Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Palace Revolt in Los Angeles?

A long story about the ed wars in LA, in particular how and why Mayor Villaraigosa broke with the unions:

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.

Fast-forward to 2010 and Villaraigosa finds himself in the vortex of a political torrent. "I'm Public Enemy Number One within the UTLA," he told me. In his quest to turn around the schools, the mayor has united working-class Latino parents, civil rights leaders, and big-money Democrats to challenge union leaders. "It's been a war," he said. "It's a war I'm willing to wage." After a series of bloody battles against his old union friends, including a 2007 loss in the courts, the mayor gained the upper hand last fall when the L.A. school board passed a radical reform plan that he helped to craft. Over the next few years, the district intends to hand off one-third of its 800-plus campuses to managers of charter schools, other nonprofits, and inventive district educators.

Democratic leaders have enriched the unions over the past half century, creating millions of jobs for dues-paying teachers, feeding the building trades via school construction, and granting bargaining rights to teachers in the 1970s. But union leaders, of late, find themselves on the far edge of the national debate over how to lift students and their flagging schools. Test scores have largely stalled in recent years and gaps have widened slightly, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Labor chiefs are openly miffed over President Obama's offer of moral support and billions of federal dollars to escalate the "war" being waged by Villaraigosa and his fellow mayors. "In a place like L.A. or Detroit, where the public schools are dysfunctional," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told me, "I don't think that the system can by itself go where it has to go. You have to rally all elements of the community. The person who can rally all those actors is the mayor."

Villaraigosa is not the only city chief to take charge of urban schools. But his battle for mayoral control in Los Angeles offers a cautionary tale for all sides. It reveals new tensions between teachers union leaders and Democratic mayors. But charter school enthusiasts should not expect that close alliance, nurtured over many years, to be disrupted overnight. Politicians are highly skilled at finding a middle ground between demands for reform and protection of old connections. As much as Villaraigosa—and the school superintendent with whom he is allied—have appeared committed to rapid charter school expansion, when the L. A. school board took decisive action in February, charters were forced to settle for much less than they expected. Instead of getting the lion's share of the schools they sought, charters were left with only four. Newly formed teacher groups won the vast majority of school contracts after they formed an alliance with UTLA. The charters were left with their tongues hanging out.


Palace Revolt in Los Angeles?

Charter school and Latino leaders push unions to innovate

By Bruce Fuller  

Summer 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 3, Education Next

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