As a former organizer for the teachers union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, one might think that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would pull his punches when addressing the problems of the nation’s second largest school district, and the largest in California.
Instead, at a Sacramento conference sponsored by the nonpartisan group, the Public Policy Institute of California, he placed blame squarely on the union saying that its leaders were “the most powerful defenders of the status quo.” The UTLA represents 45,000 teachers and other staff employees in Southern California.
While the Los Angeles Unified School District has struggled in recent years with rising operating deficits and falling student population, the biggest obstacle in improving the quality of education, according to Villaraigosa, has been the teachers union. In 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, the LAUSD high school graduation rate was 40.6%–the second worst rate in the country.
Villaraigosa said that the union consistently fought any proposal that would allow nonprofits and other organizations to start new schools in Los Angeles, even though they far outperform conventional public schools in the district. The UTLA has also blocked any proposed changes in the tenure system, making it nearly impossible to fire teachers who are performing poorly.
In a panel discussion after Villaraigosa’s speech, California Teachers Association President David Sanchez blamed the state, instead of accepting the challenge for reform. He said that teachers were having to deal with budget cuts and lack of resources adding “why would you go into the profession because there is a strong possibility you’re going to lose your job.’
Apparently Sanchez has never been in the real world, where there’s always the possibility of losing your job–especially if it’s done poorly.