In the 60s, when I was in school, the California public school system was the gold standard--a national model that complemented our State's image as a land of opportunity.
Today, our schools rank in the bottom third among all states, we are out-spent by $2,400 per pupil, and we fail to graduate a full quarter of our students. What happened?
Well, I've spent an entire career fighting to fund and reform our public schools--first as a teacher union organizer, then as an Assembly Member and Speaker, and now as a Mayor.
In the past five years, I've partnered with students, parents, non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members, and teachers to engage in meaningful change.
Along the way, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: teacher union leadership.
When we fought to change the seniority-based layoff system that was disproportionately hurting our neediest students, the teachers union fought back.
When we fought to empower parents to turn around failing schools and bring in outside school operators with proven records of success, the teachers union fought back.
And now, while we try to measure teacher effectiveness in order to reward the best teachers and replace the tiny portion who aren't helping our kids learn, the teachers union fights back.
It's not easy for me to say this. I started out as an organizer for UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles), and I don't have an anti-union bone in my body. The teachers unions aren't the biggest or the only problem facing our schools, but for many years now, they have been the most consistent, most powerful defenders of the unacceptable status quo.
I know that no one cares more about our kids or our schools than teachers. They know better than anyone how desperately we need to create quality schools where teachers are supported, honored, and paid what they are worth. Schools where students are engaged, parents are involved, and test scores are rising.
So as California welcomes new leadership to the statehouse, I call on the teachers' unions to join the reform team again. I call on them to join students and parents, business and non-profit groups, charter organizations, higher education, and school district leadership. I call on them join all of us at the reform table, ready with ideas, excited for change, and willing to say yes.
Our public schools should be the embodiment of the American dream: places where people are judged on achievement, rewarded on merit, and anyone willing to work hard can succeed.
Let's come together, put our kids first, and once again make California's public schools the envy of the nation.
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