Sunday, June 10, 2007

LA Dreamin'

Some very instructive points in this article and George Schmidt's comment comparing the reactions of teacher unions in LA, Chicago and New York. Debbie Lynch won election originally with what seemed to be a reform agenda over the Chicago equivalent of Randi Weingarten's Unity Caucus, though Debbie also had long-time ties to Al Shanker.

AJ Duffy in LA also won election with a slate of various caucuses that defeated an incumbent leadership that could be viewed as a Unity Caucus equivalent. But Duffy and his team have very different political points of view than the leadership in NYC and have a long-term strategy as opposed to the very short-term goals of the UFT which always looks for the quick PR value and then runs on to the next big thing. And there's got to be a different mind set between dealing with a mayor in LA who was a teacher union organizer and Bloomberg. But the problem with handing over control of schools to a mayor is that you never know who you might end up with. That is why any governance plan requires some serious level of oversight.

From almost the day I started teaching I thought the school system (and the UFT) was in serious need of reform. To see the reform movement captured by the likes of BloomKlein and their allies like Eli Broad nationwide is due to a great extent to the collaboration people like Randi Weingarten and other union leaders who are always defensive about protecting teacher rights because they have no vision for how a school system should look and seem more intent on impressing the powers that be and the press as to how "cooperative" they can be.

Actually, I believe they are way more in line with the BloomKleins of this world than they are with the rank and file teachers. Look at the connections with the Clintons who have played a role in these "reform" movements that end up with teacher bashing. And follow the line to Clinton billionaire buddy Ron Burkle who tried to buy the Tribune newspaper chain with Eli Broad, who has so much praise for both BloomKlein and Weingarten (he gave the UFT charter schools $1 million.)

Some of our colleagues in TJC have contacts in LA and we will monitor what is happening out there.

George comments: 6/10/07
The reason Debbie Lynch was ousted was that she didn't heed the voices of the "rank and file" against these bullshit corporate "reforms." And she just lost her bid to get back into office by a huge margin because her opponents (the Chicago version of Unity) successfully portrayed her as having sold out the membership during her brief three years in office (2001 -2004). The fact it, the "mayoral control" model of corporate school reform that the newspapers all back was in place in Chicago for six years (1995-2001) under Chicago's version of Unity before Debbie ousted them by opposing their sellouts. The exciting thing in Los Angeles is that the leadership of UTLA can't fall prey to this phony fascist version of "reform" despite what all the New Democrats" and their media are saying if the membership remains active. As we know in Chicago and you've also learned in New York City, mayoral control is not in the interest of teachers, children, or democratic public schools. No matter how big the opening bribes are. Hopefully, the Los Angeles union will reverse its support based on how much we've learned already in Chicago and New York (and Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, and now New Orleans... among others).

George N. Schmidt Editor, Substance Chicago

Union leaders in a bind
Reform-minded UTLA chiefs struggle to win over teachers

With momentum growing for drastic reform at Los Angeles public schools driven by the superintendent and mayor, the politically powerful teachers union finds itself on the front lines of a potentially divisive battle.

United Teachers Los Angeles' own crew of reform leaders is walking a tightrope between privately backing reform efforts it has long sought, while publicly defending the rights of a rank-and-file that is being described as staunchly rigid and unaccepting of change.

Led by President A.J. Duffy, the small team of advisers is keenly aware that it must quickly and smoothly work to engender the support of its membership or risk jeopardizing the unprecedented alignment of leaders to spark a revolution at the beleaguered school district.

After decades of failed reforms, achievement scores lagging well behind the state averages and dropout rates estimated between 24 percent and 50 percent, the lives of more than 708,000 students and teachers hang in the balance - and with that, the health of the city itself.

"I don't think it's the union leadership any longer. It's a battle between the leadership being more reform-minded than the membership and the membership dragging down what the leadership wants to do in political and classroom advances," said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

"It's a tussle with the staunchly rigid rank-and-file where the reformers are on top, but they're being held back by a fear of change in the predominant majority of members."

Los Angeles teachers, who have been on the receiving end of countless promises while little has resulted from previous reform efforts, have become mistrustful of the district even as they have wielded considerable clout in district politics.

The divide is deep, especially in the wake of the backroom deal struck by the mayor with the union leadership to create Assembly Bill 1381, which would have given the mayor a substantial role in the school district.

Maclay Middle School algebra teacher Tim Henricks, who considers himself new to the profession with seven years experience, said what he sees is a membership divided, particularly between newer teachers and their more senior colleagues.

Younger teachers seem more receptive to ideas like charter schools or getting charter-like freedoms, while those who have been in the Los Angeles Unified School District system far longer may be more complacent.

"With charters, there's more freedom to do what you want without the LAUSD breathing down your neck. But the major concern is, what happens after five years and the issue (arises) of getting rid of teachers with just cause?

"It's the parents and the teachers - nothing really gets done without that, anything that's productive anyway, that moves in the right direction. Without our support, it's going to go nowhere."

Suspicious of reform
At Cleveland Humanities Magnet High, teachers have a long record of classroom success by working together closely to help students do well in core classes.

But they said that despite getting 40 percent of their graduates last year into University of California schools, they are facing increasing pressure to follow a standardized approach.
"Teachers are skeptical of the reforms that would seemingly help them because of all the strings attached," said Gabriel Lemmon, a 10th-grade philosophy teacher in the magnet program.

"Bureaucracy should fit itself around good teaching. Teaching should not fit itself around a bureaucracy."

For Duffy, the key to winning broad support for reform is local control.

"I've seen this district reorganize every 2 years for a new reform, and teachers are tired of putting their time and energy, their hearts and their souls into reforms that are not going to bring better student outcomes and more support for teachers in the classrooms and health and human service professionals at the school sites."

Mindful of election
With a union election coming next February, Duffy and his team will likely be treading carefully, especially with the district facing a deficit that might jeopardize its ability to win further increases on top of the 6 percent raise won this year.

"The union's leaders are not strongly moving forward with any reform agenda because it's a very fine line with the upcoming election," Regalado said.

And although AB 1381 is dead - defeated in the courts, with the mayor announcing he won't pursue appeals after he secured a majority on the school board - the sentiment of a "hostile takeover" is very much alive among the members who were split down the middle on support for the legislation.

As school board officials and the Mayor's Office are working quietly to develop a plan for Villaraigosa to oversee a "demonstration project" of low-performing schools, the union has sent a clear message to them: Let the schools come to you with the overwhelming consensus of teachers or we will be forced to oppose the move.

"The mayor has a nasty habit of jumping too quickly," said one official, who asked for anonymity. "What we're trying to get him to understand through back channels and get him to do is not move so quickly."

At a recent news conference announcing the mayor's decision to give up the legal fight for AB 1381, Deputy Mayor Ray Cortines emphasized that the mayor's team will not actively "pick" schools. Rather, it will look to schools that ask for the office's involvement.

Allaying fears
The mayor, a former UTLA organizer and committed union liberal, has insisted his agenda puts teachers first. He has formed an alliance with new Superintendent David Brewer III, won majority control of the school board control and embraced union leaders. But it will take all his powers of persuasion to assuage fears of the rank-and-file.

"The public schools in Los Angeles are not going to be able to change unless you have buy-in on the part of the teachers, administrators, and parents," said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.

"The fact that the mayor came out of the teachers union, and the fact that he's a very persuasive, charismatic leader, the potential still exists for the mayor to play an important role in shaping the discussion on how to best improve the schools in Los Angeles and getting buy-in from the teachers to make that happen."

Villaraigosa said he believes any reform effort has to come from the "ground up, not from the top down," and that the union is "key to any effort to reform our schools." He admitted there will be challenges with the union, but he repeatedly emphasized one point: his long-standing relationship with the powerful organization.

"I've got a long history with them and we go way back, and my expectation is that we'll be able to work just fine," he said. "Challenges are opportunities and I can't tell you that there won't be some challenges, but I can tell you that I've got a long history with them, a very, very long history, and I think it's one that will provide the foundation for a successful partnership."

Need for change
Brewer insists he wants to work with the union but also made clear he means those who share the reform vision.

"Believe it or not, there are people inside the union that really understand that they need to change, and we just have to work with those people," he said.

What the mayor, Brewer and the union are seeking to achieve are the same core reform concepts: Small schools, greater local autonomy with teachers and principals having more control over budget and curriculum, and streamlining the bureaucracy to redirect those funds to classrooms.

Few can deny that teachers would embrace all those ideas, but the key to getting their support will likely come down to the process and showing teachers they are valued as professionals who have something to say about the reform proposals.

Wong said with public education on the forefront of public discourse, teachers feel under attack.

"There is a concern on the part of many teachers that their input is not being fully appreciated, so they resent it when people use the discussion about school reform as an opportunity to make disparaging remarks about teachers, that it's their fault," Wong said.
Union leaders believe their fatal political misstep was the decision to strike the backroom deal on AB 1381 with the mayor without involving UTLA's governing bodies.

Now they are working hard to educate teachers about the different reform options and what they would mean to them.

"These changes cause so much uncertainty for many teachers - we're not the most revolutionary of folk - and uncertainty causes folks to get very conservative in their thinking," Cleveland High's Magnet Program coordinator Lemmon said.

"So I don't know. I hope that we do something, but it seems that bottom-up or top-down, at the end of the day, it all seems about the same."
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  1. I received thsi comment in an email:

    None of this makes sense to me; UTLA union long term goals? What are they? They were willing to make a back door deal to give over mayoral control and got nothing in return – in a situation where mayoral control made even less sense (and was unconstitutional) than in NYC – since the schools in the district range far beyond the city of LA.

    “What the mayor, Brewer and the union are seeking to achieve are the same core reform concepts: Small schools, greater local autonomy with teachers and principals having more control over budget and curriculum, and streamlining the bureaucracy to redirect those funds to classrooms.”

    Sounds like the BS Bloomberg PR. Local control means nothing unless you actually have the adequate resources (and space.) w/out these, its simply a cop-out by the administration and an attempt to put all responsibility on the school level. I am not convinced that the UTLA is any more progressive or far sighted – what’s the evidence?

  2. There is a different dynamic going on based on the politics of the leadership which has a more radical bent than the UFT plus the mayor's history of being a union activist.

    Maybe a lot more trust than one would have in Bloomberg plus I believe from other stuff way more of a commitment to building a more democratic union with an activist rank and file the totally opposite to what Randi wants to do. They also come from a place of running as part of a reform in the union and in the system - not like Unity which has been part of the system for 45 years
    These people did win -- sort of like what if ICE/TJC should ever win. We would probably have to tread carefully too given what happened to Debbie Lynch.

    It is a minefield but I could be wrong but also have a better sense of trust as to where these guys are going and their willingness to admit mistakes and backtrack.

    I know where Randi is going and it's deal making all around and no move to democratize the union. When one person makes all the decisions like Weingarten does there is always a bad result. As bad a result as when BloomKlein make all the decisions. We need checks and balances all around and when the entire UFT Ex Bd is on the payroll...


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