A.J. Duffy is the immediate past-president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. As the boss of the largest affiliate of the powerful California Teachers Association, in the second largest school district in the nation, Duffy was a powerful, and colorful, spokesman for the anti-education reform establishment. He was an implacable foe of charter schools, vouchers, data-driven teacher assessments, merit pay, the works. In 2009, Duffy was among dozens arrested during a sit-in at L.A. Unified headquarters, during which he claimed budget cuts would result in classrooms with "50 or 60 kids." (Missed it by that much.) As Larry Sand noted recently at City Journal California, just a few months ago, in the waning days of his expiring term, Duffy mounted a vigorous defense of the status quo in response to a new report recommending sweeping changes in the way teachers are hired, evaluated, and retained.
But something happened since Duffy left office. Something remarkable.
Freed of his obligations as UTLA's chief executive, Duffy is taking a much different line and launching a surprising new enterprise. The Los Angeles Times reports that Duffy, 67, will move from board member to executive director of Apple Academy Charter Public Schools. According to the paper, Duffy hopes to open one or more charter schools in South Los Angeles by next fall.
From the Times story:
The longtime anti-charter crusader wants to make it harder for teachers to earn tenure protections and wants to lengthen that process. He even wants to require teachers to demonstrate that they remain effective in the classroom if they want to keep their tenure protections.
And if a tenured teacher becomes ineffective, he wants to streamline dismissals. The process now in place can stretch out for several years, even with substantial evidence of gross misconduct. Some union leaders, notably Duffy, have defended this "due process" as a necessary protection against administrative abuses.
"I would make it 10 days if I could," Duffy now says of the length of the dismissal process.
Well, well, well! Predictably, the news is being met with jeers from unionists. (Peruse the comments on the Times story to get a flavor.) Quips Reason's Nick Gillespie, "As my old scoutmaster used to say, give a troublemaker some responsibility and he'll become the best company man you've ever seen."
This remarkable transformation leads E.D. Kain to ask whether Duffy is "the anti-Diane Ravitch"? Ravitch, of course, was the pro-reform education historian who last year published a very bad book saying goodbye to all that. The National Education Association gave her its "Friend of Education" award. Now she's a regular speaker on the anti-reform circuit.
It's hard to believe a life-long union activist would perform a similar about-face. But, then again, as Kain observes: "The fact is, unions can do a lot without sticking blindly to old ideas that may not work as well now as they used to. It just requires a change of vision. I don't think you need to be pro or anti-teachers unions to realize that they can and should reform alongside the education system as a whole."