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Villaraigosa calls for city to get special treatment on schools

At a meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the mayors of New York and Chicago, he suggests a waiver from the No Child Left Behind program — an option that's only been available to states.

March 03, 2012|By Ian Duncan, Washington Bureau
  • Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, from left, take part in an education panel in Washington.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Reporting from Washington — Los Angeles should be treated more like a state when it comes to education, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Friday in an attempt to persuade the U.S. Department of Education to give the city some special treatment.

The mayor wants the city to receive federal money directly through Race to the Top, a competitive grant program, and get a waiver from No Child Left Behind, the President George W. Bush-era standardized-testing policy. Both options have been available only to states.

Villaraigosa floated the plan at a panel discussion with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at American University.

"One hope is that in addition to districts like ours, which are city-states, being able to compete for Race to the Top, that we also get waivers from [No Child Left Behind], so we can innovate and do the kinds of things that states are allowed to do," he said.

Villaraigosa said he wanted cities to spearhead reform to get around statewide teachers unions as well as reluctant state officials. But any opt-out from No Child Left Behind would need some degree of cooperation from teachers, he acknowledged.

"My hope is that the secretary and Department of Education will allow us to compete directly with or without union support — preferably with, but without if necessary," Villaraigosa said in an interview. "We've been talking to the unions until we're blue in the face to partner with them."

The mayor's office said Villaraigosa spoke privately with Duncan after the event to pursue the idea.

Eleven states have already been granted waivers from No Child Left Behind, and an additional 26 have submitted applications. To earn a waiver from the Department of Education, the states must demonstrate their own plans for assessing the quality of teaching, among other steps.

On Friday, Duncan said the federal government would do more to help school districts. Much of the $550 million allotted for the next round of Race to the Top will be awarded on a district-by-district basis. Previously, funding had been awarded to states.

"Whatever we can do in L.A., New York, Chicago, we just want to be good partners," Duncan said. "We want to hear what the challenges are. Whatever we can do to help — money to turn around schools — we want to do it."

Much of the event was spent raking over familiar education reform issues. The three mayors, whose cities combined have almost 2.5 million students, broadly agreed on the approach to big-city schools.

"A principal that's ready to be held accountable, a teacher that's motivated to teach in the classroom and an involved parent — I don't care where you are, you get those three things and a kid's going to succeed," Emanuel said.

The idea of measuring results was hammered home by all three mayors, who support monitoring outcomes at schools and giving parents information to make decisions about where to send their children.

Summing up the approach, Bloomberg said: "In God we trust. Everyone else has to bring data."

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