Education panel: Villaraigosa, Rhee criticize teachers’ unions

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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. 

  • Tony Sheppard

    It’s inaccurate to claim that the film states or even implies that all charter schools are good – the film actually states that only 1/5 charter schools are especially successful. The flaw in the film in that regard is that it then doesn’t tell us anything about the other 4/5.

  • M Johnson

    Stop fighting effects, and start fighting causes. Demand parent accountability.Blaming teachers for dropouts is like blaming firefighters for forest fires.

    Rhee’s teachercide is deplorable and anyone who gets behind it doesn’t understand the challenges teachers face.

    By the way, a study was just released showing “incentivizing” (one of KJ’s favorite words) teachers who perform well is not effective.

  • RESEARCH Michelle Rhee’s ongoing
    CONFLICTS OF INTEREST machinations, financial gaming the system, and legal violations — in Washington, DC and also in Sacramento.
    Did you know that every time she brings in a new inexperienced, unqualified “Teach for America” intern that she pays her
    ex-husband’s organization (he’s the “TFA” Communications Director)
    a fee of several thousand dollars for each recruit — which goes toward his salary and he then repays back to her as child support ! — that’s self-dealing. ======= Investigate the rattling skeletons in both Michelle Rhee’s and Kevin Johnson’s closets, while they’ve been protected from consequences by their
    big-money financier and corporate backers (including — deliberate prevarication, budgetary machinations & financial scandals (including misappropriation of over $400,000 in federal grants), sexual misconduct with students (teen minors)
    and staff subordinates, cover-ups and
    ‘hush money’ deals
    Must-read important
    news article:

    See website:


  • Blame it on the teachers! Really?

  • Susie Shields

    This new ‘trend’ of reform, i.e. blame the teachers and their union is hogwash. The privateers want to get their hands of tons and tons of guaranteed money. This money will flow to the test makers, charter school operators, etc. The only way to get their hands on the money is to destroy public education as we know it. Instead of looking at the obvious causes for the decrease in student achievement, this group of ‘reformers’ completely ignores the fact that poverty and/orparental education level play a huge role in whether or not children come to school ready to learn.

    I have spent enough time in an inner-city school (I am not a teacher or a union member) to see that a huge amount of kids simply have the cards stacked against them. I see kids who were up until all hours of the night playing video games, kids who weren’t encouraged to do their homework, kids who weren’t fed, kids who are abused, kids who are homeless, kids who are in foster care because their parents are in jail, and kids who never were taught how to respect others. Somehow, in the minds of these ‘reformers’ those aren’t issues that affect learning- in their minds, teachers and their union are responsible for all of society’s ills.

    That mindset is dangerous and misleading. In order to change public education to suit their needs, these ‘reformers’ need to demonize the union so they can get them out of the way. Look,. I understand the union may need to change with the times, but I certainly do not think they are the sole cause for the mess education is in. If anything, it’s the legislature and all of the crazy mandates placed upon schools. The schools have to jump through hoop after hoop and their hands are literally tied behind their backs. Charter schools don’t have to follow many of these mandates so they are free to pick and choose their students, curriculum, etc. If charters are the answer, why don’t we just eliminate some of the crippling mandates placed upon schools? That seems logical to me. If charters are created to avoid mandates and the ed code, perhaps we should reevaluate the ed code and update it. After all, why compare charters and traditional schools if there isn’t a level playing field? It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

    According to many of these ‘reformers’, charters are the answer. I don’t believe so. I liken charters to a gated community. You “choose” to live in this gated bubble. You are surrounded by your gates and everything is great. The gates keep out the riff-raff so you can live your life in peace and harmony. How nice for the community members lucky enough to live there. What these gated communities don’t address is life on the outside. Yes, the gates are keeping the undesireables out, but the gates can’t hold them back forever. There’s still a world out there and if we don’t bother
    to address it, society still festers. There’s no real solution for some people other than running away and fencing themselves in. If charters continue to proliferate, only those who care enough to choose will be there and those whose parents take the path of least resistance (traditional public schools who, by law, must educate everyone – successful or not, motivated or not) will be left floundering in the public schools – where resources and successful students will have been syphoned-off by charters- public schools will become much like educational penetentiaries. We’re headed for a two-tiered system that is not equal or fair.

    This is a dangerous path we’re on, and I hope people will stop fencing themselves in and start looking at the problems in society, particularly student’s home lives, that truly do affect learning. Only then, will we be able to start true, effective reform.

  • RUPERT MURDOCH is planning to set up
    an edu-profiteer, privateer ACADEMY SCHOOL.

    “With Tesco selling books and Amazon selling bacon, it was only a matter of time before Rupert Murdoch started selling A-levels.
    News International is in talks about sponsoring an academy school near its luxurious Wapping offices.

    Critics of Mr Murdoch are reported to be “alarmed” at the possibility of him entering the sphere of education, and leading the resistance is the go-to guy for anti-Murdoch quotes at the moment, Labour MP Tom Watson.
    “Some people will say they are not telling people what they should think through their newspaper but teaching our children what to think in our schools,” he says. I’m a big fan of Watson. I bought Batman: Arkham Asylum on his recommendation, and it’s a cracking game. But I think he’s being silly here.

    Are we really to imagine some sinister factory, churning out prematurely wizened republicans with A-levels in cross-media plugging and an interest in offshore tax arrangements?

    There used to be a thing called the antinomian heresy, which said if you were one of the Elect, pre-selected for heaven, nothing you could do was sinful. An inverted version of this applies to Murdoch. He is seen as such a scoundrel that anything he does is deemed evil.

    Faith schools — which are by their nature openly ideological — go through on a nod; yet when Murdoch suggests sponsoring a secular secondary school the assumption is it’s in order to spread the abominable creed of Murdochism.

    …….Of course there are many things to find unattractive about Murdoch. His companies avoid countless millions in tax and he is a foreign national who exercises a disproportionate amount of power over our political process. The law as it stands makes both these things possible, and elected politicians are reluctant to change things because — chicken-and-eggily — Murdoch is too powerful.

    But that power is a means to an end. Some proprietors are in it for the pomp: dinner with Cabinet ministers; swanking around at Buckingham Palace when they get knighted; having their half-baked ideas about the world canvassed with apparent interest by powerful people.

    Murdoch doesn’t seem all that interested in ideology, though. Inasmuch as he wants to reshape the world, it’s to make it a better place for his own businesses. He’s personally Right-wing, sure; but if the big bucks for Fox News were in replacing
    Glenn Beck with Tariq Ali, he’d probably do it.

    The chances are that Murdoch is taking
    an interest in running an academy because
    he reckons he can make money out of it.
    And given what tends to happen when
    any private company sees a buck to be made out of
    public services, it’s that that we ought to be alarmed about.”

    see source


  • There will be a protest against the movie Waiting For Superman tomorrow at 4pm at the Century Theater at Arden and Ethan Ways. The movie is a farce and is funded by corporate and private foundations that seek to privatize public education in America, blaming teachers and their unions for all that ails schools. This movie is propaganda, not ‘documentary’ at all. Beware.

    Also, wasn’t Rhee the one who played ‘fixer’ for Kevin Johnson’s alleged victims of molestation? That’s what the Inspector General’s report said, and perhaps if Obama hadn’t stepped in they both might be in prison now.

    How do they show their faces in public??? Have they no decency???

    • Rich E.

      why protest? do you think they will just pull a movie? for crying out loud, it is a point of view. if you disagree, then fine don’t go see it. and yes, teachers unions have had their handy work on the crap our public education system has become.

      dshore, are you bbbbmer reincarnated? do you two share the same brain or are you one in the same?

    • The Parrhesiac

      Yes Rich It is – He must be using a different IP

    • Who the heck is bbbbbmer??? I know paranoia is a disease that runs rampant among right winger teapartiers, but y’all take it to a new level.

    • The Parrhesiac

      confirmed – note the Tea Party reference – next up “Nazi.”

    • Susie Shields

      Jim, isn’t the above comment about bbbbbbmer using a different IP a little like the pot calling the kettle black?

  • Teacher’s unions deserve the blame – not all but much. Only the best, skilled teachers should be teaching our children but unions protect the incompetent. Talk to any good teacher and they’ll lament working with complete fools. Teacher’s union must police their ranks or face extinction.

    • Somehow I doubt you could be a teacher, knowing so little of what they endure and the hurdles they face.

  • The Parrhesiac

    Average teacher Salary in CA: $60,000 – Sacramento, a town where the average income is just over 40,000 per year. Oh, and thats for 9 months – and don’t forget to throw in all the benefits and worlds best pension.

    Salary raise last year: UP 3.9% 2009 – remember that year? Yeah we were in one the worst recession of our lifetimes – City’s were laying of Police and Firemen.

    Salary raise over 10 years: 41.6% – ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    Spent Yearly on k-12 in CA: $53,501,539,938 – Yeah thats BILLION!

    Teacher Expenditures: $17,294,045,692

    Percent Spent on Teachers: 32% – so 68% spent on administration.

    Why can’t Johnny read again?

  • What a surprise. The politicians responsible for ruining California’s excellent educational system now pretend to reform the system. First let’s make teachers the scapegoats! That way they won’t come after us, the politicians and overpaid administrators who have failed to marshall resources for a decent educational system.