A high-profile panel that included Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Washington, D.C., Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee met in Sacramento on Tuesday evening and discussed pitfalls in the nation’s education system.
Most of the members of the panel, which also included Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and an official with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said state and national teachers’ unions have made efforts to halt education reforms.
The panel held its discussion after a screening of “Waiting for Superman,” filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary about education reform. About 200 people gathered for the screening, including special guests from state government such as California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss and California Assembly members Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) and Dan Logue (R-Linda).
Villaraigosa noted that he is a former employee of the California Teachers Association, but faulted the union for opposing changes that he views as reforms.
“I am unabashedly pro-teacher,” Villaraigosa said. “I believe in collective bargaining. But what you see up here is a broken system … The most powerful defenders of that broken system, without a question, is the teacher’s union.”
The panelists tackled the issue of tenure for teachers, which is a job security guarantee.
Schwarzenegger criticized the practice of tenure for teachers: “I don’t think this is good for the teachers. I don’t think this is good for the kids. I don’t think this is good for the country.”
Rhee, whose rocky relationship with teachers’ unions was profiled in the documentary, said in the panel that contracts with unions need to be changed.
“We need to make sure that we have collective bargaining agreements that are also focused on children, not adults,” Rhee said.
She also called for a “bold” legislative agenda in California that would involve reducing pensions and benefits for teachers and public employees.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers argues that Guggenheim’s film is misleading.
“The film's central themes—that all public school teachers are bad, that all charter schools are good and that teachers' unions are to blame for failing schools—are incomplete and inaccurate, and they do a disservice to the millions of good teachers in our schools who work their hearts out every day,” according to the AFT website.
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.