The President's Blog


Joshua Pechthalt, President 

Josh SOTU 2017

State of the Union 

Delivered by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt on April 1, 2017

Sisters and brothers, members of the CFT. It is always great to be at our convention, to see friends, to think about the year gone as we prepare for the challenges ahead.

And boy do we face some tough challenges.

The election of Donald Trump jeopardizes the progressive gains of the last 80 years. Trump also threatens, almost daily, the basic sense of ethics, civic mindedness and fairness, valued across the political spectrum.


The Meaning Of Passing Prop 55

This Nov. 8, one of the most important issues facing voters in California is the continued funding of public education. 

Of course, all the media attention will rightfully be on the outcome at the top of the ticket. The election of Hillary Clinton as the first woman president of the United States ― breaking the toughest of glass ceilings while repudiating the politics of hate, fear and misogyny – will be much to celebrate. A huge second win will be Democratic control of the Senate, especially when we elect Kamala Harris as California’s first African-American female senator. 


Improving what works in education, not marketplace gimmicks

“We need to get rid of the bad teachers and the current system is too costly and time consuming,” has become a common refrain. The recent decision by the State Supreme Court not to hear the Vergara v. California lawsuit and the defeat of proposed legislation by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla reaffirmed, for some, a sense of frustration that a broken system will continue.

Children deserve top notch teachers. Most do have good teachers, some great ones and, unfortunately, some have poor ones who should not be in a classroom. How we ensure good teachers is an area of contention.

Those behind the Vergara lawsuit and similar efforts believe that creating more competition in our schools will help push out poor teachers and keep the good ones. Few workers, they say, have the workplace protections enjoyed by many teachers and other unionized workers.

However, using the marketplace as a model for public education doesn’t work. Our children are not commodities to be weighed, measured, evaluated and sold. We value art and music in education because they help our children become well-rounded individuals. And we rightly devote resources to special needs children so they reach their full potential. In a marketplace, less capable children might be cast aside because they can’t compete.


Don’t let millionaires dictate fate of California’s schools

This piece originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee

Millions of California schoolchildren are starting another important academic year. This includes my daughter, a high school senior who along with her classmates has been buffeted by changing policies and budget cycles that have had a profound impact on her education.

While our public schools still lag far behind the national average in per-pupil spending and average class size, since Proposition 30 was passed by voters in 2012, our schools are in much better financial shape with more teachers, counselors and course offerings, and smaller classes.


Compton College Accreditation: A Decade Later

One of the principles of our democracy is the right to elect our representatives. In California, one of the most basic decisions we make is about our children’s education through the election of local school boards that govern both K-12 and community college districts. This may not receive the same fanfare as statewide or national elections, but in more than 1000 K-12 and 70 community college districts, community residents make key educational decisions that matter to them.

Alarmingly, it has now been a decade since Compton College lost its accreditation. Since 2006, Compton residents have been disenfranchised from making decisions about the community college that has served them with distinction since 1927. While community members technically still vote for their local board of trustees, because the college lost its accreditation, those elected officials have no authority over the college.


Make Classified School Employee Week Meaningful

Schools can be amazing places. Institutions that focus on the education and nurturing of young people have a special place in our society. While the interaction of students with their teacher is obviously an essential part of the educational process, it really does take a community of people to make learning possible and schools successful.

An essential part of that community is the team of classified employees who work in and around the classroom to enhance learning and make the school environment attractive. Their work often happens in the background but without these people doing their job, teachers wouldn’t be able to teach effectively and kids wouldn’t get the education they need.


Originally published in the Orange County Register on February 28, 2016:

Don't let gains of Prop. 30 slip away

For years now, I’ve been saying that Proposition 30 is an essential component of California’s public education system, and needs to be extended if we want to continue providing the state’s students with the infrastructure they need to succeed well into the future.

But you don’t have to just take my word for it. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recently released a report forecasting the impact a Prop. 30 extension would have on the state’s economy. As we have seen since California voters passed Prop. 30 in 2012, an extension continues to provide additional revenue benefiting millions of people by asking the wealthiest to pay a bit more in personal income tax.


Originally Published in the Sacramento Bee:

Teacher-tenure lawsuit distracts from real issues

Last month, the state 2nd District Court of Appeal heard arguments in Vergara v. California, the lawsuit challenging the state’s teacher employment rules. The trial judge in the case erroneously concluded that five provisions of state education codes violated the constitutional rights of all students in California, particularly those who are poor and minority.

Teachers see firsthand how racism and economic disparities have a profound impact on a child’s education. Particularly during recessions when school budgets are cut, working-class kids and children of color are disproportionately hurt.


State of the Union Speech by Joshua Pechthalt, President 

> Watch the video on YouTube.

The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck powerfully told the story of one family’s challenge to survive the devastation of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It's a story that continues to resonate eighty years later. As they begin their journey to California, the Joad family asks Reverend Casey, who in the film version is played brilliantly by the great American actor John Carradine, if he would like to join them. Carradine, with his deep voice and wide eyes responds, “I'd like to. There's something happening out there in the west and I'd like to try to learn what it is.”


Teachers unions need dues to help students


Special to The Bee

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that asks whether all workers in public sector unions, be they members or not, have an obligation to contribute to the union’s costs to represent them in grievances and at the bargaining table.


Eyes on the Prize

For the most part, the Democratic debates have been substantive, leaving the angry innuendo and personal attacks to the Republicans. Anyone who follows politics knows that candidates tend to be respectful until the campaign heats up. Then attacks get sharper and often personal. But this time around, we can’t afford that. There is too much at stake for Democrats to alienate their potential base so that they decide to sit out the general election.


Proposition 30: The Elephant in the Room

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to announce his proposed 2016-2017 California state budget. We anticipate that the Governor’s initial plan will continue to move us forward and reflect our growing economy.

However, the elephant in the room that the governor has not yet addressed is Proposition 30, the game-changing 2012 ballot initiative that is set to expire and must be renewed in order to continue to provide California’s students the best education possible.


Kids Deserve a Good Night’s Sleep

“You should all be getting at least nine hours of sleep a night” were the words of advice coming from my daughter’s eleventh grade math teacher. “Sure, like that’s really going to happen!” was her response to me. Not only are my daughter and most of her classmates staying up late to do homework, but this has been going on since elementary school.

Much of the blame for the high stakes, pressurized caldron that America’s public schools have become can be attributed to the disastrous education policies of outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his boss President Obama.


Published in the Orange County Register:

Teachers deserve better treatment, not denigration

A hilarious bit from comedians Key & Peele portrays the duo hosting a fictitious show titled "TeachingCenter," a sendup of ESPN’s "SportsCenter," highlighting the exploits of teachers instead of athletes.

The lead story is about an instructor in Ohio who takes her talents to New York after signing an $80 million contract. A segment later in the skit shows a teacher deftly engaging an introverted student, building his confidence.

If only we lived in a world where teachers were held in such high regard as professional athletes. Instead, the U.S. is suffering from a teacher shortage, particularly in math, science, special education and bilingual instruction.


Published in the Sacramento Bee:

New community college accreditor needed now

State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris has released his long-awaited Accreditation Task Force report, and the news is not good for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The report, however, is good news for California, because it puts accreditation – the process of monitoring and reporting that provides assurance to students and taxpayers that a college offers a quality education – on a path toward renewal.

The blue-ribbon task force, comprising faculty, administrators, college presidents, elected officials and other expert stakeholders, has starkly exposed the commission’s problems and recommends replacing it with another accreditor.
This is a welcome development. Unfortunately, it may not happen overnight.


Published in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Vigilance is needed to sustain labor’s gains

On Labor Day, we do well to remember the historic gains fought for, sometimes at great sacrifice, by union activists. We also should remember that labor’s efforts on behalf of the common good continue today. Perhaps you’ve noticed California public schools have been faring better. No longer are you reading headlines about thousands of teachers receiving pink slips because of lack of funding.


The AFT’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton and What it Means for Our Union

I have received emails from a number of members critical of the AFT’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination for President. At the AFT Executive Council meeting, I, along with another Vice President who represents higher education, spoke and voted in opposition to the endorsement. The endorsement, which was overwhelming, came after interviews with Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, two national phone-in town hall meetings, an online survey, and a poll of more than 1,000 AFT members from across the country. All declared candidates were invited, but these three were the only ones who agreed to be interviewed.


Scott Walker’s Anti-Education and Anti-Worker Agenda Must Be Exposed

Scott Walker just won’t quit.

The worker-hating, union-attacking governor of Wisconsin is now going after higher education and college professors.


Debate over funding child care is a trap

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originaly ran int eh Sacramento Bee on June 11. You can read it below, as well as here.

As an educator, a parent, and someone who wants to see the next generation given every tool possible to succeed, I support the proposed expansion of child care programs. The earlier we prepare children for the classroom, the stronger their foundation for learning will be.


State of the Union Speech by Joshua Pechthalt, President 

March 21, 2014

Good morning CFT members, guests and staff, I want to thank all of you for taking time to help make the CFT a strong, vibrant and progressive voice in the California labor movement. It is your activism and your commitment to our union that makes this organization such an important voice for social justice, for our members and for our students.

I want to acknowledge the leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of our locals and the statewide union: Jeff Freitas our Secretary Treasurer, Lacy Barnes our Senior Vice President, our council presidents Paula Phillips, Gary Ravani, Bob Samuels and Jim Mahler, the CFT Executive council and our outstanding staff.

It is my great honor to be your president and to represent you in this remarkable union.

This past year has been one of tremendous successes.


Poor students need more help – not more standardized tests

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Sacramento Bee on Feb. 25. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here

As a teacher of more than 20 years at an inner-city high school in Los Angeles, I saw the value of federal dollars sent to our local public schools through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In fact, millions of America’s poorest schoolchildren depend on the Title 1 funding that was established in the law as part of the landmark 1965 “War on Poverty” legislation.

In Los Angeles, Title 1 funding allowed us to buy paper, pens and pencils that, while taken for granted in many communities, were a luxury for children and parents living in poverty. It also allowed us to hire instructional aides and provide programs that gave thousands of students the help they needed to succeed in school and prepare for college.
Congress must now decide whether to reauthorize the act, and whether to continue with the high-stakes testing mandates adopted as part of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top.


Proposition 30 tax hike is working and must be kept in place

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Sacramento Bee on Nov. 30. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here.
Proposition 30 is the best thing to happen to public education and the economy in California in a generation. Two years after voters adopted the tax measure, funding for public education has rebounded and the state economy and budget have improved.


Legislature needs to increase funding for UC and CSU

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Nov. 24. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here.

Proposition 30 is the best thing to happen to public education and the economy in California in a generation. Two years after voters adopted the tax measure, funding for public education has rebounded and the state economy and budget have improved.


Inclusive selection process needed in selecting next LAUSD superintendent

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Los Angeles Daily News on Nov. 3. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here

With the departure of Superintendent John Deasy, the LAUSD school board has an opportunity to restore the community’s confidence in a school district that seems plagued with conflict and mismanagement.

Bringing in former Superintendent Ramon Cortines as a bridge between Deasy and a new superintendent was a smart decision. Cortines is a well-respected educator, he knows the district well and his more collaborative approach is exactly what is needed.


Finally, a decisive act on Immigration Reform

By Joshua Pechthalt

Last week, President Obama acted decisively in using his executive authority to help bring some security to the millions of undocumented workers living in fear in this country. Unfortunately it took an electoral drubbing to push the President to do something he should have done months ago. The President’s unwillingness to act before the November election was part of an effort to protect Democratic senators in states apparently not sympathetic to immigration reform. Ironically, had the President made this move prior to the election, it might have mobilized a Latino base that had grown increasingly disillusioned with Obama and the Democratic Party and staved off such an overwhelming victory for Republicans.


Reinstate CCSF’s Elected Board of Trustees Immediately

By Joshua Pechthalt

A guiding principle in our democracy is that the people govern by electing their representatives to office, whether it's the president of the 7th grade homeroom, local school board, mayor, president of the country or any other elected office. The American Revolution of 1776 cast aside the authority of a monarchy to govern and put that power in the hands of the people, however incomplete it was at that time.

Yet the authority of the people of San Francisco to determine the direction of their only community college by electing their 7 representatives to the Board of Trustees has been taken from them with little opposition from our elected leaders in Sacramento.


We can do better when it comes to 'willful defiance' reform

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the San Jose Mercury News on Oct. 1. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here

Sometimes a symbolic gesture is good enough. But when it comes to our children and their future, we need more than symbolism from our elected leaders in Sacramento.

Assembly Bill 420, recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, will reduce or eliminate the suspension and expulsion of students for reasons of "willful defiance." This is a good thing. But the Legislature comes up short because it has failed to couple this important policy with the necessary resources to implement AB 420 effectively.


Tom Torlakson’s reelection is a victory for Public Education

By Joshua Pechthalt
In spite of all of the outside money coming into California from billionaires, corporate interests and other anti-union forces, the people of this state made it clear that they weren’t going to have the fate of their children’s education decided by the 1% “reformers.”

With the re-election of Tom Torlakson as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, we learned once again that engaging thousands of educators across the state is more powerful than a million dollar, anti-teacher campaign.

For the last four years, Torlakson has demonstrated that he is a champion of public education and is committed to expanding early childhood education as a way to increase student success. He understands the need for raising more revenue to fund the changes we need to improve teaching and learning. The Superintendent has also been successful in building a broad coalition around education reform while he has resisted the urge to through teachers and education unions under the bus.


Ferguson nothing new, not so far away

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Los Angeles Daily News on Sept. 10. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here

Ferguson is not so far from Los Angeles.

On April 29, 1992, I was wrapping up another day teaching at Manual Arts High School in the heart of South Los Angeles, preparing to return to my home in nearby Leimert Park, when the civil unrest in response to the acquittal of four police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King erupted around the school. After six days, more than 50 people lay dead and burned-out buildings reflected more than a $1 billion in property damage.

In 1965, as a young boy of 12 growing up in the Mid City neighborhood of Los Angeles, I also lived through the Watts Rebellion, which exploded after a confrontation between the police and the African-American community and resulted in 34 deaths and tens of millions of dollars in damage.

And now we have Ferguson.


More transparency required at community college accrediting agency

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Sacramento Bee on Aug. 26. In it, President Pechthalt urged Gov. Brown to sign AB 1942 for fair community college accreditation practices. The Governor ultimately signed the bill the following month. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here.

A bipartisan, unanimous vote in the Legislature doesn’t happen every day. So it’s worth noting that Assembly Bill 1942, for fair community college accreditation practices, recently passed 36-0 in the Senate and 74-0 in the Assembly.


East Bay Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s bill is on the governor’s desk. The bill has fewer requirements for its target – the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges – than an earlier version. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction for more transparency in the notoriously secretive agency, and signals that previously hands-off legislators understand that they need to monitor the commission more closely.

Over the past year, the formerly obscure private agency – in charge of accrediting the state’s 112 community colleges – has been under public scrutiny following its unprecedented and unwarranted closure order for City College of San Francisco. Its justifications related to administrative, governance and fiscal oversight issues. City College’s quality of education was never questioned.


Doing what works for school success

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Orange County Register on Aug. 26. You can read it below, as well as here.

In my home, like millions across the country, kids and parents are preparing for the beginning of a new school year. New backpacks are stuffed with folders, pencils, pens and erasers. Kids hurry off to meet friends, check out their new teachers and classes and settle in for another year of learning, physical and emotional growth and hopefully some fun.

Lurking in the background of all the excitement of another school year is a recent superior court decision that could hurt the very kids for whom the plaintiffs claim to advocate. The Vergara v. California lawsuit, nominally brought by nine students but funded and supported by wealthy businessmen David Welch and Eli Broad, threatens to hack away at provisions of the State Education Code, particularly those involving teacher seniority and due process.


Present & Accounted For

School Attendance is a Predictor of Future Success

For teacher and students alike, being part of the learning experience where thoughts are shared, assumptions are challenged and new ideas are explored can be truly magical. Unfortunately, too many students miss out on the joy of learning because they are absent from school.

The research is clear that regular attendance is critical for academic achievement. It may seem a ridiculously obvious concept, but as we celebrate the nation’s second annual Attendance Awareness Month this September, regular school attendance is an issue that needs to be addressed.


Leading the Way on Single Payer

The following is a speech CFT President Joshua Pechthalt gave at the Labor Campaign for Single Payer National Conference on Aug. 23 in Oakland

Good morning,

Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference. I have been involved in the struggle to promote single payer health care reform for some time now but more importantly, my union the California Federation of Teachers, has supported single payer health care reform for many years.


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CFT President Josh Pechthalt welcomes 3,500 delegates to the 2014 AFT convention in Los Angeles that opened today.

2014 AFT Convention Speech

July 14,2014

Good morning convention delegates,

My name is Joshua Pechthalt and I am honored to be the president of one of the most progressive unions in the California labor movement, the California Federation of Teachers, representing more than 100K education workers from early childhood through higher education.


Three Head Shaking Decisions from the Supreme Court Threaten Our Progress

July 2, 2014

The attacks on our rights as union workers just keep coming.

First it was last month’s ruling in Vergara v. California claiming that teacher due process laws violate the state’s constitution. Now the United States Supreme Court is getting in on the act.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Quinn v. Harris limiting unions in Illinois representing home health care workers from collecting agency fees is another in a string of reactionary judicial rulings targeting workers, women, communities of color and the environment.

While the ruling in Quinn is narrow, it is nonetheless a shot across the bow of labor unions around the country. Having all employees who benefit from union representation -- such as collective bargaining and representation for grievances -- pay agency fees even if they choose not to become full members of the union is only fair.


A Good Budget, But More Needed for Struggling Families

June 17, 2014

Overall, there’s plenty to like in the 2014-2015 state budget passed recently by the California legislature, including funding for early childhood education, career and technical education programs for high schools, additional money for K-12 through the Local Control Funding Formula and more money for higher education.

Putting a limit on K-12 district budget reserves is also a wise decision. Now districts won’t simply hoard reserves, but will put more resources into the classroom to help kids, restore programs, rehire educators and support staff and begin to recoup years of pay cuts and furlough days.

The state’s improved finances this budget cycle, and not coincidentally the higher approval rating for the Governor and state legislators, is largely due to the adoption of Prop 30 and the public’s willingness to tax higher income earners to fund state services.

But in spite of the rosier economic outlook, 30 years of defunding and the recent draconian budget cuts due to the Great Recession have devastated our schools and punished our children and students. California schools rank at or near the national bottom in per pupil spending, class size average and number of librarians, nurses and counselors. As the wealthiest state in the nation and the 8th largest economy in the world, our children have a right to expect better.


Statement on the Vergara v. California ruling

June 10, 2014

As educators committed to ensuring the best education possible for our students, we are deeply troubled by this court ruling. This decision is predicated on the notion that firing teachers is the way to achieve academic excellence and ending inequality in our schools. If this were the case, then those states where seniority and due process rights don’t exist for teachers would be models of academic achievement and equity and yet the plaintiffs would be hard pressed to make that case.

We know what works in our schools. It is no mystery. There are schools and districts where teachers work collaboratively, where teachers and administrators work together and where struggling teachers get the help they need to improve. 

Unfortunately this court case and decision, funded by wealthy individuals, adds to the anti-teacher and anti-teacher union narrative popular among those forces looking to get their hands on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on public education. Their agenda has not resonated with parents and the public who understand that teachers are one element among many shaping academic performance.


May 14, 2014

It’s Raining Now, Governor Brown

Let’s balance the responsibility to the future with responsibility to people now

Governor Jerry Brown,

You’ve been a responsible guardian of the state’s financial resources, and the healthy condition of the budget today reflects your strong focus on careful management of the taxpayers’ money.

However, in seeking a balance between fiscal responsibility and the needs of the people of California, you and the legislature have leaned too far in the direction of so-called “prudence.” Revenues are up in May more than $2 billion beyond your January budget projections. Thanks largely to the revenues brought in by Proposition 30, the state has helped school districts to avoid the layoffs and program reductions so typical of previous several years.


CFT President Pechthalt to Representatives Pelosi, Speier, and Eschoo:  Thank you for critique of ACCJC

May 29, 2014

Representative Nancy Pelosi

12th Congressional District
90 7th Street, Suite 2-800
San Francisco, CA 94103

Honorable Jackie Speier
14th Congressional District
155 Bovet Road, Suite 780
San Mateo, CA 94402

Honorable Anna Eshoo
18th Congressional District
698 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Dear Congresswomen Pelosi, Speier and Eshoo:

I am writing in regards to the May 27, 2014 letter to you from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) wherein the ACCJC attempts to “explain” (sic) why it:

cannot rescind its decision and provide CCSF with an additional period of time to come into compliance while maintaining its accreditation, within the time limits set forth in federal regulations...

Riddled with inaccuracies and untruths, this latest missive from the ACCJC would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so incredibly high. By continuing down the path of illegally disaccrediting City College of San Francisco (CCSF), the ACCJC is needlessly placing in jeopardy the education and futures of well over 80,000 students. There is another way.

You know from the US Department of Education’s (US DoE) various public communications, confirmed through the CFT’s own extensive research of the last two years, as well as our numerous communications with the Department officials, that the ACCJC can without question continue CCSF’s accreditation beyond July 31, 2014. 

At its upcoming commission meeting June 4th — 6th ACCJC should rescind termination of CCSF’s accreditation and immediately establish a new team to update its review.


April 25, 2014

A Triple Play Response to a Rogue Accrediting Agency

Bills will support City College of San Francisco, all community colleges in state

The CFT is in a pitched battle to repair our broken accrediting system for our public community colleges. The battle is being played out at City College of San Francisco, where 80,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty and classified members are at the mercy of a single agency that instead of ensuring quality education for all, has displayed manipulative practices, policy violations and illegal conduct.

This is why CFT supports a trio of bills making their way through the state legislature that will help erase the damage caused by this rogue accrediting agency and prevent it from inflicting any further damage. It’s time to help get City College of San Francisco back to offering quality education to the community.


The following was originally published in the Sacramento Bee.

March 23, 2014

Viewpoints: It’s time to bring public school sports off the bench

Pitching, hitting and fielding have become a central theme in my house. Not because it’s spring training; it’s that my daughter’s high school fast pitch softball season is starting.

Few pastimes have captured her imagination so completely. My daughter has been playing competitive softball since she was 8 years old and she loves it. Some of her oldest and best friends are her teammates, and the experiences they have had will stay with them forever.

It’s a love that I understand. I was a high school athlete and also coached high school tennis for a number of years. The friendships, camaraderie and the competition from those experiences left an indelible imprint on me.

I bring this up because years of budget cuts coupled with the fixation on testing has relegated physical fitness and sports, like art and music, to an afterthought in many schools. Participation on a sports team is viewed as an add-on because schools have become all about narrow academics and focused on test scores. Class schedules are constructed as if to discourage kids from playing sports rather than facilitating the experience.


February 28, 2014

Tenure Is About Protecting Good Teachers

There’s been a lot of talk about "teacher tenure"* as a major cause of the problems facing our educational system in California and across the country. Time and again, I read media coverage about how “bad” teachers remain in classrooms because tenure (more properly, the right to due process) protects them from ever being fired. It’s simply not true that poorly-performing teachers can’t be fired.

But what’s more disturbing to me is this fundamental misunderstanding and misinformation about what tenure is and why it exists.

When I think of teacher tenure, the first person that comes to mind is Sal Castro. Castro was a Mexican-American born in Los Angeles in 1933. He served in the army and returned to Los Angeles to earn his teaching degree. He started as a playground assistant and worked his way up to being a social studies teacher.

Castro saw that, despite the large number of Chicano kids in Los Angeles (the full Spanish name is Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula), our schools lacked bilingual and relevant cultural education. There was a deep bias in the system that tracked many Latino kids towards menial jobs rather than college, and forbade them to speak Spanish at school.


January 31, 2014

Vergara Lawsuit: not what it seems

The first week of the Vergara vs. California trial is coming to a close, and I have to admit it’s been a hard one. Not only is it difficult as a teacher and a union leader representing other educators to listen to the spin and misinformation that the so-called “expert” witnesses are giving inside the courtroom, but it’s infuriating as well to see the lavish and expensive public relations show that Students Matter is putting on for the media outside. 

With the deep pockets of a billionaire Silicon Valley conservative to bankroll the effort, I really shouldn’t be surprised at the endless barrage of media events, press conferences and statements rolling out of the pro-Vergara forces. It’s a slick and well-planned effort spearheaded by Griffin Schein, an equally slick and well-funded LA-based PR shop (which despite its leftist pedigree has no problem promoting Wal-Mart as a past client). Contrary to the image that its backers are so carefully putting forth, Vergara is about as far from a grassroots effort as you can get. This is special interest money, and a lot of it, costumed as a movement of the people.

What does that mean for California’s teachers, who can’t hope to compete with that kind of money? We need to leave the courtroom language inside the courthouse and step forward with the simple and true facts to our parents and communities.

Those of us who have actually worked inside public classrooms know that tenure is a protection that allows the best teachers to do their best work. Part of being an effective teacher is acting as an advocate for kids – working to protect diversity and open dialogue in our classrooms. That is a key aspect of what tenure protects, the ability for teachers to speak and act on behalf of their students without the fear of reprisal from administrators. For every ineffective teacher out there, there are hundreds who fight every day to provide the best possible education for their kids.


January 17, 2014

When Fiscal Restraint is a Flop

Governor Jerry Brown has released his 2014-15 budget proposal, the last of his current term. Our improving economy makes this one less painful than the last. So it is all the more disappointing that the Governor is ramping up his overly-cautious approach to restoring funding for the programs and services that benefit California’s most needy residents.

For the past few months, Brown has repeatedly spoken about the need for fiscal restraint, despite the rising tide of our economy. Recently, California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office announced that the state is past its financial crisis, and will have a $5.6 billion surplus by June 2015. That number is expected to increase to $8.3 billion by the 2016-17 budget year. Brown, firmly occupying the middle ground where he has grown increasingly comfortable these last few years, acknowledges there are more resources to go around while at the same time advocating an approach I can’t support—pushing for voters to approve an overly-large rainy day fund, while failing to back the oil severance tax proposed by State Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa)and asking for legislators to hold off on restoring money for critical social services.

This is not the Brown of the 1970s, a man shaped by his Jesuit teachings and inspired by Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King. But then, this is not the same era, either. Brown no longer has the cultural ferment or social movements of the 1970’s encouraging boldness and pushing him to be more progressive.