LA Mayor and rising star in the Democratic party, Antonio Villaraigosa, was in NYC recently and I had the pleasure of having lunch with him – I treated him at my favorite diner, 3 Guys. Here we are out front:
Though we share a passion for biking (as a method of urban transportation; I ride to work and meetings pretty much every day, rain or shine, 0 degrees or 100), we spoke mostly about ed reform and I was VERY impressed. He’s been a bold reformer since becoming mayor of our second-largest city in 2005, breaking with the teachers union in a BIG way despite (or perhaps because of?) his background as a union organizer. He’s become “Public Enemy Number One within the UTLA” for saying (among other things) “there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership.”
I have lots more to say about Mayor Villaraigosa below, but want to put in a quick plug: he needs our support right now to continue his reforms. Because he was unable to get mayoral control, the LA school board has a great deal of power and there’s a critical election taking place a week from Friday. The mayor is supporting a slate of three candidates in the election and, in particular, DFER is backing Mónica García, the current Board President. I just donated $1,000 to her and you can support her as well. Here’s an email from DFER-CA head, Gloria Romero:
Closing the achievement gap in the country’s second largest school district hinges on having a courageous school board. Fortunately, education warrior Mónica García boldly grabbed the helm of the Los Angeles (or LAUSD) board in 2006 and hasn’t looked back.
As board president, Mónica has been an unapologetic champion of parent empowerment. She is an advocate for the Parent Trigger, which enables parents to dramatically change schools that are persistently underperforming. She fought to create School Report Cards, so parents know the performance of their children’s schools. And she supports Open Enrollment policies, so parents can use that information to choose a great school. She sees education as the great civil rights issue of our time.
Mónica is up for reelection in less than three weeks and she faces a number of challengers.
This election is about more than choosing a board member – this election will dictate the future of education reform in the country’s second-largest school district. Status quo forces are strongly backing Mónica’s opponents, so Mónica needs our help!
The primary election is March 5th, so she needs your help right now. Thank you for supporting great schools by supporting Mónica García.
Sen. Gloria Romero (Ret.)
California Director, Democrats for Education Reform
Back to Mayor Villaraigosa… His reform efforts are made all the more effective by his remarkable personal story – this is the summary from Wikipedia.
Born Antonio Ramón Villar, Jr. in the City Terrace neighborhood of Los Angeles County's Eastside, Villaraigosa attended both Catholic and public schools. His father immigrated to America and became a successful businessman, but lost his wealth during the Great Depression. His young wife left him at this time. His father abandoned their family when Villaraigosa was 5 years old, and at age of 16, a benign tumor in his spinal column briefly paralyzed him from the waist down, curtailing his ability to play sports. His grades plummeted at Cathedral High School, and the next year, he was expelled from the Roman Catholic institution after getting into a fight after a football game. He later graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School after taking adult education classes there at night, and with the help of his English teacher, Herman Katz.
Note the line I underlined in bold: this is a guy who has broken with the teachers union in a big way, despite their material support in electing him, and despite him being “a field representative/organizer with the United Teachers Los Angeles” early in his career (I think for EIGHT YEARS, plus he was also the legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association). He is a uniquely powerful and effective critic of the unions because nobody can accuse him of being anti-union and because he was once one of them (sort of like Ravitch in reverse). Plus it helps that he doesn’t come from privilege and is Latino – as I’ve said many times before, and as I told him at lunch, “the biggest problem with our movement is that there are too many guys like me and not enough like you.”
By 1994, the popular Villaraigosa was departing for the state capitol, rocketed into a legislative seat by grateful teachers, not to mention the union's campaign contributions. Fellow legislators chose Villaraigosa to become the first-ever Latino Speaker. Back home in East Los Angeles, the teachers associations would spend over $1 million during his six-year tenure in Sacramento to ensure that Villaraigosa would be reelected.
"As Speaker, I was without question the number one advocate for the unions," Villaraigosa reminisced. Teacher pay hikes sailed through the legislature. He made sure that the push to hold educators accountable for results stopped short of challenging protection of dismal teachers and stymied efforts to send strong teachers into weak schools.
And here’s what Villaraigosa said in a speech later that year:
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.
You cannot have absolute seniority for assignments, transfers, and layoffs. We tried to work with the teachers union here in Los Angeles, and they refused to work with us, so we went to the ACLU. And the ACLU files a lawsuit based on Equal Protection which says "all the poor kids can't get the least senior teachers and we can't have a situation where the poorest communities in Los Angeles have the highest number of teachers that are laid off." That's not a fair situation. I'm not saying that we must completely eliminate it, but that cannot be the only criteria for dismissals. I was at KIPP academy the other day. They had a new teacher at Virgil, who had 97% of their students who were advanced in math. And that teacher was laid off. And now that teacher is at the KIPP academy, one of the best charter schools in Los Angeles. Performance has to be part of the layoff procedure. It can't all be seniority. Seniority can be a factor, but not the only factor."
Interestingly, while the teachers unions HATE him, other public-sector unions haven’t attacked him (perhaps because the children of many of their members are getting screwed by the system):
A mayor with deep roots in the labor movement now finds himself denounced in some quarters as a turncoat — a description he calls absurd.
"No one buys that turncoat stuff," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the other day at a union-sponsored event in Watts. "But I am challenging orthodoxies in a way that we have to."
The mayor's recent branding of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers union, as "one unwavering roadblock" to his effort to reform public schools has raised ire in organized labor circles, even though he began his political career as a union organizer.
But the criticism from unions that don't represent teachers has been relatively muted: Labor leaders from outside the very specific universe of schools seem to have little difficulty separating the mayor's comments on the incendiary education debate from his overwhelmingly pro-labor pedigree.
He’s also been outspoken on the need for meaningful teacher evaluation systems:
A brilliant speech by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in which he calls for California to lift its minimum years of employ to achieve teacher tenure from 2 to 4 years, and says he'd like to see it re-earned in subsequent years. He also calls for changes in the current evaluation process, expanding it to include multiple measures, including student growth.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of teachers at a Teach Plus townhall. This organization is doing some fantastic, innovative and progressive work in support of teachers. Their event was a real learning experience for me, and not just because I was surrounded by devoted educators!
Nearly everyone present agreed that in-class observation is a critical component to measuring teacher effectiveness. After learning that many principals never even set foot in the classroom, I asked teachers to raise their hands if they had ever been evaluated without any observation.
Nearly two-thirds of the hands in the room went up. I was shocked.
But when you consider that over 99% of teachers in LA Unified receive a satisfactory evaluation, you realize that the current system just isn't functioning the way it should. Or functioning at all. Think about it this way — if over 99% of students received "A" grades, wouldn't that "A" lose its meaning?
Of course it would.
The question we really should be asking is how can we expect teachers to excel in the classroom with minimal feedback and support? How can we expect schools to hold themselves accountable when we have absolutely no idea who is succeeding and who is falling short in the classroom? Most importantly, how can we expect students to achieve at the highest levels if we have no accurate measure of teacher effectiveness?
Our schools will never truly serve all students — and all teachers — until we have a robust and relevant teacher evaluation system
As this 2012 Washington Post article notes, Villaraigosa is in the vanguard of Democratic mayors across the country breaking with the teachers unions and standing up for kids (the article mentions DFER briefly):
As a young labor organizer in Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa worked for the city's teachers, honing his political skills in the fight for a good contract. The union loved him back, supporting the Democrat's election to the State Assembly, City Council and, finally, the mayor's office he occupies today.
But now, Villaraigosa, a rising star in the national Democratic party, has a different view. He calls the teachers union "the one, unwavering roadblock" to improving public education in L.A.
Villaraigosa is one of several Democratic mayors in cities across the country — Chicago, Cleveland, Newark and Boston, among them — who are challenging teachers unions in ways that seemed inconceivable just a decade ago.
"This is a very, very interesting political situation that is way counterintuitive," said Charles Taylor Kerchner, who has written two books about teachers unions.
At a time when most Americans believe that U.S. education is imperiled, and cities are especially struggling to improve schools, the tension between the mayors and the unions is causing a fundamental realignment of two powerful forces in urban politics.
In the clash over what is best for children, adults on both sides are gambling.
Most importantly, Villaraigosa hasn’t just been talking the talk, he’s been driving real reforms in LA that are making a HUGE difference for kids. Here is a summary of the remarkable progress in LA’s schools since Villaraigosa took office in 2005:
IMPROVING K-12 SCHOOLS IN LOS ANGELES: HIGHLIGHTS, 2005-2012
Los Angeles Unified School District
Funding, partnerships, and resources
Since 1996, voter-approved bond initiatives have brought in nearly $20 billion, allowing LAUSD to build 129 new schools and complete 65 school addition projects. This program is the largest public works project ever undertaken in the US after the nation’s highway system.
· Since 2005, LAUSD schools have improved in a number of areas:
o Parents now have more high quality school options. The number of charter schools has tripled, with a nine-fold increase in high-performing charters (800+ API). There has also been a proliferation of locally-empowered school models, including pilot schools, the Expanded School Based Management Model (ESBMM) and Local Initiative Schools (LIS).
o Through network partners, NCLB restructuring authority, Public School Choice (which fostered innovative instruction) and other focused school improvement efforts, 164 schools have undergone aggressive turnaround efforts.
o The number of LAUSD schools meeting the state academic performance goal (800 API) has more than doubled, while low-scoring schools (below 650 API) have been reduced from one in three to less than one in ten.
o LAUSD’s API has grown 96 points, rising from 649 to 745.
o Through the construction of new schools, 224 (of 227) schools have been relieved of overcrowding and returned to a two-semester calendar, gaining up to 17 additional days of instruction.
o The percentage of students proficient and advanced in ELA has risen from 27% in 2005 to 48% in 2012 (78% rate of increase) and in math from 29% in 2005 to 45% in 2012 (a 55% rate of increase).
o The percentage of 10th graders passing the high school exit exam (CAHSEE) on their first try has increased from 50% to 67%.
o LAUSD third grade reading proficiency has increased to 43% in 2012, almost double the 2005 rate of 22%.
o The four-year cohort graduation rate has climbed from 48% in 2008 to 64% in 2012.
o The number of instructional days lost to suspensions plummeted 65% since 2007-08, from 75,000 to 26,000. Among African American and Latino students, the number has been reduced by two-thirds.
Empowerment and accountability
· LAUSD-UTLA approved a new contract that allows for charter-like flexibilities at every school and empowers teachers to lead the effort to improve schools.
· In the SY 12-13 every school site administrator in the district (over 1,000) and over 1,000 teachers are participating in the evaluation pilot system.
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
Founded by Mayor Villaraigosa in 2008, the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is a collaboration between the City of Los Angeles and LAUSD to turn around LA’s lowest performing schools. It is the largest public school turnaround project in the nation, serving nearly 16,000 students across 22 schools in the city’s poorest communities.
· In 2012, the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools was number one in the State in terms of API growth, relative to all districts serving 3500 or more students. The Partnership's API score grew by 34 points, outpacing both LAUSD, which grew by 16 points, and the state, which grew by 10 points.
· In 2012, Jordan had the highest API increase (93 points) of any high school in LAUSD. The highest of any medium or large high school in the state.
· Over the past four years, Partnership schools have shown improvements in a number of areas:
o API scores have increased 84 points.
o Attendance rates have increased from 91% to 93%. Suspension rates have decreased from 12% to 7%.
o High school exit exam pass rates for 10th graders have increased from 40% to 57%, faster than the rate of increase for LAUSD.
o Graduation rates have increased from 36% to 50% at the Partnership’s original schools (excludes Jordan). With Jordan, graduation rates have increased from 36% to 46%.
· The Partnership has prioritized family and community engagement, enabling over 25,000 instances of parent and community participation since 2009.
o Opened Parent College in all Partnership neighborhoods. Over 1,400 parents have participated to date.
o Established Family Action Teams at all Partnership campuses and refurbished most parent centers.
· The Partnership has piloted and exported innovations now implemented throughout LAUSD:
o Reed v. California protects 44,000 students at 45 schools from disproportionate teacher layoffs annually.
o LAUSD rolled out the school report card at all schools.
o LAUSD began testing all second graders students for the Gifted and Talented Program.
o LAUSD implemented Apex online credit recovery, allowing students who fail classes to recover credit and get back on track to graduate.
o LAUSD implemented MyData, a data system providing information on student progress to education staff in order to monitor student performance and intervene when students fall behind.
o LAUSD expanded the per pupil funding model to other schools beyond the Partnership.
o LAUSD created a Family Summit modeled after Parent College, launched a Parent Compact; set aside $20 million to upgrade parent centers; adopted the family action team model.
· The Partnership has raised more than $72 million and has partnered with over 85 organizations to support key initiatives.