Friday, June 18, 2010


By Ken Alpern: ALPERN AT LARGE | l..A.  City Watch – an insiders look at City Hall - Vol 8 Issue 48 |

ImageJune 18, 2010 -- Increasingly, the concept of a quality education is taking hold on America's collective consciousness as being the most important civil right for students of all colors and backgrounds.  Increasingly, the concept of education being "all about the kids" is similarly dominating the thoughts and actions of politicians and educational leaders as new policies and paradigms are explored and implemented.

Unfortunately, the UTLA has made it all too clear that they have a much different agenda.

I'm not really certain whether A.J. Duffy or any of his cronies at UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles, the union of public teachers for the City of Los Angeles) have any problems sleeping at night over antagonizing every parent, teacher, public official or other education advocate with their persistent obstruction to union reform.  But they oughtta.

Maybe it's from being cloistered in the insulated, tone-deaf universe that Duffy and the UTLA leadership have lived in for so long, and maybe it's from getting everything they've wanted from the voters and the Sacramento legislature for so long, but increasingly parents and politicians and community groups have had it with the UTLA.

And let me make something crystal clear:  we need to distinguish between the majority of teachers, who give tirelessly to our children and deserve more support, versus the "it's all about us" teachers' unions like UTLA and their counterparts at the state level.

When the economy was good, the rich fled to private schools and paid up to $25,000 a year just to give kids the basics. 

Others of all racial and economic groups paid major coin (probably more than normally could afford) to purchase a home in a quality school district (even a smaller home than they'd ideally want). 

Now we just see schools working with parents to directly pay for the basics and the trimmings for what these parents would reasonably expect their taxes to already pay for.  In other words, parents who love their children normally will do just about ANYTHING for their well-being, including Mayor Villaraigosa and President Obama who are increasingly confronting regressive unions such as UTLA.

Don't blame Bush anymore--he's long gone and even he tried throwing a wad money at education in return for some measure of transparency and accountability, whether we might agree with "No Child Left Behind" or not.  Schwarzenegger tried reforming the ossified tenure process, which rewards seniority and personal influence over the true quality that parents and classroom teachers all knew about and strove for...but he got shot down.

I wonder what would happen if Schwarzenegger reintroduced that same tenure reform proposition this year?

And are Obama and Villaraigosa noted union bashers?

What is certain is that Bush, Schwarzenegger, Obama and Villaraigosa, all men from different socioeconomic and political and ideological backgrounds, were and are individuals who (whether you love or hate their politics or personal lives) have always been fiercely devoted to their children.  I dare anyone of any political background to prove to me otherwise.

And parents who are devoted to their children don't take ANY threat to their children lying down, even if they're teachers unions who have gone astray and have become as self-serving as the overgrown and overfed entities that we see on Wall Street and Big Oil.

It's not really hard to figure out to fix most of the budgetary problems in our city, state and country with respect to achieving cost-effective, quality education:  WE FIRE THE BUREAUCRATIC DEADWEIGHT, INCENTIVIZE QUALITY, GIVE RAISES TO TEACHERS WHO GET THE JOB DONE AND PINK SLIPS TO THOSE WHO DON'T, AND ENHANCE EITHER PUBLIC OR CHARTER SCHOOL TEACHER-PARENT PARTNERSHIPS.

Yet it's issues like the current tenure process, and the current legal and bureaucratic inability to excise poorly-behaving tenured teachers from their fiefdoms, while placing wonderful teachers who might have less seniority at risk for losing their jobs.  Wealthier or more connected neighborhoods might keep their teachers by raising Cain when a heroic teacher is at risk of getting cut, but the same cannot be said for poorer communities.

Hence the civil rights lawsuit, court injunction and other procedural efforts to prevent quality teachers from being cut at less wealthy schools who have a greater number of Latino and African American students.  It's all about the kids, which unfortunately Mr. Duffy and the UTLA have forgotten.

It's all about ensuring that a first-rate education to give a child a fighting chance at being an educated and prosperous American adult, that makes education THE civil rights issue for the 21st Century.

Thankfully, the LAUSD Board just passed 5-1 a motion (LINK) introduced by LAUSD Boardmember Yolie Flores to at least symbolically block the practice of basing layoffs only on seniority while making it easier to fire bad teachers. 

Tenured and experienced teachers who are known successes have NOTHING to fear with respect to their jobs, but so, too, should successful teachers who have less seniority (and who are often more likely to take on the challenges of schools in poorer neighborhoods) enjoy the same lack of fear while they fight to educate even the most difficult of students to teach.

Of course, Duffy et al continue to claim that we already have the ability to dump teachers that misbehave or underperform, and that seniority doesn't get in the way of making quality decisions in teacher staffing and school placement. 

Well, the public just doesn't buy that, anymore, Mr. Duffy.  The public also just told both political parties to take a hike and voted in open primaries...and, in the process, told public unions (such as teachers unions) and business/special interests to take a hike as well.

Again, it must be asked:  what if, now that the distracting President Bush is gone, the state could revisit the tenure reform proposal that Governor Schwarzenegger failed to pass several years ago?

Again, it must be asked:  whether one hates or loves Mayor Villaraigosa and President Obama, why are these union stalwarts taking on teachers unions?

And finally, it again must be asked:  whose rights are more important, those of tenured teachers who've concluded they no longer need to prove themselves, or the students in their classrooms who deserve the best teachers (regardless of seniority) that we can possibly get...and keep?

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently co-chairs its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it       The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)   -cw


●● smf's 2¢: Mr. Alpern makes some good arguments and frames them in some fuzzy thinking – based on the flawed premise that bad teachers are the problem with public education. I won’t argue that some teachers are bad and shouldn’t be teaching. But to somehow identifying all the bad teachers – the lazy, inept, unprepared, un-or-under qualified - is to focus our attention on a piece of the problem at the exclusion of the myriad problems, challenges and opportunities in American Public Education.

If we frame the issue as Bad Teachers and the solution as being done with them we have taken the George Bush/Karl Rovian misdirected path of fighting Evildoers with Magic Bullets. And just as certainly symbolic gestures and resolutions ain’t gonna cut it.

Alpern actually proves my point in his paragraph #3, accusing Duffy and his cronies  of persistent obstruction to union reform.  It isn’t and cannot be about about “Union Reform”; it is and must be about “Education Reform”.

The funding. The class sizes. The curriculum. The opportunities. Technology. Parent and community involvement and empowerment. Accountability. Transparency. Best  practices. And at the risk of going all puritan: Hard work.

Yes, the UTLA Contract seems to be overarching governing document of LAUSD – often seemingly trumping the Ed Code and good policy and curriculum. “What’s best for kids” is secondary to “What does the contract say?” -  and that is not good.

But it is the Board of Education who agreed to it and We The People elected them.

The fault, dear readers (to abuse Shakespeare) lies not in our stars – or in teachers or in UTLA as currently led by Duffy & Co – but in ourselves.

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