“…none of these issues is an excuse to delay accountability. Children have only one chance for an education and every year in which that education falls short is another impediment to their success…
…Parents will not tolerate resistance (by public school teachers’ unions) to common-sense changes that are necessary for preparing our children for the future. We can do the right thing for our children and for our teachers.”, Antonio Villaraigosa, “Why Are Teachers Unions So Opposed to Change?”, Wall Street Journal
Why Are Teachers Unions So Opposed to Change?
As a former union leader and a lifelong Democrat, I am deeply troubled by their rhetoric and strategy.
By ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA
Updated July 20, 2014 6:53 p.m. ET
President John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” This message has apparently been lost on some people in our teachers unions who used their recent national conventions in Los Angeles and Denver to argue against desperately needed changes in our public schools.
At a time when only one in 10 low-income children is earning a four-year college degree and two out of three jobs of the future will require one, change is needed. At a time when more than half of young people attending community college need to retake high-school classes because the education they received was not rigorous enough, change is needed. At a time when American 15-year-olds trail their counterparts in 30 countries in math, 23 in science and 20 in reading, change is needed.
For some time now, teachers, elected officials, community, business and nonprofit organizations have advanced bold changes in education. America is raising standards, investing in teachers, rewriting curriculum, bringing technology into the classroom and exploring new learning models like public charter schools that are getting results in higher graduation and college-enrollment rates.
As mayor of Los Angeles from 2005-13, I met countless dedicated and hardworking teachers who were changing their teaching style to meet the new Common Core State Standards. I also saw students responding positively. They’re more engaged and motivated, thinking critically, solving problems and digging deeper into the issues instead of simply memorizing facts. They’re working individually and in groups and developing communications and research skills they will need to thrive in the 21st century.
I salute teachers everywhere who are raising their game. I also acknowledge that this is very hard work and that something as transformative as raising standards and changing teaching will not always go smoothly. Teachers are concerned about how they will be evaluated. They worry about resources. Many have endured tough times, with layoffs and other budget cuts.
These are legitimate issues and it falls to all of us—in and out of government—to fix these problems. Teachers should be better paid and the best should be recognized for their excellence. Schools should be well-funded. But none of these issues is an excuse to delay accountability. Children have only one chance for an education and every year in which that education falls short is another impediment to their success.
As a former union leader and a lifelong Democrat who supports collective bargaining, I am deeply troubled by the rhetoric and strategy we heard at both national conventions. They attacked an administration in Washington that helped protect 400,000 teaching jobs during the recession, has actively promoted labor-management collaboration and has empowered classroom teachers to help shape policy.
Others are in full-throated denial over the recent California court ruling striking down the state’s public-school teacher tenure and seniority laws—despite compelling evidence that it is nearly impossible to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom and that the least effective teachers disproportionately end up in classrooms with low-income children. We should be working together to fix the problem rather than defending a broken system.
Most say they are for accountability yet they dismiss measures of a teacher’s effectiveness as a “sham” and insist that standardized tests are “invalid” and “unreliable.” Let’s be clear. Testing isn’t teaching, and school districts that devote too much time to testing and test prep are doing a disservice to children. But parents and taxpayers need to know if children are learning. Without a test, too many children will slip through the cracks and too many ineffective teachers will remain in the system.
At the same time, we need to know which teachers are really excellent so they can help their colleagues improve and which ones need more support to get better. Finally, we need to identify the small percentage who lack the passion or capacity to teach and counsel them out of the field. That’s not an indictment of the teaching profession nor is it antiunion. It’s a fact of life in every field. Countless teachers and many union leaders agree with these common-sense measures, yet at their conventions, the most regressive voices are amplified while the reasonable, fair-minded voices aren’t heard.
Meanwhile, parents are voting with their feet. Today, nearly 10 million students have opted out of the traditional public-school system, attending private schools or public charter schools, or they are home-schooled. Another million parents are on charter-school waiting lists and surveys show overwhelming support for vouchers among minorities.
Parents will not tolerate resistance to common-sense changes that are necessary for preparing our children for the future. We can do the right thing for our children and for our teachers. We can hold ourselves accountable without demonizing one another and we can all be honest about our shortcomings. Let’s cool the rhetoric, find common ground and get to work.
Mr. Villaraigosa is the former mayor of Los Angeles, the former speaker of the California Assembly and a former organizer with the United Teachers of Los Angeles.Copyright 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law. For non-personal use or to order multiple copies, please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit www.djreprints.com