Former Solicitor General and Vergara v. California Attorney Theodore B. Olson Delivers Keynote at National Summit on Education

Former U.S. Solicitor General and Vergara v. California attorney Theodore Olson delivered a keynote presentation at the 2013 National Summit on Education Reform hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education this morning. The summit brings together education leaders in policy areas including school choice, college and career readiness, standards and accountability, digital learning and effective teaching.  Mr. Olson, who represents the nine plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, spoke about the civil rights impacts of the case and the importance of the legal system as a pathway to challenging the status quo in education.

Olson, who was interviewed by Dr. Condoleezza Rice after his speech, described the lawsuit as akin to the civil rights battle fought in Brown v. Board of Education. He painted a clear picture—there is no excuse to allow a teacher to stay in the classroom if he or she is known to be ineffective. To do so violates students’ fundamental constitutional and does “irreparable damage to our future citizens,” with particularly disastrous impacts on our most vulnerable students.

Countering those who describe the Vergara case as anti-teacher, he highlighted the absurdity of those who insist that teachers are fundamental to student learning while also alleging that quality teaching has no impact on student achievement. Olson said that in reality, “teachers are critically important, which is why we want the best ones.”

When asked why Students Matter is taking this issue to the courts rather than leaving it to the legislature, he explained that California’s lawmakers have completely failed to make progress on the issue and “when the popular will does not respond to the Constitutional rights of the minority, that’s when we turn to the courts.” As in Brown. v. Board and Hollingsworth vPerry,  the case that successfully challenged California’s Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court, the court must step in when fundamental civil rights are being violated. Olson drew parallels to his work on Hollingsworth, saying that if the movement for students’ rights is to be successful it must win in both the courts and in the court of public opinion.

View clips from Mr. Olson’s interview with Dr. Rice and Mr. Olson’s presentation:

 (Photo source: The Foundation for Excellence in Education, http://excelined.org).