Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has launched a war of words in an effort to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Villaraigosa has rhetorically lambasted the leaders of the LAUSD over lagging test scores and dismal dropout rates. Villaraigosa has impeccable progressive credentials, but his attempt to improve the grim status of the LAUSD has led him into a conflict with the same teacher's unions that he once served as an organizer.
"I respect schools and teachers. I worked for the teacher's union. My wife is a teacher. But, if Los Angeles is to succeed as a world-class city, we need an education system that supports it," Villaraigosa said.
Villaraigosa believes that improvement of the public education system is vital to the city's economic future. The spectacle of seeing a committed progressive struggling against the unions is not as surprising as it might seem at first blush. Anyone making a sincere attempt to challenge the status-quo inevitably comes into conflict with unions.
Villaraigosa deserves credit for addressing the abject failure of the nation's second largest school district. Problem recognition is the first step towards resolution. If the Mayor truly wants to transform the district, he should look to implement school choice programs that would make thousands of parents his allies in an enduring war against educational malpractice. Milwaukee's experience with vouchers and charter schools demonstrates that bottom up pressure for reform produces results. It would be tragic for the Mayor to look back and find that he went to war with his former allies for what ultimately amounted to a marginal improvement in outcomes.