A few days ago, the teachers union wing of the California Democratic Party tarred the growing numbers of breakaway Democrats who, in sync with President Obama, point the finger at teachers unions as a big obstacle to fixing crappy schools.
Democrats who see fixing bad schools as "civil rights for children" are really closet Republicans. Dean Vogel, of California Teachers Association (CTA), said as much at the Democratic State Convention, attacking Democrats for Education Reform and Students First as GOP/corporate fronts. CTA is, itself, a massive special interest -- an apelike lobbying entity feared by duly elected California Democratic legislators who are too afraid to cross it. In fact, that's how CTA infamously killed a law to fire sex-pervert teachers, SB 1530. A badly watered-down version, AB 375, is alive -- because CTA backs it. In May, the teachers unions will bring their strange roadshow to L.A., targeting LAUSD Supe John Deasy, who's been firing inept teachers, embracing charter schools and boosting graduation rates:
Deasy, a generally popular and compelling change agent, has infuriated status quo mavens in the Democratic Party who bitterly resent Obama's reforms.
Several days ago, UTLA called teachers to take a "no confidence" vote against Deasy. Teachers gladly complied -- no surprise since Deasy has been firing incompetent L.A. teachers who for three decades had been protected by a controversial policy called the Dance of the Lemons.
Deasy told the L.A. Times that the non-binding teachers vote was "Nonsense," but UTLA President Warren Fletcher said, "No one can ignore" a 90 percent vote taken by about half of the city's teachers.
We spoke with former state Sen. Gloria Romero -- a lifelong liberal Democrat -- about the madness surrounding education reform, as well as Vogel's resolution condemning Democrats for Education Reform at the state convention in Sacramento.
Romero, former chairwoman of the California Senate Education Committee, is one of those being attacked as a secret shill for rich corporations and GOP plotters.
Having given decades of her life to public service and Latino empowerment, she's disgusted, telling L.A. Weekly over the phone from her vacation in New Orleans, "The Democratic Party has always claimed we are the 'big tent' party. It is interesting that CTA writes a resolution on Sunday after half the delegates are gone -- or hung over from drinking the night before."
Romero called "just stupid" the florid resolution from Vogel, which claimed that the Democratic breakaway movement demanding decent teachers and students' rights does "nothing for the students but blame educators and their unions for the ills of society."
Frank Wells, spokesman for CTA, did not return the Weekly's call for comment.
Romero had some pithy thoughts on the logic behind the two unions' attacks on reform-minded Democrats.
"You almost have to follow the whole chain," says Romero. "Is CTA telling President Obama he isn't a Democrat? Is CTA at a point of desperation knowing that education reform is embraced by important Democrats? Are they so desperate?"
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti say they back Deasy and his plans for tougher teacher evaluations, basic standards for granting lifelong teacher tenure, allowing parents to take over terrible schools via the California Parent Trigger law and other changes.
Romero, who helped push the Parent Trigger law through the legislature -- a rare win against CTA -- says, "From President Obama, to myself, to across the country, we see education as a civil rights issue. So what the CTA and the hungover Democrats who showed up on Sunday did is shameful. It's just wrong."
Wendy Greuel told the Weekly she supports Deasy's education reform plan.
Greuel believes that the city's recent modest increase in student performance and graduation rates, "has been a direct result of Dr. Deasy's effort and his commitment to putting the needs of our kids before the needs of adults."
Garcetti has been far more hesitant to speak out about shaking up LAUSD.
Garcetti did not return the Weekly's emailed request for an interview on the war among top Democrats over fixing public schools. (Garcetti has received the endorsement of UTLA, the teachers union, and is expected to receive major campaign help from the 30,000-teacher body.) However, Garcetti has said he also backs Deasy.
Greuel's views are in stark contrast to 16,040 members of UTLA who voted "No" on Deasy, whose polices include using student achievement tests to assess how well a teacher is doing in imparting knowledge, and his plan to introduce merit-pay for educators -- a key belief of Obama's.
For decades, UTLA has vociferously fought any teacher pay plan that would acknowledge what every kid in LAUSD knows: some teachers are far, far more effective and talented than the others. Some are much, much worse.
Romero says the city of Los Angeles badly needs Deasy.
"I have a great deal of respect for Deasy," Romero says. "I think that Los Angeles will not go forward without the strong, tenacious leadership of Deasy. He takes no prisoners with evaluations or other issues. He embraced the Parent Trigger law that I helped draft."
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Adds Romero: "These reforms make the union unhappy, but they are helping the children."
Here are some liberal and progressive groups fighting the teachers unions on behalf of students' rights to a decent teacher and school: