LA Mayor Poses as Ed Expert While Schools Languish

L.A. County ranks number one in dropouts for 2010-11

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talked education reform Friday on MSNBC, CNN, and on a panel in Washington, D.C., with Education Sec. Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Los Angeles County high schools currently have California's highest number of drop outs and the state's sixth highest drop out rate.

CHURCK TODD: Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be at today's educational summit with the Chicago mayor and the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the panel will be moderated by my friend, Andrea Mitchell. Mr. Mayor, welcome.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: It’s great to be on the show with you, in person.

TODD: It's good to have you out here in person. And we'll be talking about the Dodgers in a minute. But I want to go through, this is a stunning stat. The three districts combined--L.A., Chicago, and New York--2.5 million students, 77 percent of them are poor. This is your challenge, this is--I take it. So, I guess my question to you is, you hear the president basically begging governors to give you more resources. Is there just no federal government resources there that can help you out in this case?

VILLARAIGOSA: First of all, I agree with the president that the governors need to do more to put their money where their mouth is and invest in our schools and in our education. I also believe that we need to connect that money to reform and accountability, to improving our schools. And, yes, I think there is something the federal government could do. They could allow districts like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, that are engaged in reform, that are doing the kinds of things that we need to do to improve our schools, to be able to compete for Race to the Top dollars, to get waivers from NCLB.

TODD: Let me stop you there. So Race to the Top, it's a state program.

VILLARAIGOSA: State program.

TODD: And you would like to--

VILLARAIGOSA: And my city's bigger than how many states?

TODD: So you would like to compete separately?

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, we would.

TODD: What would that mean? What other flexibility would that give you?

VILLARAIGOSA: It would give us a flexibility to do things like multiple measures of evaluations, to be able to track the effective and highly effective teachers and who are the teachers that need help. It would allow us to do things that we can't currently do by state law or federal law, and it would give us the flexibility that we need to improve our schools.

TODD: You know, when you see--you know, there seems to be different ways, different school systems are run. Sometimes the mayors have--you have more direct control over others, sometimes the board has more control, and I think in the case of Chicago and New York, you have a little more control than they do.

VILLARAIGOSA: No, actually--

TODD: You feel like you have less?

VILLARAIGOSA: In New York and Chicago, they run the schools. I tried to do the same. I tried to get legislation to partner with the schools. It was ruled unconstitutional when it went through the courts. I've had to help elect a progressive majority by taking on the status quo and raising a lot of money to make sure that we have school board members that are going to set the highest expectations for our kids. And as a result, our schools in L.A. are actually improving.

TODD: What is it about the flexibility issues you have--do you feel like the labor unions are working with you in a way that they weren't before?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, look, I strongly believe we need to put parents and teachers in front of the movement to improve our schools. But the fact is, the teachers unions in many cases, particularly in California, have been an impediment to that. We've challenged the issue of seniority as an example. We've got great teachers, but they're evaluated purely on how long they've been there--when you're assigned or promote ordinary laid off. So we've had to lay off with all the cuts some of our best teachers, because of seniority and tenure. Where it's taken -- it's the only factor, and there aren't other factors in evaluating our teachers. It's very difficult to dismiss teachers. You know, I tell people, if I had a third term, which I don't, and I ran for a third term, and I said, vote for me, I've been here the longest, everyone would look at me with a stared glaze. The fact is, we have teachers in our schools today who are there because they've been there the longest. And while there are a lot of great teachers, we need to work with our teachers unions to be able to have the flexibility to put the best teachers in our classrooms, and particularly, in the most difficult classrooms in our urban schools.

TODD: Let me ask you about something else that came up, obviously, in your city a couple of weeks ago. It was this issue of a horrible situation of some kids being sexually abused. But it seems to get at this larger issue of the erosion of trust between--and it's not just, I want to say, it's not just in schools--but this fear that we don't trust government leaders. Now parents may not trust sending their kids to school. What do we do about this issue? Because, you know, maybe it's just the times that we live in, and that we're always focusing on the negative, but there seems to be this trust gap with the public in way that we haven't seen before.

VILLARAIGOSA: You know, you said it. It's not just a crime, and it is a crime. It's not just a horrendous abuse of children, it's a violation of the trust that people have when they send their kids to our schools. It's why I've written our governor and said that we have to address how difficult it is to dismiss some of these people. The school district had to pay $40,000 for this individual, one of the individuals--

TODD: You had to pay him to leave?

VILLARAIGOSA: Pay him to leave, because of the rules that we have. He's going to get a pension, even though he, you know, he's done what he's done, to so many kids. it's just wrong. And I believe there's a way to work together, with our teacher's unions and our legislators to fix these things that are broken. And that's really what we're going to be talking about. We're going to talk about innovation, we're going to talk about choice and flexibility. We're going to talk about the importance of setting the highest standards for our kids. You know, I don't quote President Bush very often, but when he talked about the soft bigotry of low expectations, he hit it right on the head. These kids can learn. They may be poor. I was poor. I can read and write, and these kids can read and write too. And I think that's why the three mayors are here in Washington, D.C. to really challenge all of us to do better with these kids.

TODD: We'll see how you come with getting Arne Duncan to get you involved in Race to the Top. Magic Johnson going to be the next one on the Dodgers?

VILLARAIGOSA: He's a good man, I don’t know if he’s going to--

TODD: If he's not, he wants to be mayor, right?

VILLARAIGOSA: He should be. He should be.

TODD: You're endorsing him now. All right. Thanks for coming on. Look forward to the panel this morning.