Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Villaraigosa breaks with unions

The second piece of big news from CA is that LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was once the legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association and a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles, broke with the unions in a MAJOR way:

Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership.

While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo. I do not say this because of any animus towards unions. I deeply believe that teachers' unions can and must be part of our efforts to transform our schools. Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.

The full speech is below and here's one commentary on it:


Villaraigosa's game-changing speech

By Joe Mathews

Journalist and Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).

Wed, December 8th, 2010

The most significant speech given by a California politician this year was LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's address to a PPIC conference in Sacramento on Tuesday.

Villaraigosa is a former employee of two giant California teachers' unions. He is one of the state most important Democratic politicians, and certainly its most prominent Latino one -- in a state that is Democratic politically and increasingly Latino. And despite all of that, he gave a speech calling out teachers' unions as the strongest obstacles to education reform.

This one is worth clipping and saving. It could be a career ender for Villaraigosa. Or it could launch him to statewide office later this decade. Either way, you'll be hearing about this speech again. The full text of Villaraigosa's speech is below.

And here's an editorial in the Sacramento Bee:

Ally of teachers sends union a strong message

Published: Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 16A

California's about to turn a page, perhaps, with new leadership in state government.

A major indicator of a new direction, or business-as-usual, will be education, the state's No. 1 constitutional responsibility.

At a Tuesday gathering of 300 political leaders and policy experts on California's future, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, the first panel aptly was titled, "Education: The Future Starts Here."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa set the tone of urgency. This gathering came on the same day the state announced that one in every four students drops out. As Villaraigosa observed, we have to ask "whether we are actively creating a second class of citizens."

His speech, above all, was a call to action.

"What is stopping us from changing direction?" he asked. "Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action?"

His answer: "There has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform." Leaders in the teachers unions have "consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo."

This comes from a man who was the legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association and a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles.

It is a sign that the landscape may be changing. As Villaraigosa put it, "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."

Let's set something straight. The unions may have clout, but legislators and the governor vote and sign legislation. Their task is to take on two big issues: "our unsound, unstable and insufficient school finance system," in Villaraigosa's words, and teacher effectiveness.

People have talked for years about simplifying school finance so that the state provides a base level for each child, plus additional funding for students with special or high needs. OK, do it. Get beyond the sacred cow of Proposition 98, which is not working. Its complexity alone is a deep flaw.

And let's stop tiptoeing around teacher effectiveness. Villaraigosa laid out the challenge to the state: Start measuring performance meaningfully – including growth in student performance from the beginning of a school year to the end. Stop making decisions about assignments, transfers and layoffs based solely on seniority. With "last in, first out" policies, we're losing too many excellent young teachers.

He directly challenged teachers. "Work with us," he said in a Wednesday interview, "or tenure and seniority will be eliminated."

Villaraigosa believes that if any state can "turn indifference into action, it is California." Well, maybe. A tightly focused education agenda will take heavy lifting – from parents, local civic leaders and local elected officials who know that education is the key to California's future prosperity and quality of life.

It will take courageous teachers stepping forward who know, in their hearts, that simply defending the status quo is not a solution.

Above all, real change will take leadership from incoming Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers. The new year and the opportunity for a new political start are upon us.

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