Former Union Boss to Become Charter School Operator

-By Larry Sand

Once a rabid anti-reformer, termed out United Teachers of Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy has become a union apostate…maybe.

On September 1st, Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume wrote what at first glance appeared to be satire. He reported that A.J. Duffy is starting his own charter school. For those of you who live a peaceful life outside the realm of the education wars, Duffy is the crusty and cantankerous, raspy and rabid former president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles – a man who never met a charter school or any education reform that he liked. And when he didn’t like something, he made sure you knew about it.

But it’s a new day and Duffy indeed will be soon become the executive director of Apple Academy Charter Public Schools, a new organization that hopes to open one or more schools by the fall of 2012.

To show how bizarre all this is, let’s take a step back a couple of years. In 2009, when the Los Angeles Unified School District wanted to expand the number of charter schools in the district, Duffy, then UTLA President said,

“All the data says charter schools do not do better than public schools. This is bureaucracy putting in a top-down plan which hasn’t worked before.”

Now he says he has a vision, and while his schools will be unionized, it will not be at the expense of sacrificing his new ideas about how a school should operate.

Just as remarkable is his new view on tenure. In 2005, responding to a state initiative that would make it more difficult for teachers to attain tenure, or permanent status, he said,

“The governor wants to give carte blanche to principals to fire any teacher who speaks up or who is a whistle-blower or to simply fire someone based solely on a whim, not the facts. The cur-rent rules protect teachers from arbi-trary and unjustified termination.”

Now he wants to make it much more difficult for teachers to attain tenure, lengthening the process and requiring teachers to prove that they are worthy of maintaining that status. He also wants to streamline the dismissal process which typically lasts for years and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Duffy always defended this multilayered, agonizing procedure as a way to ensure that teachers got “due process.” Now he will get the entire process over with in ten days if he can.

Interestingly, Reason’s Nick Gillespie noted that charter school advocates have responded to Duffy’s 180 degree move cautiously, but were generally positive.

Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) seems to be comfortable with the new Duffy.

“We are pleased to see that Mr. Duffy, who has been a vocal opponent to charter schools in the past, is now demonstrating by his own desire to lead a charter school, that charters are absolutely an effective ingredient for public education reform in LAUSD.”

Not only that, but one-time arch enemy, Caprice Young, former president of both the CCSA and LAUSD school boards has happily joined Duffy’s board at Apple.

Additionally, education reformer Whitney Tilson sent out an email which said,

“I hope reformers are embracing him with open arms – I love converts! They’re extra powerful….”

Others however, have been less effusive. Former UTLA boss John Perez was quoted as wishing Duffy well but could not endorse Duffy’s new direction.

Bronx Teacher, a teacher and blogger in New York, captured the spirit of many union supporters,

“How can Duffy look himself in the mirror and see what he likes? How can he when everything he has fought for, everything he has stood for is now all just moot? Duffy is no more than just a politician. His, and only his, best interests at heart. The families and students of Los Angeles as well as the teachers have just been told by Duffy to F*** Off! So has the rest of America. Shame on you AJ Duffy.”

And in an email, Len Solomon, a former teaching colleague of mine, quipped,

“He didn’t just wake up. He’s known all along that the LAUSD is infected with more than its share of dregs. Yet he protected them with the knowledge that tens of thousands of students were paying dearly.”

Solomon is right. I believe that there has been too much happy talk coming from the reformers.

Those who are pleased with Duffy’s conversion are perhaps unaware of an important component. Duffy, termed out as UTLA President in June, wanted to become vice-president of the militant California Teachers Association. He ran unsuccessfully for the position this past April, but his campaign website is still online. I suggest you visit the site soon, as it could be pulled at any time. You will see that just 18 weeks ago, the new charter operator maintained every hard-line, pro-union, anti-student stance that he has always been noted for. Hence the “welcome aboard” attitude from reformers is too near-sighted in my book.

I don’t know what Duffy is really up to, but I wouldn’t trust him for a minute with my kid. As a union leader who as of June made sure that every lousy teacher retained their job, do we really know what is motivating him in September? Anyone who can turn on a dime that fast is either a rash opportunist or a flibbertigibbet – neither is good and he along with his charter schools should be avoided at all costs.

In his new book, Class Warfare, Steven Brill has an outside-the-box suggestion to fix education in New York City; he thinks Mayor Bloomberg should appoint American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to be the schools chancellor – calling it a “Nixon-to-China play.” While certainly an interesting thought, I doubt he thinks this could ever be a reality. But after A.J. Duffy has become president of a charter school organization, who knows? In fact, I wouldn‘t bet on the sun rising in the east tomorrow.
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.

“CTEN” was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. This past May, after his weekly blog proved to be very popular, he began writing a monthly article for City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s policy publication. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs and talk radio shows in Southern California and nationally.

Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week. Additionally, CTEN has hosted two informational events this year – one addressing the secret agenda that is prevalent in many schools these days and the other concerning itself with California’s new Parent Trigger law. The latter event was covered by both the English and Spanish language press.

Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions. At this time, he is conferring with and being an advisor to education policy experts who are crafting major education reform legislation.

CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001