Teacher Tenure on Trial in California
Opening arguments began on Jan. 27, 2014 in Vergara v. California, a case brought by advocacy organization Students Matter and nine public school students alleging that teacher tenure violates the constitutional rights of students.
Students Matter, an advocacy organization founded by telecommunications entrepreneur David Welch in Nov. 2010 with the goal of “creating positive structural change in the California K-12 public education system,” helped nine students file the case against the state on May 14, 2012. The two largest teachers unions in California, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, chose to join the case as defendants on May 2, 2013.
The case challenges three aspects of California’s Education Code: 1) Laws that effectively guarantee all teachers tenure after an introductory period; 2) Laws that make it difficult to fire ineffective teachers; and 3) Laws that require school districts to make decisions about district-wide layoffs and subsequent reassignments based on teacher seniority instead of classroom performance.
“California public schools have fallen inexcusably far behind the rest of the nation, both in academic achievement and in progress toward embracing proven ways of raising student success,” said Student Matters in a press release. “Research shows that quality teachers make the difference – not only in students’ academic performance but also in lifetime achievement. Quality teachers are the foundation of a quality education. Yet… state laws in California restrict access to quality teachers, particularly from our most vulnerable students who need quality teachers the most.”
According to the California Teachers Association, the lawsuit “highlights the wrong problems, proposes the wrong solutions, and follows the wrong process. This is yet another attempt by the usual corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students. Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their due process rights will not improve student learning, will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms, and ignores all the research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching. This is a blatant effort to legislate from the bench, keeping parents and educators out of education policy decisions.”
The Los Angeles County Superior Court trial is expected to last for one month. The ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the California State Supreme Court, according to the New York Times.
Andrea Billups, “Students Put Teacher Tenure on Trial in Calif. Lawsuit,” newsmax.com, Feb. 4, 2014
California Teachers Association, “Vergara v. State of California Trial,” cta.org (accessed Feb. 5, 2014)
Jennifer Medina, “Fight over Effective Teachers Shifts to Courtroom,” nytimes.com, Jan. 31, 2014
Students Matter, “Vergara v. California Case Status,” studentsmatter.org (accessed Feb. 5, 2014)
Students Matter, “Vergara v. California Case Summary,” studentsmatter.org (accessed Feb. 5, 2014)
Stephen Sawchuk, “Teachers’ Job Protections Debated in California Trial,” edweek.org, Feb. 3, 2014