLA and Villaraigosa engage in a tug-of-war, readers such as "tomdavis" have given up on our public schools. "We took our kids out of public schools and put them into a no-nonsense, no-frills private school," he writes on our discussion board. "They're getting a great education. I wanted my kids to go to public schools, but I can't allow them to be used as lab rats while government officials and the teachers unions try to figure out what went wrong."
-- Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in its Los Angeles bureau. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press