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Public Statements - Students Matter
The New York Times Editorial

The Vergara v. California “ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle. It also 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.”

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Vergara Plaintiffs Deliver Riveting Closing Arguments

Watch Plaintiffs' riveting closing arguments on the final day of the Vergara v. California trial.

Oakland Alliance of Black Educators Endorses Vergara

"We believe the spirit of dedication and making children the priority, as exhibited by educators like Marcus Foster, are necessary ingredients to effectively steward our most precious resource – children."

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Media Center | Public Statements

    Community Leaders

  • **NEW** Former President Marlene Canter, Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education

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    Marlene Canter

    “For many years now, research has shown that teachers are the most significant in-school factor impacting student achievement. This fact is one of the reasons I made teacher quality a top priority while serving as a member of the school board of the Los Angeles Unified School District. More than research, however, it has been my own firsthand experience that has guided me on the importance of teacher quality.

    “Having started my career in the classroom, I know better than anyone that a teacher can make or break a student’s year and their subsequent future. And yet, we continue to debate whether teachers really make a difference. With the recent decision in Vergara v. California, however, the facts can no longer be denied. The court clearly and decisively affirmed that teachers do matter and that when we fail to place the best people in front of our students we are violating their constitutional right to access the education they deserve. With this in mind, it is time to once and for all leave this debate behind. All stakeholders must now move forward together to create a system that recognizes and values the work that teachers do, and most importantly one that puts students back where they belong—at the forefront of education.”

  • **NEW** Valley Commerce & Industry Association

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    “The Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) is pleased with the recent Los Angeles Superior Court decision in Vergara v. California. The ruling makes clear that the state can no longer tolerate quality-blind policies that knowingly harm children and in turn the economic future of California.

    “Based on evidence presented in Vergara, if just 3 percent of California’s teachers are grossly ineffective, their students, and the economy at large, stands to lose $11.6 billion in lifetime earnings each year. This number clearly demonstrates that teachers have a real and appreciable impact not only on the quality of students’ educational experience, but also on our state’s ability to grow and succeed economically.

    “Businesses, big and small have a vested interest in ensuring that all of California’s students have access to the teachers they need and deserve. Keeping ineffective teachers at the K-12 level results in students who are underprepared for higher education. Students who don’t receive a good education in their formative years are less likely to perform well in the workforce.

    “A happy future for California is dependent on the proper cultivation of young minds, and the statutes challenged by Vergara are disruptive to this goal shared by all. Now is the time to create solutions that put the best interests of students first, and help to build a workforce with the skills and knowledge for future success.”

  • **NEW** Chiefs for Change

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    Today, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu issued his final decision in the groundbreaking education equality trial, Vergara v. California. Hanna Skandera, Chair of Chiefs for Change and New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary, released the following statement:

    “Every child, regardless of race, economic standing, geography or circumstance, deserves a high-quality education and an opportunity to thrive. Today’s ruling reaffirms that students in California have a fundamental constitutional right to equality in education, and challenges California union leaders, elected officials and educators to quickly replace outdated work rules and management practices with responsible policies that place the best teachers in front of the students who need them the most.

    “Chiefs for Change extends this challenge to every state and school district across America that perpetuates inequity through outdated laws and policies. Reforming these laws will both improve educational outcomes for children and strengthen the teaching profession, bringing greater public support and respect for this important work.

    “We commend the nine brave students in this case, their families and Students Matter for challenging the status quo and demanding a high-quality education for all. By placing students at the center of education, American public schools can be dramatically improved – making them once again the conduit to a better life for the next generation.”

    Chiefs for Change is a bipartisan coalition of current and former state education chiefs who believe that American public education can be dramatically improved and share an urgency to achieve that goal.

  • **NEW** Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, City of West Sacramento

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    Christopher Cabaldon

    “Throughout my professional career in public service and elected office, I have been reminded time and time again how integral high-quality public education is to local development. As local leaders, when we focus on ensuring every child has access to the great education they deserve, we set our cities and towns on a path to prosperity. The student-plaintiffs in the lawsuit Vergara v. California bravely eliminated significant barriers to education equality in our schools — and not just for themselves, but for the entire State of California. Their victory has empowered leaders across the state and the country to collaborate and innovate to find the best solutions for keeping highly motivated and highly effective teachers in every classroom.

    “I applaud the courageous Vergara families and look forward to the new era to come in public schools in California.”

  • **NEW** Mayor Mike Rawlings, City of Dallas

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    Mike Rawlings

    “The importance of education was instilled in me from an early age as the son of two teachers. This, along with my experience as a parent, business leader and public servant, has provided me with a deep understanding of the power of a quality education to uplift families and communities and to drive economic and social success. That’s why as Mayor of Dallas I have made education a priority and why I stand with the nine brave student-plaintiffs of Vergara v. California.

    “Communities across the state of California have been empowered to demand a better system that values teachers and puts the best interests of students first thanks to the Court’s historic decision. But this is about more than California. The case and recent decision have driven a national conversation that cannot be ignored about students’ rights and the tremendous impact that teachers have on the success of a child. This is a moment we cannot afford to waste. We must seize this opportunity as a nation to ensure that the education of all our students is our highest priority.”

  • **NEW** Mayor Kevin Johnson, City of Sacramento

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    MKJ - cropped

    “Quality public education is the bedrock of our society — the gateway through which children grow to thrive in our democracy and in our economy. The Court’s recent ruling in Vergara v. California affirmed a fundamental American truth: that every child, no matter their zip code or parents’ income level, has an equal right to learn and succeed in our public schools. That’s why I stand with the nine brave student-plaintiffs who brought the Vergara lawsuit. As a result of their courage and their refusal to settle for less than they deserve, California now has the opportunity to right what’s been going so terribly wrong in our education system for many years. And their resounding victory in Vergara v. California is not just a victory for other students like them but a victory for every single Californian. Because strong public schools mean a brighter, more stable and more equal future for us all.”

  • Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida and Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education

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    Jeb Bush

    Judge Rolf Treu made a historic decision that will reverberate well beyond California. Morally we know that all children deserve a chance to learn in the classroom. Now a series of indefensible laws denying them that right have been struck down thanks to the efforts of nine very brave public school students and their excellent legal team.

    Judge Treu listened to the plaintiffs and analyzed the overwhelming evidence their lawyers presented showing that teachers matter. This ruling on the constitutional rights of disadvantaged students to an equal education and equal access to effective teachers was being watched across the nation, and its impact will be felt well beyond California.

    Sixty years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the fight for equal access to a quality education for all students continues. Today’s decision is one more victory for this cause.”

    The court decision strikes down a series of laws that “disproportionally affect poor and/or minority students” by violating their state constitutional guarantees of an adequate public education. In the decision the court stated:

    • “All sides agree that grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school.”
    • “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience… There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teacher currently active in California classrooms.”
    • “This court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current Permanent Employment Statute.”
  • Representative George Miller, 11th District of California

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    George Miller

    “Judge Treu’s ruling affirms the simple and undeniable premise that every child, regardless of background or zip code, has the right to a high-quality education and an effective teacher. It is not only Californians who should celebrate today’s decision, but families in every state and school district across the country.

    “For years, our nation’s courts have been the arbiter of equity in education. Like Brown v. Board, Serrano, Butt, and the many other landmark educational equality cases before it, Vergara will help refocus our education system on the needs of students.

    “Unfortunately, school districts nationwide have policies in place that mirror those challenged in Vergara—policies that constrain the ability of schools to put the very best teachers in front the children that need them most. This is simply indefensible. Today’s ruling puts every school with similar policies on notice.

    “I call upon all stakeholders in my home state—elected officials, community and school leaders, and teachers—to be bold and do what is right for kids. This is an historic opportunity and a defining moment for California, one that we must not squander. The Vergara decision underscores the state’s responsibility to protect the rights of children to constitutionally mandated equal educational opportunities. We owe it to the six million students in California’s public education system to be thoughtful and deliberate, and to put their needs first as we move forward.”

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

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    For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. 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. Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education. This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to 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. 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. At the federal level, we are committed to encouraging and supporting that dialogue in partnership with states. At the same time, we all need to continue to address other inequities in education–including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.

  • **NEW** Oakland Alliance of Black Educators

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    OABE Dr Thompson

    The Oakland Alliance of Black Educators (OABE), an organization whose members represent thousands of years of administrative and instructional service within Oakland’s schools, supports the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California and endorses their effort to remove the disputed statutes.

    OABE has engaged people involved with both sides of the case, and has hosted forums where community organizations could hear directly from the California Teachers Association and the firm representing the plaintiffs (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher).  We considered the insights gained from those conversations alongside the personal and professional experiences within our organization. After six months of research, analysis, and debate, OABE’s Executive Council unanimously voted to accept the recommendation of its endorsement committee.

    OABE has determined that the challenged statutes have had an unambiguously devastating effect upon Oakland students’ educational opportunities, bred racial and class animus between school communities, and undermined the public education system’s capacity to equitably serve an ethnically, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse student population.

    The disputed statutes have allowed the adults within school systems to defer to statutory defaults, rather than build the relationships and tools necessary to negotiate good-faith, common sense agreements that support teachers without sabotaging students’ access to a quality education.

    Additionally, OABE’s occupational diversity allows it to recognize the distractingly inaccurate implication that these statutes are necessary for due process. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the California Constitution, and the California Supreme Court case called Skelly v. State Personnel Board (15 Cal. 3d 194) establish due process for public employees.  However, the challenged statutes codify extensive, additional job protection for teachers and inadvertently change due process into an altar upon which we are not prepared to sacrifice our children.

    Without these statutes, California’s teachers would still be afforded the same due process protections as all California public school employees including: librarians, peace officers, para-educators, child care workers, administrative assistants, food service workers, custodians, electricians, registrars, counselors, groundskeepers, data analysts, bilingual assistants, and many others.

    Further, OABE categorically rejects the shallow and callously patronizing assertion that “this case is about firing African-American teachers.” The historical mistreatment of teachers (including African-Americans) may have created the context and emboldened the movement through which these laws were created; however, it does not excuse us from assessing the current impact the laws are having on our students, nor does the moral authority of past movements automatically transfer to every position taken by the generational and organizational descendants of those prior movements.

    Not only does OABE endorse the plaintiffs’ position that these statutes be struck down because their impact violates the rights of children as articulated within California’s Constitution, but we encourage all interest groups to “stand down” from the constant state of impermeably vigilant and aggressive protectionism that stifles healthy communication and, rooted in fear, obscures common sense.

    We believe the spirit of dedication and making children the priority, as exhibited by educators like Marcus Foster, are necessary ingredients to effectively steward our most precious resource –children, and to avoid creating counterproductive bulwarks (like these disputed statutes) against our fears.

    OABE is comprised of current and retired teachers, administrators, parents, and school support-staff who are concerned about the educational, social, and moral development of African-American youth.

  • California Assemblywoman Kristin M. Olsen

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    Kristin Olsen

    California’s public schools used to be the nation’s gold standard. But today, the Golden State’s 4th graders rank 46th in reading, while our 8th graders rank 47th in math.

    When you see figures like this, it’s clear that our students are unprepared to meet the demands of both college and the 21st century workforce.

    California is home to some of the world’s most innovative and creative companies. Every day, they are shaping the global economy. They are seeking a skilled workforce that has a strong knowledge-base, keen analytical skills, and proficiency in math and science.

    But the failure of many of our schools to teach students basic reading, analytical and mathematical skills denies them the solid foundation they will need to succeed and prosper in this new economy.

    One of the key things we can do to help turn our schools around is to get a great teacher into every single one of our public school classrooms. Study after study has shown that if a good teacher is standing at the front of the class, students learn more. A great teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success, and one that our education policy can address.

    This is especially important in schools in poor and minority communities where the need is greatest.

    Unfortunately, our current system grants permanent employment status to teachers after two years and makes firing ineffective and even abusive teachers a time-consuming and costly process. The status quo guarantees bad teachers can stay put.

    To be sure, there are many great teachers in California that are working hard and going above and beyond what is expected of them to help our students succeed. They deserve to be recognized for their outstanding performance. But their reputation should not be dragged down by a system that keeps in place those teachers who are failing to make the grade.

    Every day the status quo is in place is another day that our state fails to adequately prepare students to be successful employees, entrepreneurs and innovators.

    Our children deserve better.

    Fortunately, a legal case is making its way through the California courts that has the potential to change all of this.

    Nine public school students filed the Vergara v. California case last year with the help of a nonprofit organization called Students Matter. The month-long trial for this groundbreaking lawsuit began last month.

    When these students have their day in court, their lawyers will argue that our state’s outdated and misguided laws governing the hiring, firing and seniority of teachers violate the California Constitution’s guarantee of an equal right to a quality education.

    Defending the right to education is usually the legislature’s job. As a legislative body, we are supposed to work together to set education policy that puts the needs of our state’s children first. But as a member of the California State Assembly and Vice Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, I have seen time and time again how powerful interests in Sacramento and fearful politicians have been able to stymie progress, keeping California lagging at the back of the pack.

    That’s why I’m cheering on this case and its student plaintiffs.

    If these nine courageous kids are victorious and these outdated, unfair laws are overturned, we will have a golden opportunity to reset the conversation in California about our schools and how to achieve top-ranking status once again.

    We will have the chance to reach across the aisle and create a new, more modern system of teacher hiring and dismissal, a system in tune with the educational needs of our kids and the economic needs of our future.

  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City of Los Angeles

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    Education is the great equalizer—the most powerful weapon that we have in our arsenal to bridge the social gap—and the foundation on which our communities build our future leaders. This lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is built on the simple and undeniable premise that every child—regardless of background—deserves a quality education. And that’s why I stand with these brave students who are standing up for what is right and what is just. Through this case, these young Plaintiffs will bring meaningful and badly needed change to California’s Education Code and create an opportunity to infuse the public school system with fresh, new ideas.
  • Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce

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    Greater Bakersfield Chamber

    The Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, representing 1,300 local businesses and thousands of taxpayers and consumers, is writing to express our support for the education equality lawsuit Vergara v. California sponsored by the nonprofit organization Students Matter.

    The importance of quality education to building a strong democracy and a thriving economy cannot be understated. However, in California as in many other states the quality of the public education being provided to our children has fallen inexcusably low, especially to our underserved Latino and African American communities.

    An abundance of research shows that effective teachers create the foundation of a quality education. Yet, the tenure, dismissal and seniority-based layoff system created by state law in California forces administrators to knowingly place grossly ineffective teachers in front of students every year.

    Vergara v. California seeks to strike down five arcane provisions in the Education Code currently handcuffing California’s school districts from embracing common-sense human resource practices to attract and retain effective educators in public schools and removing grossly ineffective educators from the classroom.

    We hope to see California, especially the Greater Bakersfield area, again lead the nation in providing high quality and equal opportunities to learn, grow and achieve in our public schools.

    The Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce supports efforts to foster a high level of educational equality at all levels. The Chamber supports efforts to ensure that educational resources are used effectively and efficiently to enhance students academic achievement.

    The success of the nine brave public schoolchildren bringing the Vergara v. California lawsuit to court this spring is imperative because it will usher the teaching profession in California into a new era of professionalism, excellence and student-centered innovation.

    For these reasons, we offer our strong support.

    Cynthia D. Pollard
    Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce

  • Silicon Valley Leadership Group

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    SM_SVLG logo square

    The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an organization that represents more than 375 of Silicon Valley’s most respected employers with the mission of ensuring economic health and a high quality of life for our region and state, supports the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

    High quality education is imperative to the Silicon Valley region’s knowledge-based economy and for maintaining California’s leadership in technology and innovation. Research informs us that teacher quality, including the level of content knowledge, is the most important determinant of a child’s academic and future success. Studies show that students assigned to effective teachers for three consecutive years will perform up to 50 percentile points higher than those who experience an ineffective teacher in that period, while students with ineffective teachers for two consecutive years can develop a life-long learning deficit.

    The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has a rich history of supporting teacher professional development through public policy advocacy and through its own initiatives to train teachers in mathematics and by providing enriching summer fellowships for teachers. The organization is also actively involved in improving the level of public investment in education, pre-school through university.

    Currently, though, California ranks behind almost every other state – California is 48th in the nation in both reading and math at the eighth grade level (2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress). In addition to increasing the level of public investment in students and in teachers, it is vital that the state’s education framework be changed to give districts and schools the ability to meet its challenges through the appropriate assignment and placement of personnel.

    Accordingly, the Silicon Valley Leadership supports the case Vergara v. California that seeks to strike down statutes that it believes infringe on California students’ Constitutional rights to a quality education. These statutes result in an outdated and inflexible system where teacher quality is devalued at the expense of California’s students.

    The case is supported by the non-profit advocacy group Students Matter and a diverse coalition of statewide education organizations.

    Silicon Valley Leadership Group, founded in 1978 by David Packard of Hewlett-Packard, represents more than 375 of Silicon Valley’s most respected employers on issues, programs and campaigns that affect the economic health and quality of life in Silicon Valley, including energy, transportation, education, housing, health care, tax policies, economic vitality and the environment. For more information, visit svlg.org.

  • Newspaper Editorials

  • Editorial: Albuquerque Journal

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    Editorial: Lawsuits over tenure, evals remind that kids are No. 1

    A court decision in California and a pending lawsuit in Texas – and education reform efforts in New Mexico and elsewhere – are indicative that Americans are fed up with poor student performance and an intractable education system.

    A California judge ruled that teacher tenure and job protection laws in that state – among the strongest in the nation – are unconstitutional and violate students’ civil right to an equal education.

    Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that state’s laws making it nearly impossible to fire grossly ineffective teachers are harmful to students, particularly in low-income and minority student schools, where a preponderance of these teachers are assigned.

    The suit was brought by nine students and their advocates and was funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Welch, who created Students Matter, an advocacy group to challenge the California education system.

    Meanwhile, the Houston Federation of Teachers is suing its school district in an attempt to overturn its use of “value added measures” implemented in 2007 as part of a teacher’s evaluation score. Value-added is a method that seeks to determine the value a teacher adds to his or her students’ performance based on standardized tests.

    Similar to complaints here in New Mexico, some teachers in Houston claim the VAM system is inaccurate, arbitrary, difficult to understand and violates their constitutional rights to due process.

    There have been similar lawsuits in Florida and Tennessee, as taking grievances to court appears to have become a major avenue for redress for both teachers and critics of today’s education system.

    However, the rising tide of efforts to improve student outcomes and to remove ineffective teachers and reward excellent ones raises the core question: Is the education priority in America about students or about teachers?

    Effective teachers are key to student performance. No question. But at the end of the day, the first priority of public education can’t be about job security. It needs to be about the students and whether they are getting an education for college or productive work.

  • Editorial: USA Today

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    Firing tenured teachers: Our view

    Beatriz Vergara, 15, said she had one teacher at her school in Pacoima, Calif., who fell asleep during class. Another of her teachers told Latino students that they’d end up cleaning houses for a living. Brandon Debose Jr. said his 10th-grade geometry teacher in Oakland spent 10 minutes of class taking roll, didn’t explain the work and expected students to learn math on their own.

    Rather than just complain, the students did something about it. Backed by an advocacy group and top lawyers, they sued the California school system and testified about this ineptitude. And last week, against all odds, they won.

    A Los Angeles judge 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.

    The system — which leaves grossly ineffective teachers in classrooms, often in low-income and minority communities — robs children of the opportunity for an equal education, Judge Rolf Treu ruled.

    The ruling affects only California, and it will be appealed. (The state of California, one of the defendants, argued that most of the teachers the students identified as bad were in fact “excellent.”) But the case could spark improvements in education nationwide by exposing how ludicrously difficult it is in places such as California to fire bad teachers:

    • An average of 2.2 teachers a year are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance in a state where 275,000 teachers work, a plaintiffs’ expert testified during the trial. A California teacher has a better chance of being struck by lightning than being fired for incompetence.
    • A dismissal proceeding can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The process is so cumbersome and expensive that few districts attempt it. Bad teachers, unwanted by principals, are bounced from school to school, often in impoverished neighborhoods, in what educators call “the dance of the lemons.”
    • Los Angeles schools are saddled with an estimated 350 ineffective teachers — the number who have received two “below standard” evaluations, an L.A. school district official testified. If the district could, the official said, it would dismiss those teachers right away.
    • A teacher in California can gain what amounts to lifetime job protection in less than two years — the deadline for deciding whether to give tenure to new, probationary teachers. When layoffs occur, the newest teachers are the first to go, even if they are top performers. Seniority rules.

    Ideally, parents and children wouldn’t need to file lawsuits over teacher work rules, and judges wouldn’t need to be involved. The great majority of teachers are dedicated and perform well. They don’t want to work with inept colleagues or see top performers laid off. They want to see children get the most out of school.

    A handful of states — Colorado, Florida, Indiana and Oklahoma — have altered irrational teacher-protection laws. But lawmakers in California and elsewhere, cowed by powerful unions, have refused to make major changes.

    U.S. 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.

  • Editorial: The Washington Post

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    California tenure system ruling is a smart decision for students

    A JUDGE who struck down California’s laws on teacher tenure and layoffs said the decision was based solely on the legal aspects of the case but added that he was mindful of the intense political debate about these issues. It is “beyond question,” he wrote, that there will be further political discourse. We certainly hope so. The issues about education equality laid bare by this groundbreaking ruling cry out for new ways of thinking.

    In a decision handed down Tuesday, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that state laws on the hiring, firing and job security of teachers violate the state’s constitutional commitment to provide “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.” The 16-page ruling found that job protections afforded to teachers violate the rights of minority and low-income students to an equal education because they are the ones disproportionately stuck with the incompetent teachers who are hard, if not impossible, to fire. Constitutional rights in education typically have been tied to equitable funding, so the judge entered new territory by declaring a basic right to an effective teacher.

    The trial featured powerful testimony about the effect of incompetent teachers on students. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” the judge wrote.

    Beatriz Vergara, a 15-year-old student and plaintiff in Vergara v. California, told of one teacher who slept in class, another who let students smoke marijuana and another who told students, mainly Latino, that they would be cleaning houses for a living. Los Angeles schools SuperintendentJohn Deasy testified it costs in excess of $250,000 to $450,000 to get rid of a bad teacher. Harvard University education and economics Professor Thomas Kane testified that a student assigned to an ineffective math teacher in Los Angeles loses 11.73 months of learning per year compared to a student with a teacher of average effectiveness. Teachers themselves decried “last in, first out” policies that mean in a layoff districts have to keep the teachers with the most seniority, even if a newer teacher is better.

    The ruling will be appealed, but it’s really up to school officials and lawmakers — and not only in California — to bring sanity to policies that confer a guarantee of lifetime employment to teachers regardless of the job they do. Teachers should still have due process rights that protect them from arbitrary action or abuse, but it’s time that the rights of their students be a part of the calculation.

    We recognize that simply making it easier to fire ineffective teachers won’t correct the ills of public education or ensure better student achievement. In assailing the ruling, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, noted that Judge Treu he made no mention of poverty, school segregation or the other external or internal factors that impact student achievement. She is right that these issues need to be tackled. But it’s hard to see how keeping bad teachers in the classroom helps solve any of them.

  • Editorial: Chicago Tribune

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    California judge rightly strikes down teacher job protection laws

    Earlier this year, we told you about a riveting case unfolding in a Los Angeles courtroom. Nine students — among them 15-year-old Beatriz Vergara — contended that strong job protections enshrined in state law, including teacher tenure, made it too difficult to fire ineffective educators. The students complained that their education was stifled because they were trapped in classrooms with inadequate teachers who failed to maintain basic discipline, let alone teach.

    The plaintiffs’ key argument in Vergara v. California: The laws in question cheat untold thousands of children — many of them low-income and minority students — of their constitutional right to a decent education.

    On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed. Thunderously. His 16-page opinion is rattling teachers unions and their political allies from coast to coast. Treu ruled that tenure, seniority and other rigid job protections for teachers create unequal conditions in public schools and rob low-income and minority children of the best teachers.

    The evidence of how damaging a poor teacher is to a student’s learning is “compelling,” the judge wrote. “Indeed it shocks the conscience.”

    Treu cited a four-year study that found Los Angeles students taught by teachers “in the bottom 5 percent of competence lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year compared to students with average teachers.” Children lose 9.54 months!

    This blockbuster decision turns on a simple premise: Every child deserves the best teacher. Not necessarily the most experienced. Or the one who has the most advanced degrees. Or the one who has clung to the classroom via tenure, a process that in California takes a shockingly brief two years on the job. In Illinois, by contrast, teachers earn tenure after four years if they perform satisfactorily.

    Timothy Knowles of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute tells us that if the California decision is upheld, “it is incredibly important. Labor’s main concern seems to be capricious leaders who will fire teachers without due process. That is missing the larger point: Students who depend on high-quality teaching the most are least likely to get it because of job protections that labor and management have concocted over time.”

    In 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court came to much the same conclusion as Treu in a different case that involved the layoffs of 1,289 Chicago Public Schools teachers. Long story short: The court ruled that state law gave CPS officials leeway to let teaching skill trump tenure in determining layoff lists.

    That should be the law of the land. A school’s primary function is to serve students. No priority cherished by adults — including teacher tenure or other job protections — should outweigh the profound obligation to put the most adept teacher at the head of every classroom.

    We’re encouraged that many states are moving in that direction. In Illinois, a set of powerful 2011 reforms made it harder for teachers to earn tenure and easier for school districts to fire low-performing teachers. But harder and easier does not mean hard and easy. The system is still stacked in favor of a poorly performing teacher staying at the head of the class. Year after year.

    In the California case, the plaintiffs have contended that, over 10 years, only 91 of the state’s 275,000 teachers have been fired. And most of those dismissals were for inappropriate conduct, they said; only 19 teachers were dismissed for unsatisfactory performance. Yet the judge estimated that the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in California ranges from 2,750 to 8,250.

    We hope the California decision, and reform efforts across the country, eventually lead to the end of tenure. As we’ve said, there’s no reason to preserve it. In most professions — law, retail, secretarial work, accountancy, medicine — people earn the chance to come back to work every day. They don’t get tenure. Why should teachers be any different?

    The defendants in the California case, including the state Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association, vow to appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

    But we hope this decision signals that tenure and other inflexible job protections are on the way out. Expect to read about lawsuits and legislation in other states to achieve similar reforms. In the words of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who applauded Tuesday’s ruling, it presents “a mandate” to fix education inequities.

    While this case plays out in court, while politicians spend more time and energy appeasing the grown-ups who fund their political campaigns rather than demolishing barriers to children’s education, students are doomed to classrooms with teachers who shouldn’t be there. Every day.

    That should shock everyone’s conscience.

  • Editorial: San Jose Mercury News

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    Vergara trial quantifies the harm done by inadequate teachers

    Tuesday’s decision by a Los Angeles judge finding the state’s teacher tenure and discipline laws unconstitutional was a concise summation of the obvious. You’d think people would be up in arms to demand change. But this is California, and that’s not how we roll.

    Here, we guarantee job security to all teachers who manage to last 18 months in a classroom, regardless of their level of competence. We do this not because teachers are an oppressed class but because of the mighty political cash their union slings around Sacramento.

    Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s logical and emphatic ruling should lead to sensible changes in rules so that bad teachers aren’t all but impossible to fire and the best teachers aren’t the first ones shown the door when funding cuts force layoffs.

    But it will take years for higher courts to deal with this. And like the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision cited by Treu, Vergara v. California will ultimately be settled by nine people who also enjoy lifetime tenure — the state Supreme Court, since the case is based on the state constitution.

    If the decision is upheld, the effects will be profound in California and perhaps nationally — although even now, few states give tenure after such a short time or make longevity the overriding factor in deciding who gets laid off.

    In the meantime, political theater of the absurd has commenced. Both sides are sniping at the other’s motives as they try to influence the court of public opinion. The tragedy is that the kids who have been denied equal education will continue to suffer in classrooms with incompetent, or at least far from the best, teachers.

    Critics frame Vergara as an attack on teachers. But its very premise is that there are excellent teachers in public schools.

    The plaintiffs are nine Southern California students who claim they are receiving an inferior education because tenure and discipline rules make it infeasible to dismiss incompetent teachers — and because the system is rigged so that disadvantaged schools are the dumping ground for those teachers.

    The suit was filed by the Silicon Valley nonprofit Students Matter, bankrolled by Atherton entrepreneur Dave Welch. Tuesday’s decision had to be bittersweet for them because this was the first battle in a long war. The conditions that “shocked the conscience” of Treu continue, and another generation of disadvantaged children is denied access to equal education.

    Treu was stunned by the evidence of how poor teachers affect students, saying, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.” He said current laws protect bad teachers, harm students and disproportionately affect poor and minority pupils.

    This case has quantified that harm. We’ll see how long parents let the Legislature and the education establishment ignore it.

  • Editorial: Oakland Tribune

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    California Court’s teacher tenure ruling is just a first step

    In an ideal world, Tuesday’s decision by a Los Angeles judge finding the state’s teacher tenure and discipline laws unconstitutional would be taken for what it is, a concise summation of the obvious. It would prompt interested parties to band together to fashion new, more fair laws that demand all kids get an equal public education.

    But this is California, and that’s not how we roll.

    Here we protect teachers — all teachers, regardless of competence — as long as they have spent a whole 18 months on the job. We do this not because they are somehow an oppressed class, but because of the mighty political cash their union slings around Sacramento.

    The truth is that it will take years to validate — or maybe not — Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s decision. And, just like the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education cited by Treu as the basis for his ruling, we know this historic case — known as Vergara vs. California — will eventually be settled by nine people who also enjoy lifetime tenure — the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever the outcome, the decision’s impact will be profound nationally.

    In the meantime, the absurd political theater has commenced. Both sides are in high dudgeon regarding the others’ motives as they try to influence the court of public opinion. The arrows began flying nearly as soon as the decision was announced. They won’t stop soon.

    But the tragedy here is that while the adults bicker, the kids who have been denied equal education will continue to suffer. Before this case is settled, thousands and thousands of kids — largely in disadvantaged schools throughout the state — will remain in classrooms with incompetent teachers.

    Sadly, that’s the near term bottom line.

    Treu said the evidence of how poor teachers affect students “shocks the conscience” and that “there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.” He said current laws protect bad teachers, harm students and disproportionately affect poor and minority pupils.

    The plaintiffs where nine Southern California students who claim they are receiving inferior education because of the state’s tenure and discipline rules that make it infeasible to dismiss incompetent tenured teachers. They claim the system is rigged so that poor-performing schools are the dumping ground for such teachers, The legal effort was funded by a Silicon Valley nonprofit called Students Matter that is largely funded by entrepreneur Dave Welch of Atherton.

    Tuesday’s decision had to be bittersweet for them because they must realize their victory is but the first battle in a long war and that the conditions that so “shocked the conscience” of Judge Treu continue to exist and another generation of disadvantaged children is denied access to the equal education they deserve.

  • Editorial: The New York Times

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    A New Battle for Equal Education: In California, a Judge Takes On Teacher Tenure

    When states are sued for providing inferior education to poor and minority children, the issue is usually money — disproportionately more money for white students, less for others. A California judge has now brought another deep-rooted inequity to light: poor teaching.

    In an important decision issued on Tuesday, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that state laws governing the hiring, firing and job security of teachers violate the California Constitution and disproportionately saddle poor and minority children with ineffective teachers.

    The ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle. It also 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.

    The plaintiffs in the case, Vergara v. California, are nine public school students who charged that state laws forced districts to give tenure to teachers, regardless of whether they can do the job, making it virtually impossible to fire even the worst of them.

    In a blistering decision, Judge Treu agreed: “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

    By way of illustration, he pointed to the stupidity of a state law that makes teachers eligible for tenure after 18 months even though evidence shows that such a decision reasonably takes between three and five years. Once teachers become permanent, he said, even those of who are grossly ineffective as measured by evaluations are protected by a dismissal process so “complex, time consuming and expensive” that it could take nearly 10 years and cost $450,000 before it runs its course. Faced with such a system, districts give up on dismissal and let poor performing teachers keep their jobs.

    Judge Treu was equally scathing about the state laws on layoffs, which works on a “last in, first out” principle and ends up showing junior teachers the door even when they are demonstrably more talented. To defend such a policy, he said, the state would have to argue that it had a compelling interest in separating students from good teachers and subjecting them to incompetents who do them harm.

    In finding the state statutes unconstitutional, the judge cited a powerful passage from Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that declared state laws establishing separate schools for white and black children unconstitutional. “In these days,” the court said, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

    Judge Treu left it up to state lawmakers to create new statutes that comport with the State Constitution. The Legislature is almost certain to face heavy pressure from the teachers’ union, who will try to discredit this ruling by condemning the judge as anti-union or by pointing out that the case was brought by a nonprofit group created by a Silicon Valley magnate.

    Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections. But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.

  • Editorial: The Fresno Bee

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    Teacher tenure ruling could improve California schools by breaking union grip

    In his landmark ruling on an educational reform case, Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu concluded with a challenge to state lawmakers: Come up with legislation “providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”

    Treu apparently found it necessary to do so because he had just declared that the portions of California law that virtually guarantee teacher jobs for life are unconstitutional because the tenure provisions deprive poor and minority students of equal educational opportunities.

    The tentative ruling could reshape public education in California. Recognizing its potential, Treu relies as precedent on the landmarks of Brown v. Board of Education, which held that segregated schools were inherently unequal, and the Serrano cases in California requiring equal funding for schools, no matter the wealth or poverty of the districts.

    This is a crucial ruling for students, and the case, Vergara v. State of California, has the potential to loosen the chokehold that teachers unions have on public education.

    This case was initiated by Students Matter, an educational reform nonprofit created by David F. Welch, a wealthy Silicon Valley businessman, on behalf of nine students in California schools. It challenged five long-standing statutes on teacher tenure, the dismissal procedure and seniority during layoffs that the suit said have a disproportionate burden on students in low-performing schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

    Newer teachers are more likely to get less-desirable school appointments — those in inner cities and with higher incidence of crime and poverty. And in economic downturns, newer teachers are automatically let go before senior teachers, no matter how good they are.

    Teachers unions see a larger, more dastardly agenda at work in this lawsuit — to strip teachers of all protection so they can be fired at will, thus weakening the union’s power to fight attempts to privatize education. That scenario is without merit.

    The state, joined by the California Teachers Association, no doubt will appeal. It surely will be ammunition in the November runoff between union-supported Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck, who is supported by charter schools and education reformers.

    The larger struggle continues between unions and the reformers for control of public schools.

    It was apt that the judge ended his ruling with a call to the Legislature. Regardless of the court outcome, the Legislature must craft new rules that give students and teachers equal consideration in state law.

  • Editorial: Bloomberg

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    Throwing the Book at Bad Teachers

    A final lecture for the 2013-2014 school year was delivered yesterday by a California state judge, and it was a tough one: Teacher tenure, and other state laws that provide job protections to “grossly ineffective” instructors, deprive students of their right to a decent education.

    It’s a lesson that should have been clear to California’s legislators long ago, given the numerous studies (such as this one, cited by the judge) showing the negative impact that ineffective teachers have on students. But in California, as in most states, elected officials have let job-protection laws stand to placate the teachers’ unions. As a result, firing an ineffective educator is — as Judge Rolf Treu found — a “torturous process” that can take up to 10 years and consume hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    The teachers’ unions will appeal the California ruling, which grew out of a lawsuit brought by a group called Students Matter. The unions may well win, because state courts have often sided with public employees on issues involving job and benefit contracts. But California won’t be the last battleground in the war; this victory will embolden similar efforts in other states.

    The evidence, Treu wrote, “shocks the conscience.” Tenure and other state laws (including a law requiring layoffs to be based on the “last in, first out” principle) not only affect the right to a quality education, he wrote, but also “impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”

    This, too, should have been obvious to state legislators. For decades, ineffective teachers have found refuge in schools with poor and minority populations, where principals find it harder to attract top quality talent and are often stuck filling open positions with tenured teachers who can’t find work elsewhere.

    The decision cited a passage from Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark civil rights case, which found that education “is a right which must be made available on equal terms.” That presents a direct challenge to the teachers unions’ traditional allies: urban Democrats.

    Not all of them support the status quo. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago’s public schools, has long supported more teacher accountability and called yesterday’s decision “a mandate” to fix a broken school employment system. And teachers themselves are aware of the problem. In a 2010 national survey, two-thirds of teachers agreed that “the union sometimes fights to protect teachers who really should be out of the classroom.”

    Rather than fight to the death to preserve tenure, union leaders would better serve their members — and, not incidentally, students — by working with state legislators on reforms that protect teachers from indiscriminate or punitive firing. At the same time, legislators should not sit back and wait for judges to do their jobs for them. Civil-rights leaders should demand immediate action. And more teachers — who recognize that these laws tarnish their profession — should speak out.

  • Editorial: Los Angeles Daily News

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    Tenure ruling a step toward keeping best teachers

    A judge’s ruling about teacher-tenure laws this week doesn’t end the arguments over how to ensure our children are getting the best possible instruction in public schools.

    But the ruling is big news. It shifts the burden of proof onto those who prefer the current system that judges teachers by how long they’ve been on the job. And, if it survives a likely appeal by teachers’ unions, it puts the onus on state legislators and local school districts to enact laws and methods of evaluation that put — and keep — the best teachers in California’s K-12 classrooms.

    All of this is, on balance, a positive development.

    The ruling, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, struck down some of the employment protections that California laws give to teachers through tenure and the “last in, first out” rules used during mass layoffs.

    Treu, who heard two months of testimony in the case of Vergara v. California, ruled the current laws are unconstitutional. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1950s Brown v. Board of Education decision in saying the laws disproportionately saddle minority and poor communities with ineffective teachers.

    The civil-rights language and reference to a landmark discrimination case were nice flourishes and may be legally significant. But one need not see the ruling in those terms to appreciate it.

    The fact is that all children, not only minority and poor kids, may be hurt when laws get in the way of dismissing incompetent and problem teachers and replacing them with talented newcomers.

    Because California has resisted the national trend toward weakening tenure protections, the state’s public school teachers gain virtually permanent employment after as little as 16 months on the job.

    As Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified, firing an incompetent teacher with tenure can take two to 10 years and cost as much as $450,000.

    To say some changes would be good is not, as the president of the California Federation of Teachers claimed Tuesday, “anti-teacher rhetoric.”

    Nobody is saying it should be easy to fire a teacher. Tenured or not, teachers should not be fired for personal or political reasons. They should have the benefits of due process and effective union representation and collective bargaining.

    But they should not have job protections that go far beyond what other public- and private-sector employees have.

    The pressure will be on California lawmakers to replace the protections with something more reasonable, and on school districts to keep working to improve the ways they identify and fairly assign the most effective teachers. Both efforts need close scrutiny by the public.

    One hopeful sign out of Sacramento is the state Senate’s unanimous approval this week of a bill to streamline the process of firing teachers accused of serious misconduct like sex abuse, child abuse and drug crimes. AB 215, by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, and presented in the upper house by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, is the latest version of bills by the two legislators that failed to pass in 2012 and 2013. It goes to the Assembly next.

    It will take more work like that to put the best teachers in the state’s classrooms and remove the worst. The judge’s ruling on teacher tenure has made the need for it even more urgent.

  • Editorial: The Wall Street Journal

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    A School Reform Landmark: A Judge says California’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional.

    President Obama has called education the civil-rights issue of our time. On Tuesday a California court appeared to concur in a ground-breaking ruling that strikes down the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority laws on grounds that they violate the equal protection clause of the state Constitution.

    Vergara v. State of California was brought in May 2012 by nine public school students who contended that iron-clad teacher job protections and “last-in-first-out” policies undermine the quality of education. Supporting their argument was testimony that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu wrote “shocks the conscience.” To wit: In the past 10 years, only 91 teachers in California have been fired, and only 19 for unsatisfactory performance. Yet according to one state witness, between 2,750 to 8,250 California teachers rank as grossly ineffective.

    Incompetent teachers are protected by tenure, which vests after two years. However, as the judge noted in his ruling, schools must determine whether to grant tenure well before March 15 of a teacher’s second year at which time many aren’t even credentialed. The upshot is that the vast majority of probationary teachers—including 98% in Los Angeles Unified School District—receive tenure.

    Unwieldy dismissal procedures, which Judge Treu describes as “uber due process,” then make it nearly impossible to fire teachers even for egregious misconduct. Fewer than 0.002% of California teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or poor performance in any given year compared to 1% of other California public employees and 8% of workers in the private economy.

    L.A. spent $3.5 million between 2000 and 2010 to fire seven teachers for poor performance. Yet only four of the seven were ultimately dismissed. Two received large settlement payouts, and one was retained. Chief of Human Resources Vivian Ekchian testified that the district employs 350 grossly ineffective teachers it hasn’t even sought to dismiss.

    When budget cuts force layoffs, state law mandates that the newest hires be let go first, irrespective of job performance. As Judge Treu wrote, last-in-first-out policies require the state to “defend the proposition that the state has a compelling interest in the de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones.”

    These incompetent teachers have “a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students,” as the judge noted. A single year with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. L.A. students taught by the bottom 5% of teachers lose 9.54 months of learning in a year compared to those with an average teacher. Shocking the conscience is right.

    Judge Treu said he examined the case under strict scrutiny constitutional standards since “substantial evidence” including a report by the state’s Department of Education indicate that the challenged policies “disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students.” Strikingly but appropriately, he invoked the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that the opportunity of an education “is a rightwhich must be made available to all on equal terms” (his emphasis).

    The state and California Teachers Association are sure to appeal, not least because Vergara could become a template for lawsuits nationwide that could topple the scandal that is the public-school status quo. Notably, Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the decision as “a mandate to fix” educational inequities and opportunity to “build a new framework for the teaching profession.”

    If state governments don’t act, disadvantaged students now have a claim to petition the judiciary to protect their rights as much as in the days of Jim Crow.

  • Editorial: Los Angeles Times

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    Vergara ruling offers California an opportunity to change a broken system.

    California’s extraordinary protections for public school teachers were dealt a heavy blow Tuesday when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the state’s tenure laws unconstitutionally deprive students of an adequate education. To this extent, the judge’s opinion was absolutely correct: The tenure laws are bad policy. In almost no other field of work is it remotely as hard to fire someone for incompetence, or for not doing the job at all. Lawmakers have been far too deferential to the powerful California Teachers Assn. over the years, and now they have been given a strong prod to change their ways.

    The 16-page ruling by Judge Rolf M. Treu, which is almost certain to be appealed, describes California as an outlier on teacher protection when compared with other states. Most states give school districts a few years to decide whether a new teacher deserves tenure; here, the decision must be made within about a year and a half. When teachers are laid off in this state, seniority trumps performance. Elsewhere, seniority is a consideration, but performance matters too.

    The decision in Vergara vs. California also describes the tortuous procedure schools must go through to fire teachers, a process that makes it so difficult to get rid of even the worst teachers that many schools don’t bother trying.

    What Treu’s ruling leaves less clear is why these policies, problematic as they are, represent an unconstitutional barrier to a decent education. Treu quotes one witness as saying that perhaps 1% to 3% of teachers are grossly ineffective. Those numbers don’t indicate that such teachers are the key factor in the state’s achievement woes.

    Still, the ruling stands as an important marker of the decades-long frustration with the tenure laws — a frustration legislators should heed. Whether Tuesday’s ruling stands or is overturned on appeal, it is unlikely that parents or the public will stand for the old, inefficient policies much longer.

    Treu’s ruling is not prescriptive, nor does it call for eliminating due process for fired teachers. The Legislature can, and should, continue to offer reasonable protections for teachers, because without them, schools have too much incentive to replace higher-paid, experienced teachers with lower-paid beginners. There are common-sense ways to provide such protections — for example, by allowing binding arbitration in disputed firings rather than requiring disputes to be decided, as they currently are, by an ad hoc panel with so many rules and restrictions that it can take years just to get to a hearing.

    It’s time for the state to stop defending laws that are indefensible, and to get to work on ones that are fairer to students.

  • Editorial: San Francisco Chronicle

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    An overdue ruling on teacher tenure

    A Los Angeles judge has just put the interests of low-income and minority students above the teachers’ union dogma. He found “compelling evidence” that students in the most challenged schools were disproportionately affected by entrenched rules that put a premium on tenure.

    “Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” said Judge Rolf Treu.

    No issue is dearer to unions than job guarantees that protect some 400,000 teachers in this state. But these rules work against weeding out weak teachers, lock in job rights after two years and include seniority rules that leave out merit when layoffs are needed.

    These problems were at the heart of a landmark case brought by nine students in Los Angeles. Their suit took the additional step of claiming that the teacher protections meant low-income schools ended up with the worst instructors, a denial of constitutional rights of equal treatment.

    For two months reformers – financed by Silicon Valley millionaire David Welch – battled with lawyers for the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association aided by state lawyers charged with defending existing law.

    All the arguments were rolled out. The plaintiffs said it was nearly impossible to dismiss a low-performing teacher and pointless to look to Sacramento for legislative help given the union stranglehold against change. Teacher representatives said defining poor performance was slippery and student achievement rested on many factors, not just who was in front of the classroom.

    An appeal is certain, and Treu allowed the contested rules to continue for now. If the decision stands, it begs the case for better standards in judging teacher credentials, a task left by implication to state legislators. With a legal ruling staring at them, these legislators may finally have an excuse to act – and not follow the orders of union leaders.

    The case “is a huge win for kids,” said Marshall Tuck, the reform-minded Democratic candidate for state schools superintendent. Also praising the outcome was President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan.

    On the other side there were clipped words amounting to no comment from Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and schools chief Tom Torlakson.

    Their reticence to challenge the teacher unions’ orthodoxy is exactly why this ruling is so essential. Change in the tenure rules was not going to happen without it.

  • Editorial: Chicago Tribune

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    Editorial: Does teacher tenure trap kids?
    Students say they’re victims of educators’ strict job protections

    Policy disputes in the public education industry typically pit adults against other adults — often teachers unions arrayed against school boards, often with parents and the occasional fretful mayor prominently taking sides. But not this time. Not in the Los Angeles County Superior Court where an unprecedented and high-stakes trial threatens the strong job protections for teachers that are enshrined in state law.

    Adults nationwide who work in education, or who deeply care about it, are riveted by this unfolding drama:

    Plaintiffs in Vergara v. California contend that the job protections in five state laws — the teacher tenure system included — make it too difficult to fire ineffective educators, and thus deny children their constitutional right to a decent education. That is, the plaintiffs allege that the job protections deny school administrators the ability “to make teacher employment decisions driven by the needs of their students.”

    The Vergara in the lawsuit, Beatriz Vergara, is 15 years old. She is one of nine student plaintiffs, ages 7 to 17, who are challenging the state and the teachers unions that have joined in defending the laws. The schoolchildren are in league with Students Matter, a nonprofit that hopes the California litigation will inspire changes to education employment in other states where union-friendly politicians have blocked reforms.

    The plaintiffs’ rationale rests on a declaration by the California Supreme Court more than 40 years ago that education is “the lifeline of both the individual and society,” offering “the bright hope for entry of the poor and oppressed into the mainstream of American society.” The court essentially declared that the state constitution ensures all children the fundamental right to equal educational opportunities.

    To that end, the plaintiffs want to strike down laws that:

    • Require districts to make a careerlong tenure decision 18 months after a teacher’s employment — a time the plaintiffs say is too short to determine who should or shouldn’t get tenure protection.

    • Require districts to go to extensive lengths to dismiss teachers for poor performance or misconduct. Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy testified that firing an ineffective teacher involves “volumes of documentation,” can consume several years, is “challenged at every step by the teachers union” — and typically costs the district some $350,000. Deasy said that while he has increased the firings of tenured teachers, he is unable to remove all of the district’s “grossly ineffective” teachers: “We who hire cannot make a judgment to fire.” Even when the district tentatively succeeds in dismissing an educator, a separate government board can reinstate him or her.

    • Require districts to consider “last in, first out” seniority rules — rather than focus on the quality of teachers’ job performance — when they conduct layoffs. Plaintiffs say that under the LIFO protocol, some of the state’s best teachers are dismissed, while incompetent or indifferent teachers remain in classrooms. Plaintiffs have presented statistical evidence that weak teachers disproportionately wind up teaching African-American and Latino (rather than white) students. They tout a Harvard economist’s finding that students taught by one highly ineffective teacher are less likely to attend college — and suffer a nearly 3-percent drop in lifetime earnings.

    Plaintiffs’ attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. , writing last month in The Wall Street Journal, also described “a study showing that laying off the least effective instead of the least experienced teachers would increase the total lifetime earnings of a single classroom of Los Angeles students by approximately $2.1 million.”

    Defendants retort that the problem here isn’t the state’s tenure, seniority and dismissal rules, but rather inept district management, drops in state school funding and inadequate teaching conditions. Attorney James Finberg, representing the state Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association, told the Los Angeles Times that, “Well-managed districts are able, within the existing statutory scheme, to give tenure only to those probationary teachers who demonstrate effectiveness, and to dismiss, or encourage the resignation of, the few ineffective teachers who slip through the cracks, or become ineffective.”

    We won’t predict how this monthlong trial plays out, only that it rests on a fulcrum often absent from discussions of public education: every child’s right, be it constitutional or primarily moral, to a good education. In other words, education is about more than the adults who work in, admire or criticize this industry.

    Across the U.S., impatience with poor student performance is building. Illinois is one of many states whose laws now enable greater examination of teachers’ performance. And job protections aren’t as one-sided here as in California.

    But California isn’t the only state where pols spend more energy appeasing grown-ups who fund their campaigns than they do destroying barricades to children’s education. We agree with attorney Boutrous on job protections that doom students to brain-dead instruction:

    “Such arbitrary, counterproductive rules would never be tolerated in any other business. They should especially not be tolerated where children’s futures are at stake.”

  • Editorial: San Diego Union-Tribune

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    Lawsuit puts spotlight on schools’ shameful priorities

    Vergara v. California — a lawsuit challenging the many job protections given to California’s teachers — is currently being heard in Los Angeles Superior Court.

    Experts are skeptical of the plaintiffs’ far-reaching core argument: These job protections violate the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee because they result in denying some students access to an adequate education. But if the lawsuit brings attention to the fact that California’s education establishment is much more worried about keeping tenured teachers employed and happy than about helping struggling students, it will be constructive.

    Students Matter, the reform group bringing the lawsuit, says that in a recent 10-year span, only 19 of the state’s 285,000 teachers were fired for incompetence. Where do ineffective teachers end up? By and large, at struggling schools — where many don’t even teach the subjects for which they are trained. A California Watch investigation found that from 2007 to 2011, nearly 10 percent of teachers didn’t have the appropriate credentials, and that the rate was much higher — 16 percent — at schools that were mostly low-income and Latino.

    These stunning numbers support the grim thesis of former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an education reformer, that California schools have a civil-rights problem. They also illustrate the huge imbalance between the power wielded by teacher unions and the power wielded by those who think students should be schools’ highest priorities.

  • Editorial: The Washington Times

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    EDITORIAL: Freeing children from bad teachers
    Does tenure violate minority students’ civil rights?

    California is a national trendsetter, and usually not in a good way. A trial now under way in Los Angeles gives the state a chance to redeem itself by changing a system that offers iron-clad job security to the laziest and most incompetent teachers.

    David F. Welch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with deep pockets, has hired a team of distinguished lawyers to take on the state’s powerful teachers unions. These defenders of mediocrity insist that tenure and seniority are necessary to retain teachers in what they say are “low-paying” jobs.

    Good pay for good teachers is always a good thing, but it’s a myth that public-school teachers are typically underpaid. In many places they are paid well.

    Teacher tenure is actually the cargo on the gravy train that never throws off passengers, no matter how loud, rude or useless. Mr. Welch, turning the tables on liberals, challenges this arrangement as a violation of the civil rights of students.

    Minority students stuck in inner-city schools usually wind up with the less-qualified and less-motivated teachers, the lawsuit contends, dooming many of these kids to a lifetime of economic disadvantage. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who talks a lot about fairness and the abuse of civil rights, won’t stand up for the rights of these disadvantaged kids, so someone else had to do it.

    Mr. Welch hired Ted Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general, and Theodore Boutros, who participated in the successful challenge of California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage. The liberals who cheered them then are jeering now.

    On the other side are the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, which represent the state’s 400,000 teachers, the Democratic politicians who support them, and millions of dollars in dues that fund their political campaigns.

    “When schoolchildren start paying union dues,” a famous union organizer once said, “that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”

    Few professions offer the job protection teachers have enjoyed since tenure was first adopted by New Jersey in 1909. James Finberg, an attorney for the California teachers unions, observes that Los Angeles has increased the number of teachers it has fired from just 10 in 1999 to 99 in 2012, proving that the status quo is OK.

    That’s not much of an argument, since it’s still a minuscule fraction of the city’s 45,000 teachers.

    If successful, the suit could be a game-changer in American education. Using the civil rights law to break the public-sector union’s stranglehold on the system would be a good thing for children of all races, colors and creeds.

  • Editorial: Los Angeles Times

    Posted On:

    Protect good teachers, fire bad ones
    If teachers unions and the state don’t streamline the dismissal process, others may do it for them.

    State laws that make it nearly impossible to fire even the worst teachers make for poor educational policy. The same is true of laws that require teacher layoffs to be decided on the basis of seniority, and that give principals only a year and a half to decide whether a new teacher deserves the extraordinary protections of tenure. It seems pretty obvious: Incompetent or uncaring teachers shouldn’t be allowed to keep their jobs.

    On Monday, a trial will begin in a lawsuit that claims California’s teacher protection laws unconstitutionally deprive students of equal access to a quality education. The plaintiffs’ legal team includes Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. and Theodore B. Olson, whose legal attack on Proposition 8 opened the way to same-sex marriage in California.

    Much as we agree that tenure and seniority laws can impede students’ ability to learn, we are skeptical that they rise to the level of a violation of the state Constitution. Not every bad law is unconstitutional. The tendency of school districts to place a higher proportion of ineffective teachers in low-income schools is of course unacceptable, but that’s not the fault of tenure laws.

    If nothing else, though, perhaps the lawsuit will convince legislators that their failure to loosen teacher protection laws cannot continue indefinitely. If they don’t fix the problem, others will do so through court cases or ballot measures, and the results might be less balanced than a good bill.

    At the heart of the debate are laws that create an arcane, time-consuming and costly process for firing even the worst instructors — those accused of molestation, or the ones who play nonstop movies on a classroom TV while they sit in the back of the room reading a newspaper, or those who harshly belittle even the youngest students, making them feel stupid from their earliest days of learning. Of course the vast majority of teachers don’t do these things, but the damage caused by those who do is outsized because once students fall behind or become discouraged, it’s hard to get them back on track. Boutrous and others have estimated that 5% to 10% of teachers don’t belong in their jobs, and that sounds realistic.

    The fallout is especially damaging to students from poor or uneducated families. Their parents may not have the money or the academic skills to provide tutoring, and many feel too intimidated to complain. If they do, they’re often told nothing can be done because it’s too hard to fire a teacher.

    A big part of the problem in California is the appeals process, which is handled by a panel composed of an administrative law judge and two teachers. The rules and regulations for picking those teachers are complicated and difficult to meet, and the resulting board is almost always weighted in favor of the aggrieved teacher. Meanwhile, parents and students have no representative on the panel. The process drags on for months, sometimes years.

    Some school reformers would prefer to eliminate any meaningful appeals process and leave the final say to administrators and school boards. We disagree. Teachers need protection from capricious or vengeful firings that might be more about their willingness to speak up or maintain high standards than about their prowess in the classroom. Nor should they be fired simply because they earn higher salaries. California should look to New Jersey’s example and consider binding arbitration as a quicker and fairer way of resolving disputes. Another option would be to reduce the appeals panel to a judge, without the addition of teachers.

    The state’s influential and well-funded teachers unions, especially the California Teachers Assn., have managed so far to fend off reforms. But this lawsuit, bankrolled by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is the first formal signal that powerful interests are lined up against them. Wealthy businesspeople have been major backers of the school reform effort, and though we don’t always agree with their aims or tactics, they are balancing the lopsided influence that the unions have wielded for too long.

    This lawsuit might not prevail — the argument appears to be a stretch, if a bold one — but already there is talk of two or three possible ballot measures on the same issues. The CTA and the Legislature would be smart to figure out a reasonable way to streamline the dismissal process. If they continue to obstruct and delay, someone else will do the figuring for them.

  • Editorial: San Jose Mercury News

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    Mercury News editorial: Teacher tenure, seniority, due process rights will get much-needed scrutiny in court

    For years, education reformers and teachers unions have battled over California’s laws protecting teachers’ seniority, due process rights and tenure. Those fights have gone nowhere in the Legislature. Now, the arguments for and against the laws and a full exploration of their effect on students will get the airing they deserve — based on facts and free of politics.

    Starting Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, a judge will hear Vergara v. California. The plaintiffs are nine children, including Daniella Martinez, a 12-year-old in San Jose’s Alum Rock School District who says she couldn’t read by the third grade because her teachers were inept.

    “What we plan to show at trial is that five statutes in the California education code are depriving students in California of their fundamental right to equality of education,” Ted Boutros, a lead attorney, told us.

    One of the laws grants tenure after 18 months, half the length of time in most states. Another requires seniority to be the primary basis for deciding who gets laid off in bad times. It sends newer teachers out the door no matter how excellent they may be.

    Other laws set up a cumbersome and expensive process for firing ineffective teachers.

    To win in court, the plaintiffs need to make a direct connection between these laws and the education students receive. The California Teachers Association argues that the link is tenuous and that factors such as student poverty are also in play. They say the problem is not the laws but inept administrators afraid to fire bad teachers.

    Poverty and high-level ineptitude are certainly factors. The question is whether the laws create too great a burden for people trying to do the right thing.

    The plaintiffs will argue that these laws disproportionately affect disadvantaged students. In the case of “last-in, first-out” layoff rules, that is certainly true. New teachers tend to be assigned to low-income schools because of low seniority, but they sometimes have the energy, drive and talent to thrive there. During the recession, some of these schools lost more than half their staff, a disruptive burden and a signal to the best and brightest to steer clear of teaching.

    In 2010 we recommended the Legislature modify — not eliminate — the rules by requiring that individual schools absorb layoffs at no more than the district average. It died in the Legislature at the behest of teachers’ unions.

    The failure of that very reasonable reform is the reason this lawsuit is so important — and why we frankly hope there is a legal basis for at least some of the claims. At least the judge and the state Supreme Court justices who will have the last word will base their rulings on evidence rather than who funds their campaigns.

    It’s not enough to educate middle class and privileged students. The ability of our society and our economy to thrive rests on the success of today’s disadvantaged children. That’s why so much is at stake in this lawsuit.

  • Editorial: New York Post

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    California dreaming on education reform

    We don’t usually associate California with the phrase “education reform.” But a new lawsuit filed by nine students there may have implications for the Empire State.

    The case is Vergara v. California, and it aims to overturn several state laws that make it hard, if not impossible, to sack bad teachers. Students Matter, the group behind the suit, says the California laws “unconstitutionally” deprive kids “of their fundamental right” to a quality education. And they point out it is “minority and low-income students” who are hurt most by “grossly ineffective teachers.”

    The trial begins a week from now, on Jan. 27. It will be an uphill battle. For one thing, California’s teachers unions oppose the suit. For another, such challenges (especially in pro-labor California courts) often face long odds.

    But California’s kids have heavy-hitter lawyers going to bat for them: Ted Olson, of Bush v. Gore fame, and Theodore Boutrous.

    Before this suit, both successfully argued to have the US ­Supreme Court scrap California’s same-sex-marriage ban.

    A few years back, New York faced its own lawsuit challenging school legislation on constitutional grounds. The big difference: The teachers unions backed that suit, because it sought more taxpayer dollars for schools (and teachers), even though New York’s per-pupil spending was already one of the highest in America.

    And the unions and their allies won.

    By contrast, Students Matter argues that “research shows effective teachers are the single most important factor to ensuring a student’s academic success” — even more important than funding. And if a good teacher in the classroom is the key to learning, then making it easier for New York schools to shed ineffective teachers (for instance, by reforming or scrapping tenure and other seniority rules) ought to be a priority.

    Now, we’d prefer these changes to be made by elected legislators rather than forced upon the state by a court. And it’s probably too soon to think that we might see a suit here similar to California’s — that is, one based on the interests of minority and low-income kids in New York instead of the teachers unions.

    Even so, Students Matter calls itself a national organization that sponsors litigation “to promote access to quality public education.” Spokesman Felix Schein says it’s considering “other states where we could bring cases similar to Vergara. New York is certainly among those states.”

    Let’s just say we’re eager to see how it plays out in California.

  • Editorial: The Sacramento Bee

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    Editorial: New pressure for teacher quality

    Across the political spectrum, people agree that quality teaching is essential to student success. The National Council on Teacher Quality puts it this way: “Effective teachers matter a great deal and ineffective teachers may matter even more.”

    Yet in California, principals and superintendents have very little flexibility in hiring and firing teachers.

    While some California governors and lawmakers have attempted changes, over the years they have run into a brick wall of entrenched interests – led by the California Teachers Association.

    So now comes David F. Welch, a Silicon Valley fiber optics entrepreneur with 125 patents to his name. A product of public schools, he notes, “My success in life can largely be attributed to the effective teachers I’ve had.” However, today he looks around and sees that too many children, particularly those from poorer communities, do not get the quality teaching they should.

    When Welch asked people for a short list of changes they’d make, five statutes in California’s education code consistently came up as barriers to quality teaching. So Welch started a nonprofit, Student Matters, to launch a constitutional lawsuit to overturn them.

    These are ripe for overhaul:

    • Permanent Employment (Code 44929.21.b)

    California is one of only six states that offer tenure after only two years of teaching. And because the decision has to come before March 15 of the second year, often it is based on only one formal evaluation that pays little or no attention to student performance. More than 98 percent of new teachers get permanent employment after 18 months.

    • Dismissal (Codes 44934, 44938.b.1-2, 44944)

    Teachers have rights far greater than other state employees before they can be terminated for unsatisfactory performance. “These hurdles,” concludes the lawsuit, “result in a labyrinthine dismissal process requiring investigations, hearings, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings – all of which can and do take multiple years and cost hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.” The result is that ineffective teachers tend to get moved around. Less than 0.002 percent of teachers a year are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance.

    • Last-In, First-Out (44955)

    When it comes to budget-based layoffs, California is one of only 12 states where the newest teachers go first, based on seniority – regardless of teaching effectiveness. As Sacramento City Unified school board member Jeff Cuneo has noted, last-hired, first-fired “doesn’t give superintendents any leeway on performance and it causes staffing disruption and chaos in the fall.”

    The lawsuit, filed May 14 in Los Angeles, doesn’t ask the courts to prescribe any particular solution, a good thing. Eliminate the statutory impediments and lawmakers can craft new laws – and school districts can negotiate better contracts.

    With a high-powered legal team led by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, this lawsuit brings some urgency to the task. If he brings the passion and tenacity to this effort that he did to overturning Proposition 8, he can make teacher effectiveness a high-profile issue.

    Students, parents, teachers, superintendents, school boards, researchers and advocates should press Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials to settle this lawsuit, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did in 2004 with the Williams case that challenged horrific school conditions.

    Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa warned teachers in December 2010 that if they continued to resist reasonable changes, “tenure and seniority will be eliminated.”

    This lawsuit puts on much-needed pressure to break California’s political impasse around teacher effectiveness. No one is well-served when ineffective teachers are protected at the expense of students and good teachers.

  • Editorial: Pasadena Star-News

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    Our View: Overturn tenure for state teachers

    CALIFORNIA’S got problems, and in these times of budgetary woes it can be hard to focus on creative solutions beyond the merely monetary.

    Initiatives that will make a difference to all of us in the long run. That aren’t about just either raising taxes or slashing programs. That offer hope to the future of our children through a better education for them.

    So, good for a group of passionate reformers who, in this time of fiscal trouble, have taken a bold step toward fixing a systemic problem in California’s schools: The outdated, merely self-serving teacher- protection laws we’re saddled with.

    These laws take one key section of our economy and make it almost impossible to dismiss employees within it – even when they are deemed “grossly ineffective” in their jobs, which, after all, are the most important jobs out there.

    After just 18 months of employment, California public school teachers can be granted tenure that essentially gives them permanent status. When hard times hit, absurd last-in, first-out rules ensure that teachers who have simply hung around longest, rather than are the best at what they do, are the ones retained on our campuses.

    The concept of tenure for educators is mostly bogus at the elementary and secondary level in the first place. It was created for our colleges and universities to protect freedom of speech and thought – to ensure that professors who had gone through the decade-long rigors of original research and a doctorate and proven ability to teach at the highest level were not capriciously dismissed by administrators who simply disagreed with their views.

    Teachers, like the rest of us, need to have their freedom of speech protected. Unbreakable tenure is not required to do that.

    So this week, a nonprofit created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court to challenge the system that results in the retention of ineffective teachers. Called Students Matter, the organization gets funding from L.A. powerbroker Eli Broad, and has hired big-gun lawyers Ted Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Ted Olsen, the former solicitor general for President George W. Bush.

    “California’s dismissal law, with its 10-step process laden with due process, can cost districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a teacher on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance, which is why districts often work around it by paying teachers to retire or pushing them from one school to another,” according to the California-centric blog Thoughts on Public Education.

    Students named in the lawsuit are from Los Angeles Unified, Pasadena Unified, Sequoia Union High School District and Alum Rock Union Elementary District.

    The suit and the education blog cite research by the Hoover Institution author Eric Hanushek, who finds that by dismissing only 6 to 10 percent of the weakest teachers, state students’ academic achievement and long-term earnings as adults would increase dramatically.

    What have we got to lose but our lousiest educators?

  • Superintendents

  • **NEW** Former Superintendent Carlos Garcia, San Francisco Unified School District

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    carlos garcia

    “Over the course of my 37 years in public education, from the classroom to superintendent, I always saw the students as my true supervisors and the people that I was ultimately accountable to. Thus, the lens through which I have viewed education has always placed students at the center and in the foreground where they cannot be missed and their rights cannot be denied.

    “In my last position as superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District this was particularly true. While in this position, I made it a priority to focus on the schools and students that struggled the most and to ensure that the rights of students were at the center of every conversation.

    “That’s why I support the nine courageous student plaintiffs of Vergara v. California and the Court’s judgment. With this lawsuit, these nine students have challenged the status quo and pushed us to truly consider the value of our teachers and the right to a quality education. California now has a unique opportunity to create a system that exemplifies the principle that guided my decisions for over three decades: When you put the best interests of students first you cannot go wrong.”

  • **NEW** Former Superintendent Gary Bloom, Santa Cruz City Schools

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    Gary bloom

    “Throughout 39 years of service in California’s public education system, I have witnessed first-hand the profound impact that our teachers have upon our students, their schools and their communities. Unfortunately, elements of the Education Code and case law have undermined the teaching profession and harmed our students. The decision in Vergara v. California is a critical step forward for all of California’s children. We now have a unique opportunity to reform the teaching profession to one that is more likely to put our students’ interests at the forefront.

    “As a retired superintendent, I understand how the laws challenged by Vergara have a tangible and significant negative impact. This is a moment we cannot afford to waste. We must come together and seize this chance to develop commonsense solutions that show our teachers they are valued and to ensure that out students receive the quality education they deserve.”

  • Marshall Tuck, Candidate for California State Superintendent

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    Marshall Tuck

    Today’s decision is a major victory for California’s students, and a repudiation of the failed Sacramento status quo.  I applaud the nine students who took a courageous stand for all of California’s kids. But the truth is, no student should ever have to go to court to get a quality education – and no elected official should ever put bureaucratic laws ahead of students’ interest.

    For too long, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and the Sacramento education establishment have defended a broken status quo. Instead of working to make sure every child has access to a quality education, they have wasted taxpayer money fighting to derail this lawsuit.

    Now, State Superintendent Torlakson faces a critical choice. I urge him to do the right thing for California’s students, and not appeal this landmark ruling. Now’s the time to work together to make sure there is an effective teacher in every classroom, and effective principal in every school. The state’s top education official must be an independent advocate for parents and students, not an apologist for a broken system.

  • Former Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, Santa Clara County Office of Education

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    De La Torre photo

    Two inseparable goals of the new Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Xavier De La Torre, are the support of students that have not historically experienced success in our traditional public school system and the fair and adequate funding of public education in California.

    One particular issue that has caught the attention of County Superintendent De La Torre is the legal battle surrounding teacher tenure laws and seniority rights in Vergara v. California, a case that seeks to strike down laws that would significantly alter the current process for determining which teachers are released from districts facing economic or other realities that would require a reduction in their teaching force.

    De La Torre maintains that he has always enjoyed a positive and productive relationship with labor organizations throughout his twenty-five year career in education, including six years in the role of Chief Human Resource Officer for two large urban school districts in California.  In fact, he comes from a labor-oriented family and his brother is currently counsel for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Sacramento.  So, De La Torre clearly understands the interest and the rationale surrounding the opposition to altering teacher tenure and seniority rights.  However, he is also acutely aware of the critical impact a teacher can have in the four corners of the classroom – both in a positive sense and, in fewer cases, in a detrimental sense.   This impact is significantly magnified when a child is denied access to effective teachers for successive years – something that happens frequently in some communities.

    According to De La Torre, “If we are being truly honest, we cannot quarrel with a universal acknowledgment that the quality of a child’s experience and academic progress in school is directly tied to the effectiveness of the teacher and other adults in the classroom.  Conversely, it is a far less compelling argument to suggest that, in all cases, teacher effectiveness is directly tied to years of service as a classroom teacher.  However, in all fairness, it is also incumbent upon principals and other instructional leaders to provide regular and ongoing supervision and evaluation of instruction in the classroom to assist all teachers and to identify less effective teachers that would benefit and grow from direction and support to improve in their craft.”

    Finally, should there ultimately be modifications to the laws surrounding this issue, the potential changes should not be used in lieu of sound instructional leadership in the form of an objective system to supervise, evaluate, and support improved pedagogy and student outcomes in the classroom or to avoid the difficult, but deserved, conversations with teachers in need of assistance.  True reform in our public schools must begin in the four corners of the classroom.

  • Former Superintendent Tony Smith, Oakland Unified School District

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    “As Superintendent of an urban district with our 45,000 students in 126 district and Public charter schools, I believe there is nothing more important than having quality teachers in every classroom. Yet, despite all the research that demonstrates the importance of effective teaching, California’s current education policies create obstacles to ensuring that all children are taught by effective educators.  These policies hurt students from low–‐income and distressed communities the most.  There are a handful of state laws that hinder the recruitment, support, and retention of effective teachers. These provisions guarantee lifetime employment to virtually all teachers hired (regardless of performance) and make it costly and contentious to fire grossly ineffective teachers.  The result is an outdated and inflexible system where teacher quality is devalued at the expense of our students.

    One of the most egregious provisions—‘Last–‐In, First–‐Out’—requires that teachers who have less seniority get laid off first during tough budget times, regardless of effectiveness.  Every year we lose quality teachers because we aren’t even allowed to consider performance when forced to make workforce reductions.  California can’t afford to continue this policy.

    Our system needs an overhaul, and I am encouraged by the case, Vergara v. California, which seeks to overturn these outdated provisions that harm students.  The case is supported by a 2 non–‐profit advocacy group called Students Matter and a diverse coalition of statewide education reform organizations.

    I support the case and applaud Students Matter and their advocacy on behalf of all California students.”

    Superintendent Anthony “Tony” Smith
    Oakland Unified School District

  • Former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, Sacramento City Unified School District

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    “This spring, our district’s ‘Teachers of the Year’ – a seventh–‐grade language arts instructor and a sixth grade teacher – were pinked slipped along with dozens of others as we made cuts necessary to balance the district’s budget.  Both are excellent instructors with track records for improving student learning.  But because current California law requires teachers with less seniority to be laid off first – without regard to their impact on student learning – they received letters telling them they would not be returning to their classrooms.  Fortunately, their pink slips were eventually rescinded and both are back at their campuses.  The same cannot be said of many of their colleagues in similar situations across our district and across California.

    Teachers like our ‘Teachers of the Year’ can and do have a lasting positive impact on the lives of students and on the future of our state.   Therefore, I am encouraged by the recently filed case, Vergara v. California, which seeks to overturn outdated provisions that hinder the recruitment, development, support and retention of our best teachers.  The case is supported by a diverse coalition of statewide education organizations.  I, too, support the case.  I also support working together with our collective bargaining partners to change the current system for reviewing teacher performance in a way that protects due process rights and supports and develops our teachers.  Teachers – trained, supported and working together – are a school system’s greatest resource.  This asset must be protected.”

    Superintendent Jonathan P. Raymond
    Sacramento City Unified School District

  • Superintendent John Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District

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    Superintendent John E. Deasy is reviewing a lawsuit that challenges state laws requiring teacher layoffs based on their seniority rather than the quality of instruction. “The ‘Last In, First Out’ rule is one that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has grappled with as we lose some of the best and hardest-working employees, who serve our students and schools,” Deasy said. “In the last four years, this District has been forced by state budget cuts to lay off more than 8,000 employees.”

    Students Matters, a nonprofit education advocacy group, filed the lawsuit yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court against the state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown and two school districts: Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock Union in San Jose. The lawsuit targets the requirement to lay off the least experienced teachers—no matter how talented they are. In addition, the lawsuit targets the lengthy and costly process required to fire an ineffective teacher, as well as the length of employment—18 months—needed to earn permanent tenure. “To my dismay, we have lost thousands of our best and hardest-working classroom instructors through the last hired, first fired rule. When forced to reduce our teaching staff through budget cuts, we are compelled through state law and union rules to base these difficult decisions primarily on seniority,” Deasy said. Deasy indicated he supports reform of the state’s reduction-in-force requirements, lengthening the amount of time a teacher must work before getting lifetime tenure and speeding up the termination process.

    “On behalf of the largest school District in California, we support the Constitutional rights of all students,” Deasy said, “and we strive to provide them with a quality education by having the most effective teachers and staff.”

    Deasy believes teacher quality is paramount to student achievement. “Every student deserves an effective teacher,” he said.Attorneys for LAUSD are expected to make a formal response to the lawsuit in coming months.

    “It is my sincere hope that we can be relieved from this burdensome last hired, first fired rule so that we have the flexibility to provide students with the best and brightest instructors we can give  them,” Deasy said. “Their futures depend on it.”