A few months ago, I wrote a few posts about the “Vergara v. California” case happening in Los Angeles, California, as well as posts about the testimonies of Thomas Kane (Economics Professor from Harvard University), David Berliner (Regents Professor Emeritus from Arizona State), Linda Darling-Hammond (Professor from Stanford), and Jesse Rothstein (Economics Associate Professor from the University of California – Berkeley).
The case involved nine public school students (backed by some serious corporate reformer funds) who were collected by the “Students Matter” to challenge five California state statutes that supported the state’s “ironclad [teacher] tenure system.” The prosecution’s argument was that students’ rights to a good education were being violated by teachers’ job protections…protections that were making it too difficult to fire “grossly ineffective” teachers. The protections at issue included the set of statutes that granted permanent employment status to teachers after 18 months on the job, that required a lengthy procedure to dismiss teachers, and that set up a seniority system in which the teachers most recently hired were the first to be fired when layoffs occurred, or in recent years needed to occur given economic crises and swings.
The suggested replacement to the “old” way of doing this, of course, was to use value-added scores to make “better” decisions, as based on “the data,” about whom to fire and whom to keep around as per whether they were positively impacting student achievement, and growth in student achievement. This is precisely why this case mattered so much for this audience here, particularly as we continue to think about VAMs and how they are being positioned, many times falsely, for that which they theoretically can do versus what they really can do in practice.
Anyhow, it seems, as of two days ago, the defense lost the case. As per a recent “Washington Post” post, and actually the best post I’ve read thus far on the verdict as written by Kevin Welner (attorney and Professor of Education policy at University of Colorado – Boulder), “what the court found is that the state failed to meet its burden to show a compelling interest to justify policies that the court found were causing the employment of several thousand “grossly ineffective” teachers scattered throughout California.”
The case will certainly be appealed to a higher court, however, so while a loss there is still hope, as per Welner.
Welner continued writing that there is likely/hopefully a silver lining to all of this. He writes, “the decision gives real teeth to the state’s Constitution, and that could be a very good thing. It’s those teeth that I find fascinating, since an approach like that used by the Vergara judge could put California courts in a very different role — as a guarantor of educational equality — [different] than we have thus far seen in the United States.” What continuing this case could bring to light, is the extent to which low income children and children of color in some of the highest needs schools are denied equal educational opportunities, not just as per their “grossly effective” teachers (which is an overstatement in and of itself, but that which was constructed and positioned with the case here, but more importantly with all other things causing the gross inequities that also matter, if not matter more. These include the educational policies surrounding issues with “transportation, school choice, buildings, funding formulas, access to computer technology, enriched curriculum, testing and accountability policies, and segregated and stratified schools.”
Welner concludes, “Would this be a bad thing? In my view, not necessarily. Courts play an extremely important role: protecting political minorities from the tyranny of the political majority. When they relinquish that role, stepping aside and granting discretion to the executive and legislative branches, the easily foreseeable consequence is that laws and rules will disadvantage that minority. The Vergara plaintiffs and Judge Treu, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are pointing us to a different model—what is sometimes denounced as “judicial activism.” But active engagement of courts to demand that the educational opportunities of minorities are protected could be a crucial step forward toward meaningfully closing opportunity gaps and thus achievement gaps. These days, we need all the silver linings we can find.”
Again, to read this post, please click here. It is definitely worth the balanced read and point of view.