Dem lawmaker breaks with party over teacher tenure

weberAssemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, is a former San Diego school board president and a longtime San Diego State professor. In an April 24 op-ed, she called for tenure reform — breaking with Democrats in the Legislature who have long worked closely with the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, and agreeing with the arguments made by plaintiffs in the landmark Vergara v. California case of 2014.

Last week, however, at a legislative hearing on tenure reform, Weber was far more aggressive on the issue. The Sacramento Bee’s coverage inexplicably left out the juiciest parts or the hearing — or even that the hearing had any juicy parts. Not LA Weekly.

Shirley Weber grew up in Pueblo del Rio, a poor South Los Angeles housing project known as “the Pueblos.” She made her way out and went on to college, earned a Ph.D. at UCLA and was elected president of the San Diego Unified School Board before winning election to the California Assembly in 2012. 

Weber introduced a seemingly moderate bill on Wednesday to accomplish three things: She wanted to add a new category called “needs improvement” to California forms that evaluate teachers and provide only two choices, “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” Her reform would signal that the teacher needs training in order to be more effective in class.

Second, her bill would require that funds be spent to train the teachers who are in need of improvement.

Third, and most controversially, Weber’s bill would require that teacher evaluations be based at least in part on their students’ academic growth — not necessarily by using student test scores, but not banning their use, either.  …

Sacramento is a pretty congenial place — there’s a lot of back-slapping and fist-bumping and laughing that goes on in the hallways and aisles. But when Weber’s Democratic colleagues signaled that they would not let her bill out of the education committee — effectively burying it, preventing it from getting to the Assembly floor — Weber lit into them.

“When I see what’s going on, I’m offended, as a senior member of this committee, who has probably more educational background and experience than all ya’ll put together on top of each other,” Weber lashed out.

‘You gonna rape me, rape my bill?’

The fireworks continued later in a different forum.

Weber was even more candid when speaking to L.A. Weekly the next day.

“Obviously, it was orchestrated by the teachers union to not let the bill out,” she said. “It was purely political.”

Interestingly, the Assembly Education committee chair, Patrick O’Donnell, wants to take Weber’s idea of a “needs improvement” evaluation for teachers and incorporate it into his own teacher-evaluation bill. But Weber objects to that, too.

“You’re gonna rape me, rape my bill and take it as your own?” she said, incredulously. “After the work we’ve done, without my name on it? I’m not having that. You may do it, but you will not do it without my permission.”

About a decade ago, I spoke on background with a prominent California Latino politician who’s kept moving up in the years since. He told me that the CTA and CFT make it clear to Democratic candidates that there is a low ceiling to their careers if they’re not fully supportive of the teachers unions’ agenda. This was confirmed by the silence of Karen Bass and John Perez when the Los Angeles Democrats were speaker of the Assembly and minority parents sought big changes in L.A. Unified.

But the Vergara case, the continued prominence of former state Sen. Gloria Romero as a critic of teacher unions and now Weber’s emergence as a sharp union foe will keep the spotlight on how minority students are treated and on how reforms to help minority students are treated in Sacramento.

A second battlefront in Weber vs. CTA?

Weber has also expressed concerns that the Local Control Funding Formula reform adopted in 2013 has not been implemented well, as CalWatchdog reported in March.

It was supposed to ensure more money went directly to help struggling students. But in January, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that none of the 50 California school districts had adequate safeguards on how the money was used, including the 11 largest districts.

This could end up being a second front in Weber’s battle with the teachers unions. In several districts, there’s evidence the LCFF dollars have been diverted to use for teacher pay raises.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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