Vergara Ruling Sets Up Political Battle Over Teacher Protections

 

Politico (8/29, Severns) reports that a Los Angeles judge on Thursday “reaffirmed a tentative June ruling that struck down five laws governing job protections for teachers in California.” The final decision “in the headline-grabbing tenure suit sets the stage for the appeals process,” and the “clock starts ticking for state Superintendent Tom Torlakson: As a named defendant in the case, he has to decide whether to appeal.” Torlakson will “have to make that decision by just before the Nov. 4 election that pits him against education reformer – and fellow Democrat – Marshall Tuck. With Tuck eager to make the case a campaign issue, the Vergara v. State of California decision could take center stage in the big money race.” The judge ruled that “the tenure and other job protection laws for teachers violate the state constitution’s guarantee that children receive ‘basic equality of educational opportunity.’”

California Teachers, Administrators Said To Take A “Nuanced View” Of Tenure Ruling

 

In a piece for NPR’s (7/10, Westervelt) “Ed” blog, Eric Westervelt wrote that since a California judge overturned the state’s teacher tenure system, much of the rhetoric from both sides of the issue has been of the “give no ground” variety and “risks drowning out educators in the middle.” Westervelt added that many teachers and administrators take a “more nuanced” view and support “tenure protections for teachers — especially against dismissals that could be political or capricious,” but believe “problems with tenure and dismissal need to be addressed” so that administrators are able to “get rid of really bad teachers.”

California Tenure Ruling Leads To “Copycat” Efforts In Other States

 

US News & World Report (7/9) reports that in the wake of the Vergara ruling, which overturned California’s teacher tenure laws, “parents, students and legislators are challenging teacher tenure laws in an increasing number of states.” The article describes “copycat lawsuits” in some states, though the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association state affiliate have “vowed to fight the decision.”

 

 

California Education Case Held Up As Model For Other States

 

Joshua Lipshutz, one of the principal trial attorneys representing the nine student plaintiffs challenging California education laws dealing with tenure, dismissal and seniority in Vergara v. California, writes in the Wall Street Journal (7/9, Lipshutz, Subscription Publication), that US courts have often defended students’ educational rights under state constitutions, but, he argues, they have in defending educational equality generally focused on easily measurable inputs. Instead, he thinks they should focus on those aspects of education that have a greater effect on students such as teacher quality. He believes that the Vergara v. California case did just that, and provides an example for other state courts to follow.

 

Duncan, Teachers Unions Spar Over California Tenure Ruling

 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (6/17) reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan “was scorned last week by teachers union leaders and their supporters for applauding a California judge’s tentative ruling that the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional.” The article notes that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten “chastised Duncan in an open letter for failing to defend California’s tenure rules,” and reports that “education writer Diane Ratvich...went further, posting Duncan’s statement on the ruling on her website and arguing that it sounded like the words of a Republican.”

Court Ruling On Teacher Tenure Continues To Spark Commentary

 

In an editorial this morning, USA Today (6/17) weighs in on a recent court ruling in California that “struck down state laws that make tenure far too easy to get, seniority a singular shield against layoffs and incompetent teachers almost impossible to fire.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan “wrote that the California ruling could spark years of legal warfare across the country, or it could inspire litigation-reducing changes that respect teachers and students alike. The latter path is preferable, and much faster.”

        Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers, and Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, call the ruling “bizarre” in an accompanying op-ed forUSA Today (6/17), and argue that the entire case “is an anti-union attack masquerading as a civil rights effort.”

        AFT’s Weingarten Criticizes Duncan Over Praise For Teacher Tenure Ruling. The Los Angeles Times (6/17, Ceasar) reports on a letter from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers who wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan criticizing “his praise of a ruling by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge” which said that some California teacher tenures were unconstitutional. The Times quotes extensively from Weingarten’s letter, noting that Duncan continued to support the ruling last week. “The common goal is to increase public confidence in public education. We want great public schools we need great public schools teachers. We need families to want to go to public schools... That’s the common ground. There’s one common enemy – that’s academic failure,” Duncan told CNN.

        Author Says California Court Case Should Start Conversation About Assessments And Rights In Schools. TheNational Journal (6/17, Johnson, Subscription Publication) reports on its “Education Insiders” blog, “Silicon Valley loves disruptions” and a recent lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of three teachers’ job protection under California law “certainly succeeded in that” when a judge declared the protections unconstitutional. The decision sparked responses from teacher’s unions and their critics and “kicks at a hornet’s nest of questions that would benefit from a full-fledged public conversation.” The author then asks for readers of the blog to have a discussion on the role of assessments in teacher evaluations, and the relationship between students’ rights to quality education and teachers’ rights.

Debate Continues Over Vergara Ruling

 

CNN (6/13, Ford) on Friday continued coverage of the debate over “the best way to educate children,” which had been spurred by a judge’s ruling that several California laws regarding teacher tenure and dismissal were unconstitutional. According to CNN, some say the tenure provided teachers with academic freedom and stability, while others said teachers were given too much freedom at the expense of minority and low-income students, and politicians and others see the decision as an opportunity to call for an overhaul of public teaching. “At the end of the day what everyone has common interest in – the common goal – is to increase public confidence in public education. We want great public schools and we need great public school teachers... There’s one common enemy and that’s academic failure – and if we continue to fight silly fights everybody loses,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

        Debate Ignores Criteria For Assessing Teacher Quality. The San Francisco Chronicle (6/16, Tucker) reports that the issue of “what specifically makes a teacher terrible – or terrific” has been lost in the debate following last week’s Vergara decision in California. According to the Chronicle, a number of school administrators argue that the key to improving education is improving all teachers as well as retaining teachers new to the profession, or those who are struggling. The article also details a variety of teacher assessment methods being used in California school districts to achieve that goal.

        WPost Praises Ruling On California’s Teacher Tenure Laws. The Washington Post (6/14) editorializes that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu’s recent ruling on California’s laws on teacher tenure and layoffs has revealed “issues about education quality” that “cry out for new ways of thinking.” Treu struck down these laws, ruling that they “violate the state’s constitutional commitment to provide ‘a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.’” While noting that the ruling will be appealed, the Post argues that it has highlighted the need for school officials and lawmakers “to bring sanity to policies that confer a guarantee of lifetime employment to teachers regardless of the job they do.”

 

California Teacher Tenure Ruling Likely To Lead to Challenges In Other States

 

 

 

The CBS Evening News (6/11, story 8, 2:00, Pelley) reported that the “battle over teacher tenure is about to go national.” A California judge on Tuesday “declared the system unconstitutional and today the group that paid for that lawsuit in California says it may challenge tenure laws in 12 more states.” CBS (Tracy) added that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu “did not mince words. In his 16-page decision he wrote, ‘The number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a sick number of California students. The evidence is compelling, indeed it shocks the conscience.’” Treu “said ineffective teachers disproportionately impact low income and minority students and that getting rid of bad teachers is nearly impossible,” and his ruling “eliminates California’s teacher tenure system in which after just 18 months on the job, teachers are given strong job security.”

        USA Today (6/11, Toppo) reports that Treu’s ruling “could send shockwaves” through the nation’s public schools, “opening the door for lawsuits in at least a dozen other states over teacher quality, observers on both sides of the fight said.” The decision, if upheld, “also could clear the way for lawsuits about issues that are rarely fought in courts.” The case “used a novel approach, borrowing civil-rights strategies from unions and school advocates, who have used lawsuits to fight to equalize school funding between rich and poor districts.”

        The New York Times (6/12, Medina, Subscription Publication) also reports that the ruling “is likely to lead to a flood of copycat lawsuits in other states, shifting the battleground on the issue from the legislatures to the courts. ‘Almost nothing the plaintiffs raised is unique to California,’ said Timothy Daly, the executive director of the New Teacher Project, which has for years pressed for revamping the way teachers are hired and fired, pushing away from tenure rules that give teachers a job for life after only a few years of proving themselves.”

        Analysis: Union Appeals Could Last Years. The Los Angeles Times (6/12, Blume, Ceasar) reports that Treu’s ruling “will undoubtedly spawn a series of appeals that could last years before a final outcome is reached.” The Times suggests that before the “sweeping” ruling means that “any effort to change the laws – or restore them – must now survive court scrutiny.”

        Expert: Ruling Won’t Improve Teacher Quality. Jack Schneider, author and assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, writes in a Los Angeles Times (6/12) column that Treu’s ruling “is certain to set off legal battles across the nation,” and writes that the lawsuit was based on the premise that “if it were easier to fire teachers...classroom educators would be motivated to continue growing over the full arc of their careers,” instead of just in the early years. Schneider calls this logic “deeply flawed,” writing that teachers’ quality does not grow consistently over time “not because they stop caring but because they lack guidance and support.”

        More Commentary. The New York Times (6/12, Board, Subscription Publication) editorializes that the “important” ruling “opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle” and “underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.” Treu “left it up to the state lawmakers to create new statutes that comport with the state Constitution,” and lawmakers are “almost certain to face heavy pressure from the teachers union, who will try to discredit this ruling,” but “unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.”

        In an op-ed for the Washington Post (6/12), Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of District of Columbia public schools and founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, writes that the ruling is “a huge win for California educators and the teaching profession as a whole,” as it says that “teachers should be rewarded for how well they serve children.” Rhee concludes that the ruling “ought to set off a national discussion about how to elevate teachers and treat educators like the professionals they are.”

California Court Strikes Down Teachers’ Job Protections As Unconstitutional

 

 

 

NBC Nightly News (6/10, story 6, 0:30, Williams) reported, “A closely watched case in the world of education,” resulted in a ruling “that California’s tenure protection for public schoolteachers are unconstitutional.” NBC said, “A lot of people will be watching this outcome.”

        USA Today (6/11, Toppo) reports the two largest teachers unions “vowed to challenge” the decision. USA Today notes the case “could reverberate across” the country as “other states look to overhaul their systems for hiring, paying and retaining teachers.” The article notes that National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel called the ruling “deeply flawed,” and quotes him saying, “Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.” Noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan took the opposite position on the ruling, USA Today reports that “he said he hoped the ruling would help ‘build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.’”

        According to the Los Angeles Times (6/11, Ceasar, Blume), the unions “denounced” the preliminary ruling by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Rolf Treu as “a misguided attack on teachers and students.” Treu ruled “that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss” poor performing instructors. The Times reports that Duncan “called the ruling a nationwide ‘mandate’ to change similar ‘laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.’”

        The Washington Times (6/11, Richardson) reports the lawsuit was “filed by nine public school students and backed by...Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch” against the state and the California Teachers Association.

        The Washington Post (6/11, Layton) reports the ruling in Vergara v. California “struck down three state laws,” including statutes that “grant tenure to teachers after two years, require layoffs by seniority, and call or a complex and lengthy process before a teacher can be fired.” True held that the laws “created unequal conditions...and deprive poor children of the best teachers.”

        In its coverage, the AP (6/10) reports that Duncan “hailed the judge’s ruling as a chance for schools everywhere to open a conversation on equal opportunity in education,” and concludes by quoting him saying, “The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems.”

        Politico (6/10, Simon) reports that Duncan “signaled his support for the ongoing campaign to reform hiring and firing laws,” noting that laws make it difficult to identify the top teachers and “match them with our neediest students.” Duncan “called the ruling ‘a mandate to fix these problems.’” Politico quotes Van Roekel saying, “Let’s be clear. This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.”

        The New York Times (6/11, Medina, Subscription Publication) reports the president of the California Federation of Teachers, Joshua Pechthalt, said the judge “fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric” and the plaintiff’s lawyers “set out to scapegoat teachers for the problems that exist in public education.” Pechthalt added, “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.” The Times notes that the case is expected to “generate dozens more like it” across the country. The Times reports that Duncan “enthusiastically endorsed” the ruling, and “issued a statement saying the ruling could help millions of students who are hurt by existing teacher tenure laws.” The piece quotes Duncan saying, “My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.”

        The Wall Street Journal (6/11, Phillips, Subscription Publication) reports the teachers’ unions indicated they plan to appeal the ruling. California Teachers Association spokesman Frank Wells expressed confidence in the unions’ ability to “prevail on appeal.” Wells said, “We don’t believe the court is the place to be making these kinds of policy decisions.”

        Other media outlets covering this story include the Sacramento (CA) Bee (6/10), the San Francisco Chronicle (6/11), theChristian Science Monitor (6/11), the Education Week (6/11) “TeacherBeat” blog, PBS’ Newshour With Jim Lehrer (6/11), CNN(6/11, Martinez, Cnn), the Washington Examiner (6/11), the NPR (6/11, Westervelt) “NprEd” blog, and US News & World Report(6/10).

        New York Activists Energized By California Ruling. The New York Post (6/11) reports that parents in New York were “scrambling to overturn New York’s” tenure laws on Tuesday after the “stunning” ruling. The article quotes Mona Davids of the NYC Parents Union saying, “The California ruling sets a precedent. We want to file the same lawsuit here in New York. For too long, children have been condemned to schools with low-performing teachers protected by the teachers union.”

        WSJournal: Case Provides Disadvantaged Students Hope Of Judicial Protection of Rights. The Wall Street Journal (6/11, Subscription Publication) editorializes that Treu made the correct ruling and argues that the case provides disadvantaged students an opportunity to seek protection of their rights from the judicial system.

Nonprofit Sues California Over Teacher Retention Laws

Stateline (4/2, Lu) reports on the trial Vergara v. California. Nonprofit group Students Matter brought the lawsuit on behalf of nine students. The plaintiffs allege that the state’s employment laws “leave so many ineffective teachers on the job that some students many of them low-income and minority fail to receive the education guaranteed by the state constitution.” Teachers unions contend that inadequate education is not due to poor quality teachers, but rather “inadequate resources, large class sizes and lack of parental involvement.” Sandi Jacobs, managing director of state policy for NCTQ, said California is one of few states that doesn’t consider student performance when evaluating teachers. Jesse Rothstein, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy, cautioned that the models used to measure teacher performance may be unreliable. The article also considers employment policies and performance incentives in schools across the US

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Final Arguments Heard In California Teacher Tenure Lawsuit

The Los Angeles Times (3/28, Blume) reports that both sides made final arguments Thursday in “a groundbreaking, two-month trial challenging teacher job protections in California,” with both sides claiming to be representing the best interests of students. Noting that the lawsuit “seeks to overturn a set of laws that affect how teachers are fired, laid off and granted tenure,” the Times reports that the plaintiffs allege that those laws “hinder the removal of ineffective teachers,” resulting in “a workforce with thousands of ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers.” The plaintiffs argue that this impacts low-income and minority students disproportionately and violates the state constitution. Attorneys for the state’s teachers unions “countered that it is not the laws but poor management that is to blame for districts’ failing to root out incompetent instructors.”

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Ali Supports California Teacher Tenure Lawsuit

In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle (3/19), former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, who is currently the chair of the Emerson Collective Education Fund, writes that under California law, it is “nearly impossible to remove known, chronically underperforming educators from the classroom,” and writes in support of Vergara vs. California, a lawsuit that “asserts that the state laws providing automatic lifetime employment for failing California public school teachers are unconstitutional.” Ali portrays the case as pitting “the power of teachers” against the impetus of “protecting the right of every student in California to strong teaching and a quality education.”

Former Los Angeles Mayor Endorses Teacher Protection Lawsuit

     The Los Angeles Times (1/30, Blume) reports that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has “formally endorsed” the lawsuit in California state court seeking to reduce “job protections for California teachers that are among the most extensive in the nation.” Noting that the plaintiffs in the case say that the state’s powerful job protections violate students’ rights to having effective teachers, the Times writes that Villaraigosa stressed that “improving overall teaching and removing the worst teachers are crucial” for “increasing academic achievement and reducing the dropout rate.”

        California Teachers Association Defends Current Law.The Wall Street Journal (1/31, Gershman) reports on the California Teachers Association’s role as a defendant in the case, noting that the union says that the law protects experienced teachers from being fired or laid off arbitrarily.

California Teacher Protection Lawsuit Takes Shape

Stephen Sawchuk writes at the Education Week (1/29) “TeacherBeat” blog that as opening arguments in a California lawsuit “that seeks to overturn major elements of teachers’ seniority and tenure protections” begin this week, the form of the sides’ arguments “gradually began to emerge.” He writes that the plaintiffs argue that the teacher protection laws “put poor and minority children at a higher risk of receiving subpar instruction than their peers,” but defense attorneys representing the state “argued that the laws do not force districts to assign poor teachers to at-risk students; instead, they actually serve to keep the best teachers in the profession.”

        Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Laws Protect Incompetent Teachers. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (1/29, Subscription Publication), attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. writes about the lawsuit, noting that he is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case. He argues that the teacher protection laws in question harm students by making it exceedingly difficult to fire poorly performing teachers. He argues that this violates students’ rights to an adequate education.

Testimony In California Teacher Job Protections Lawsuit Begins

Several media reports are covering the beginning of arguments in a California lawsuit challenging state laws protecting teacher employment. The Los Angeles Times (1/27, Ceasar) reports that the lawsuit questions “the constitutionality of laws that govern California’s teacher tenure rules, seniority policies and the dismissal process – an overhaul of which could upend controversial job security for instructors.” Plaintiffs argue that since the laws “do not ensure all students have access to an adequate education,” they violate the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee. The lawsuit “seeks to revamp a dismissal process the plaintiffs say is too costly and time consuming” and to make tenure more difficult to obtain.

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Los Angeles Court To Consider Legality Of Tenure

The AP (1/26, Watson) reports, “Nine California public school students are suing the state over its laws on teacher tenure, seniority and other protections that the plaintiffs say keep bad educators in classrooms.” The case will be heard in Los Angeles Superior Court starting today. The lead attorney said that tenure has led to a “dysfunctional and arbitrary” system. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have requested that the court dismiss the suit. That was rejected. The case is reported in the context of moves by a number of states that “have weakened teaching job protections, including generations-old tenure, to give administrators more flexibility to fire bad teachers.” The case is backed by Students Matter.

        The Washington Post (1/27, Layton) describes the case as “pitting a Silicon Valley mogul with a star-studded legal team against some of the most powerful labor unions in the country.” The suit is being pursued as legislative attempts to alter the tenure laws have failed.