Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Los Angeles Mayor Has An Epiphany

This is an article I never expected to write. Least of all did I expect to write it about a Democratic mayor of a town that has become hopelessly divided along racial, ethnic and class lines. Liberals have had control of city hall for decades, and the left wing has been successful in pitting people against each other, gaining power with the class and ethnic warfare. Most of all, the Democratic power structure is joined at the hip with the unions.

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa became about as popular as a skunk at a Democratic-Union picnic. Announcing a fact that conservatives and real teachers have known for years, Villaraigosa spoke the words that place him in the category of bold warrior or damned fool, depending on your point of view. Former lifelong union employee turned politician, Villaraigosa dropped the following bombshell: "At every step of the way, when Los Angeles was coming together to effect real change in our public schools, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) was there to fight against the change and the slow pace of reform."

This took me back to my teenage years when Republican Max Rafferty ran for state superintendent of public schools and won by a landslide on the platform of restoring the Three R's and dropping what he called "in-groupness" from the curriculum. That far back, a politician could see that California education had ceased to be education and was being replaced with social engineering and making kids feel good about themselves. The difference is that in those days, the majority of the people of California actually wanted their children to get educated, and they would take care of socializing them at home and in the churches. Villaraigosa in today's California entitlement/multi-culti/group therapy culture may be shoveling sand against the tide (aren't you proud of me for cleaning that one up?).

Much of what passes for teaching in the L.A. public schools is just plain nonsense. And the nonsense is perpetuated largely by the teachers' union. There are always a few dedicated teachers who deviate from the norm, but far too many of the union teachers went into teaching because it didn't really require anything much of them. Many are so poorly-educated themselves that they are incapable of teaching a core subject adequately. Few actually have a degree in the subject they are teaching, while most have degrees in education (whatever that means). I grew up in and attended top-notch public schools in which dedicated teachers taught the subjects they majored in at college. They saw their jobs as a calling, not a money-for-nothing scheme. None belonged to a union, and tenure was quite a different thing in those days.

Today, teacher performance and student success are minor considerations when compared to teacher perks and pay-scales. As the attached photo demonstrates, teachers unions have developed a mantra about "tests are not a measure of success." They would, since standardized testing is an objective measure that is a very good way of determining if the students are learning anything and if the teachers are teaching anything. Standardized tests are a very fine measure of success, but all thinking people know they are not the only measure. They just happen to be the only measure which puts objectively determinable standards at the forefront. The propagandizers and semi-illiterates who comprise the teachers' union would be out of work if Los Angeles were to abandon its loyalty to tenure and collective bargaining as substitutes for accomplishment.

Needless to say, the UTLA has been vociferous and vicious in its opposition to the mayor's cost-cutting, deadwood-removing, anti-teachers' union stance. "Turncoat" is about the nicest thing they've called him. Always the politician, Villaraigosa launched his attack at a very smart juncture. The head of the UTLA is stepping down, and a majority of the school board will be up for re-election. Anti-reform unionists are not sitting in the catbird seat this time around. At stake is the future of the second-largest school district in the nation, and the one with the largest Hispanic population. So the union is painting Villaraigosa as a "race traitor" as well.

Villaraigosa also made himself the target of the unions by signing on to the statement of Ted Mitchell, president of the California Board of Education: "All of these changes create a real opportunity for us to focus on solutions and to stop talking about whether we are going to move forward bu how we are going to move forward." And then Mitchell spoke the hated words: "Rigor, high expectations and the transparent use of date in everything from performance evaluations to individual instruction have got to be supported now at the local level. That's the reform position and should be rigorously pursued."

The response from the unions is largely: "Standards? We don't need no stinking standards." To which Villaraigosa has replied: "The most powerful defenders of the [failed] status quo are the teachers' unions. They intimidated people, especially Democrats, from doing anything about reform." Turning Mitchell's and Villaraigosa's very clear agenda on its head, UTLA vice-president Joshua Pechthalt misstates the case: "[Villaraogosa's agenda] threatens to turn back the clock on historic gains made in public education, removing the process for teachers and switching to a system of evaluation for teachers that is subjective, not objective." That kind of illogic combined with an outright lie tells you why Villaraigosa knows the the L.A. public schools are in serious trouble.

And then comes the standard entitlement left-wing language: "We reject the notion that real reform has to come at the expense of the rights of teachers and other educators." The "rights" Pechthalt is talking about are the rights to do a lousy job, get paid handsomely for it, obtain retirement benefits worth twice as much as the private sector with full retirement coming at a much earlier time, and to have a job for life regardless of any and all failures on the part of the teachers.

Villaraigosa has found to his dismay that his former tactics of attempting reform without naming names and calling out the roadblocks simply didn't work. For being a gentleman, the mayor was rewarded with vilification and epithets. He decided that his private battle with the instransigent union needed to go public, and he picked an excellent time to do so. The Los Angeles Times had just confirmed Villaraigosa's personal beliefs about the sorry state of the Los Angeles schools by publishing the analysis of the performances of thousands of teachers based on student test scores. That publication was something that had never been done before with any other large school system, and the results were miserable.

The battle-lines have been drawn, and term-limited Mayor Villaraigosa shows no signs of pulling back. He has seen a trend that showed up as a complete surprise in San Francisco a few years back. The multi-cultis were sure that bilingual education was highly popular in San Francisco, and got blind-sided by Filipino and Chinese groups that insisted that courses be English-only. They outright rejected classes in Mandarin, Cantonese and Tagalog. Some of Villaraigosa's strongest support is coming from Hispanic groups that feel strongly that their children are being short-changed by incompetent teachers and programs that experiment on their children. I wish the mayor every success.


Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - it is a real treat to see an epiphany the magnitude of this one. Teacher's unions which, as Ann Coulter has pointed out, make up the majority of attendees at a Democratic presidential nominating convention represent everything bad about both unions and education. Thanks for your oost.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: Teacher's unions are the best argument there is for getting rid of unions in all public employment. You can have civil service safety and merit tenure or nothing. Tenure was the best protection teachers had because it had to be earned. Now, all they have to do is fail long enough, and they get tenure simply for having stayed on the job for a given number of years. Nothing beats that for perpetuation of incompetence. It's also time to divorce public employee pensions from the public treasury. Chris Christie, anyone?

AndrewPrice said...

Teachers unions standing in the way of education reform? Say it ain't so! That even Democrats would say this publicly, truly is a strange new world. I wonder if they're just talking or if they're willing to do something about it?

Unknown said...

Andrew: I don't know about Democrats in general, but now that the information is out about how long Villaraigosa has been battling the unions privately, I think he at least really means what he says. The union made it a public fight because they wouldn't yield on anything, so he's letting the public know that he can't do this alone. I have many reservations about Villaraigosa, but on this one, I think he's for real.

StanH said...

This is a hard fact that municipalities across America are facing, you can’t give what you don’t have. I most interested in watching Moonbeam work his special magic, will he face reality, or with there be “bread & circuses?” We’ll be watching, and maybe snickering.

Unknown said...

Stan: I may think Gov. Moonbeam belongs in a rubber room, but at least he's always interesting. He was tougher on crime in Oakland than his predecessor or his successor despite it raising screams of racial profiling. He owes his current position to the unions, but since he waits for Buddha or somebody to give him his next inspiration, he's not the type who gets bought and stays bought. It's going to be an interesting four years.

Knowing the mindset of a cuckoo like Brown, it may simply be "bread and water."

t said...

I do not understand why we do not have more Commentarama comments on this subject.
Education is so important.
Are the rest of the family sleeping?
I read this blog because there are some very erudite folks who comment. I want to see more responses and points to ponder. If ponderable points aren't up then some views that expand on the issue would be great.

Education is what made our country what it has become and lack there of will surly be our demise.

T_Rav said...

Seems like a perfect time to repeat the old joke: "Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach education."

And to second t, I would love to see some more posts on this site regarding the sorry state of education. The schools are where all this crap begins, and I've seen more than my share of it in the past few years. The asinine dribble that passes for liberal arts in our high schools and colleges has got to stop.

Unknown said...

T: I appreciate your comment. Andrew and I both occasionally get frustrated when articles about subjects close to our hearts don't seem to get the attention we would like. It's part of what makes life interesting, and reminds us that what we consider important may not be the same thing that someone else finds important. Still, I hope we do receive a few more comments, at least from our regulars, since I do find the destruction of our public schools and the bankrupting of our state for overpaid "teachers" and their outrageous retirement benefits to be a top-level issue.

Speaking of which, did everyone notice that the Muslim teacher in Berkeley who wanted three weeks off to attend the Haj was fired when she refused to accept the school board's "no." Even the fools in Berkeley thought the request was completely out-of-line. But our brilliant US Attorney General doesn't, so DOJ has filed a civil rights action against the Berkeley School District. Boy--is that a falling-out among thieves.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: I'm going to add that to my list of truisms. We have discussed the sorry state of public school education in the past, but I think that perhaps I haven't done enough. I will attempt to be more diligent in following the goings-on in the public schools and the teachers' unions.

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