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L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Pushes Education Reform In State Of The City Speech

Andrew Khouri |
April 13, 2011 | 4:53 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa championed education reform Wednesday in his sixth State of the City address, seeking to bring a series of reforms as district leadership changes hands.

In his speech at Thomas Jefferson Senior High School in South Los Angeles, Villaraigosa, who has no formal control of schools, laid out a series of changes he hopes will be included in an upcoming teachers contract. Such changes--likely to be resisted by L.A.’s powerful teachers union-- include reforming teacher evaluations, compensating teachers for their “effectiveness, not just years of service and course credits” and scrapping the "'last hired, first fired' seniority system.” The current agreement expires in June.

Education has been a persistent refrain throughout Villaraigosa’s tenure, although it has been drowned out by L.A.’s recurring budget deficits and high unemployment. In his speech Wednesday, the mayor briefly touched on the city's projected $350-million deficit next fiscal year, touting recent labor concessions and promising to put forth next week a tough budget "that offers a sustainable long-term solution to our structural deficit while funding critical priorities."

In his first term, the mayor sought control of the Los Angeles Unified School District. That move failed, but Villaraigosa--through his Partnership for Los Angeles Schools--now controls 21 campuses. The former union organizer has also clashed with United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers, which took issue with the mayor's speech. 

“UTLA believes that the mayor’s focus on the UTLA contract is ill-placed,” outgoing UTLA president A.J. Duffy said in a statement. Duffy said his union is working with the district on “a genuine evaluation system that truly supports teaching and learning in the classroom, rather than the overreliance on what is widely criticized by both educators and researchers as a flawed, error-prone system based on standardized testing.”

Wednesday, the district released grades for individual schools based on how their students improve in English and math over time, and according to the L.A Times, the district is in talks with UTLA to include such ratings in future teacher evaluations.

The mayor’s reforms also include attracting private funds to restore art, music, and after-school programs that have been cut as state funding has dwindled. Villaraigosa also proposed giving parents more power to change school leadership and structure, and allowing them more choice in picking a campus, hoping to turn the nation’s second largest school district into a “network of independent, locally-controlled campuses.” 

"Today, well-off families already have a choice, but let's give all of L.A.'s families those same choices," he said.

In a nod to those goals, Villaraigosa chose Jefferson High for his speech. Racial riots erupted in 2005 at the consistently underperforming school, events the mayor alluded to in his speech. Today, the school comprises four small schools and has a fifth located at L.A. Trade Tech. Teachers now control Jefferson after the school participated in the Public School Choice program the mayor praised in his speech. Last school year, Jefferson’s API scores rose 33 points, but are still among the district’s lowest.

Villaraigosa pointed to district-wide leadership changes--including newly elected union leadership, a new school board and a new superintendent--that he hopes will allow reform to take hold.

"We have an opportunity to move forward in good faith focusing on areas where we share common ground,” he said.




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