Government Teachers Unions Lose a Round – and Obama Administration Applauds

Students_Matter_Tenure__Dance-of-the-Lemons-infographic_01.08.142Conservatives riveted to their TV and computer screens tonight to watch sitting House Majority Leader Eric Canter lose the primary election portion of his House re-election race to an underfunded challenger may have missed another bit of astonishing news: A California judge has ruled against the California teachers union and the State of California in a “when can public teachers be fired” case, and the Obama Administration is applauding the ruling.

The case, Vergara v. California, was brought by students who argued that California’s teacher tenure laws had deprived them of a quality education by leaving bad teachers who deserved to be fired in the classroom.

The judge in his ruling said in part: “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 [teacher tenure law].” (Emphasis in the original.)

The judge also observed in his ruling that under current law “it could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more” to fire “grossly ineffective teachers.” He noted that one trial witness testified that it actually is “impossible” to fire such teachers.

The judge also said poor and/or minority students were especially hurt by the state’s teacher tenure law because the poor teachers were disproportionately likely to be assigned to teach at schools in poor areas.

The students were supported in their lawsuit by the non-profit group Students Matter. Of the lawsuit’s intent, Students Matter wrote on its website:

Californians shouldn’t have to choose: we can create an education system that gives every child a passionate, motivating and effective teacher and gives effective teachers the respect and rewarding careers they deserve. A statewide lawsuit filed by nine brave kids, Vergara v. California challenges the laws that handcuff schools from giving every student an equal opportunity to learn from effective teachers.

California law, backed by the unions, requires that when teachers are laid off, that they be laid off in reverse order of seniority. Education advocates argued that school systems should have the legal ability to lay off the lower-performing teachers ahead of higher-performing teachers, and that it should be easier for the schools to fire poor teachers.

The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Ceasar and Howard Blume quoted the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Education applauding the ruling:

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the decision gives California the opportunity to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects both the rights of teachers and students.

“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.”

Writing in the New York Times, Jennifer Medina explained the significance of the ruling for students outside of California:

Both sides expect the case to generate more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — and paid for a team of high-profile lawyers, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas as well as other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

Students Matter has extensive additional information about the case here.

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