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Blue Model Schools
Victory for California Teachers’ Unions

Now that the initial midterm emotions are cooling off, it’s time to look at the minor races we’ve been watching, especially one unusually hot contest in sunny California. The battle for the state’s superintendent of schools got so tense and saw such an outpouring of campaign spending ($30 million, or triple the amount spent on the governor’s race) that some started calling it the state’s most important race. All for a post that, as the WaPo points out, has little real power; he’s gotta do what the school board tells him.

But if the post itself isn’t powerful, its symbolism is another matter. This race was all about the unions, and the blow they sustained from the now-famous Vergara v. California decision, in which an L.A. judge ruled that teacher tenure rules were unfair to the interests of minority students. The challenger in this race, school reform leader Marshall Tuck, made his support for that ruling a centerpiece of his campaign. He was endorsed by the plaintiffs in the case and received a big influx of cash from major school reform backers, including Michael Bloomberg and the Walton family. But in the end, he lost.

The incumbent and winner, Tom Torlakson, a former teacher himself, enjoyed the full support of California’s teachers’ unions. He also launched one of the appeals against the Vergara decision, which Tuck had promised to quash if he had won the seat. This race came to be seen as a key indicator of whether California teachers’ unions could rebound from the court loss, as well as a bellwether for school reform fights far beyond California’s borders.

With Torlakson’s win, teachers’ unions in California will be resting a little bit easier. But not, perhaps, for long. Fromer L.A. mayor Anthony Villaraigosa is reportedly planning on running for Governor, and he will presumably make school reform a key campaign issue, writes Dan Schnur in the Wall Street Journal. (Indeed, Villaraigosa endorsed Tuck, who has advised him on education policy.) Schnur predicts that this showdown will be a bitter one for the blue coalition: “The battle over education reform has the potential to split the Democratic Party as profoundly as immigration, abortion, and marriage equality have divided Republicans.” We’re not there yet, but the cracks are definitely starting to show.

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  • Gene

    Crack, baby, crack!

  • johngbarker

    Dana Goldstein(“The Teacher Wars” 2014) has noted that in 2007( the last year of reliable data) 2.1 percent of teachers in American were fired for cause, but only 2 percent of workers in large companies were released because of resignations, layoffs and firings for cause. Federal workings are fired at an annual rate of .02 percent. Some fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. About 200,000 thousand teachers,annually, have been hired in recent years. Considering the massive turnover of teachers, what is stopping districts and states from replacing staff with highly educated and competent teachers? Could it have something to do with salary and working conditions? If the bottom ten percent of teachers were fired they, 370,000 would need to be hired to replace them. So where are they coming from? End teacher tenure if you want, but I fail to see how it comes close to staffing schools with competent people. Education reform is not about teaching and learning; it is about union busting.

    • Andrew Allison

      Districts can’t replace tenured teachers (tenure comes in two years, with no qualification except time served) unless they do something truly egregious. Failing to educate their charges is not considered egregious by the teachers or their Union. Layoffs occur in order of reverse seniority, not competence, which goes far to explain why 50% of new teachers are gone after five years.
      You are, however, correct that reform means busting an utterly corrupt Union which makes it virtually impossible to get rid of incompetent teachers.

    • FriendlyGoat

      It’s hard to imagine how young people who might have otherwise wanted to go into teaching can escape being affected by the negative wind blowing against teachers from America’s political right. If the destination is a classroom full of challenged children with crazy parents, in a lockdown-prone security setting with the churches and the Chamber-of-Commerce politicians preaching against you, why go there?

  • Andrew Allison
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