On Monday a divided California Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision in a case that had stoked a fierce national debate over public education.
California’s embattled public school teachers received good news Thursday in the form of a state appellate court reversal of the controversial Vergara v. California decision.
Three weeks ago Students Matter, the nonprofit group behind the Vergara v. California lawsuit, began prominently touting United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta’s support for that suit on its website. The subhead of the group’s press release boldly claimed the labor icon was one of the “Voices of Vergara,” a collection of pro-lawsuit testimonials that appear on Students Matter’s website and on YouTube. The release stated that “the longtime California labor leader and civil rights activist” endorses the lawsuit and quotes her as saying, “I think it’s awesome that the Vergara lawsuit was filed. There is no excuse why we can’t have equality in education. I think we have the resources to do it, we’ve just got to have the will.”
There was only one problem: The press release’s statement wasn’t true.
On February 3 Huerta sent a strongly worded “cease and desist” letter to Students Matter’s public relations firm,
The symbolism of last Friday’s press conference by the recently embattled and newly ex-superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy, couldn’t have been more explicit. Speaking for the first time as a private citizen, Deasy spoke to reporters on a conference call hosted by Students Matter.
The Silicon Valley-backed, Menlo Park nonprofit has paid the legal bills for the Vergara lawsuit, which challenged teacher job protections in the state earlier this year by successfully suing the California Department of Education and LAUSD. Deasy became a star witness — for the plaintiffs — when he testified against the state and his own district’s teachers.
For a man who had been brought by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa from the Gates Foundation in 2010 to LAUSD as the top deputy to then-superintendent Ramon C.
John Deasy is gone. According to City News Service, the Superintendent of Schools for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), “submitted his resignation today, ending his three-year tenure as head of the nation’s second-largest school district. Although he is stepping down as superintendent, he will remain with the district on ‘special assignment’ until Dec. 31.”
Deasy’s resignation letter, posted on LAUSD’s website, concludes:
I will transition from this job to another way to serve. In allowing me to do that, I hereby submit my resignation. I will work with your council to close out my employment contract.
In closing, let me thank my critics, for they have helped us see where we can do our work better, and that is what we do with each opportunity to improve. I also wish to thank my supporters. You have enabled us to move quickly to right wrongs in the lives of youth,
When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down the tenure rights of the state’s public school teachers last month in Vergara v. California, his decision was hailed by Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, as “a terrific, wonderful day for California students and for the California education system.”
The lawsuit, which had been brought on behalf of nine California schoolchildren, argued that the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated the students’ civil rights.
The suit and its accompanying public relations blitz had been bought and paid for by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch under the umbrella of Students Matter, Welch’s personal Menlo Park education reform nonprofit. Welch made his fortune designing large-capacity fiber optic transmission systems for the global service-provider market.
Reagan Duncan has taught a combined kindergarten-first grade class in Vista for 10 years. When she heard about Tuesday’s ruling in the Vergara v. California trial, she feared the worst. The case’s plaintiffs sought to throw out the state’s job protections for its teachers on the grounds that the safeguards make it impossible to dismiss “grossly ineffective” teachers.
“My first thought,” Duncan told Capital & Main, “was that it’s going to make it harder for well-run school districts to operate classes for our students – and worse for poorly run districts. The laws in place for dealing with teachers who struggle in the classroom have been working. I’ve seen teachers let go – it’s just not true that they never are.”
The bench trial, which began January 27 and unfolded over 10 weeks, was funded by Students Matter on behalf of nine public school students who claim that California’s policies violate the civil rights of students – particularly those of low-income and minority students – by denying them a quality education.
A Los Angeles judge ruled today that California’s public school teacher job protections are unconstitutional. The ruling, issued as a tentative decision, was immediately stayed by the Superior Court Judge, Rolf Treu, pending appeal.
The potentially far-reaching case, Vergara v. California, was brought on behalf of nine schoolchildren, who claimed the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated their civil rights. They were organized by Students Matter, a Menlo Park nonprofit created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, who had hired the white shoe law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher to represent the nine at the bench trial before Judge Treu.
Treu, appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson in 1995, found “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.”
Today in Los Angeles attorneys will offer closing arguments in Vergara v. California, a lawsuit funded by Silicon Valley millionaire David Welch and others with ties to the school privatization movement under the banner of a front organization called Students Matter. The suit wrongly attacks as unconstitutional California statutes covering teacher employment, including the current two-year probationary period, the due process protections built into teacher dismissal and layoff procedures that value experience over more arbitrary factors.
That the probationary period is even an issue is a little mind-boggling; if a principal can have a teacher on staff for two years and still have no idea if that teacher is effective, he or she probably has no business being a principal. At trial, award-winning superintendents and principals have testified that two years is more than enough time to decide whether to keep a teacher on staff and,
An election campaign now being fought almost completely out of public view could radically alter the way California’s school children are taught. If Marshall Tuck unseats incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state’s public education system could become a laboratory for a movement that prizes privatization and places a high value on student test scores over traditional instruction. The contrasts between the two top contenders in the nonpartisan race could not be more dramatic – nor could the stakes for the country’s largest education system.
The 40-year-old Tuck is a Harvard Business School graduate who has worked as an investment banker for Salomon Brothers and as an executive at Model N, a revenue-management software company. He is a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operation in Los Angeles, and later served as the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools — former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s controversial education nonprofit that tried to improve 17 low-performing public schools,
The following additional conversations have been lightly edited for clarity. For full article, see A Great Divide: The Election Fight for California’s Schools.
Doesn’t the academic performance of California students have a lot to do with being near the bottom of the state on money spent per pupils?
Definitely funding has to play a role . . . but it doesn’t play the only role. I can share this from pure experience because I’ve worked in schools where we had limited funding and had better results. Also, at some schools where we actually got more funding the results didn’t necessarily translate into great success.
How do you counter arguments that Mr Torlakson has more classroom experience than you?
I’ve spent the last 12 years working directly in education, working with kids and parents, working with teachers, hiring principals, developing principals,
As the Vergara v. California trial ends its fourth week, the most conspicuous absence from the plaintiffs list may be that of the man most responsible for bringing the education lawsuit — David Welch, the 52-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter. His Menlo Park-based nonprofit initiated Vergara and is picking up all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and PR fees — a bill that was running nearly $3 million even before Welch’s high-powered legal team first set foot in Los Angeles Superior Court for the trial.
Vergara was filed on behalf of nine students and seeks to erase nearly a hundred years of teacher protections from the state education code that were adopted to prevent discriminatory and capricious terminations. The suit claims that five statutes addressing teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure disproportionately harm minority students in high-poverty schools by making it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.
Are job protections for teachers to blame for educational underachievement among low-income students of color in California? That’s the provocative question ostensibly at the heart of Vergara vs. California, which seeks to invalidate the tenure, due process and seniority rights of hundreds of thousands of educators.
Astute observers of the nation’s escalating education wars, however, may be asking another question: When did it become permissible to use the welfare of children as a fig leaf for an all-out legal attack on teachers?
Or, as historian and teacher John Thompson wrote recently in Scholastic, “Are corporate reformers unabashedly using the courts as a battleground for battering employees’ rights, as opposed to helping children?”
Sadly, the answer to Thompson’s question appears to be an unequivocal yes. For while the outcome of Vergara will have far-reaching national implications, it is hardly unique in its attempt to scapegoat teachers for sub-par educational performance.
Last week’s testimony in the Vergara v. California trial raised many an eyebrow when Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John E. Deasy testified on behalf of plaintiffs in a lawsuit whose defendants had originally included LAUSD.
Despite its supporters’ protests to the contrary, Vergara is widely seen as a frontal attack against statutory guarantees of due process and seniority rights for state teachers. The suit is the brainchild of Students Matter, a Bay Area nonprofit created by wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and partly financed by L.A. billionaire Eli Broad.
Under friendly direct examination by plaintiff attorney Marcellus McRae, the superintendent offered testimony that supported the suit’s contentions that the way in which teachers are fired, laid off and granted tenure has an adverse impact on the overall quality of the teacher workforce and illegally discriminates against low-income and minority students.
Ted Mitchell, the former Occidental College president nominated by the White House to become Under Secretary of Education, is the founder and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit whose goal, according to its tax records, is “to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.”
Judging by a look at the group’s website, another part of its agenda may be to gut the seniority rights and other job protections currently enjoyed by California’s public school teachers.
This week the site began prominently featuring news about the Vergara v. California trial now unfolding in Los Angeles Superior Court. When called for comment, a NewSchools spokesman said Mitchell’s group was taking no position on the case.
“We believe it’s an important case with broad implications for education,” the spokesman said.
The national debate over the quality of public school education and its teachers shifts to a courtroom this morning as day one of Vergara v. California opens in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Filed on behalf of nine student plaintiffs (including Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara), the suit seeks to wipe out the core of state teacher employment rights by overturning five California statutes that it claims make it too difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers.
The lawsuit was originally filed in the spring of 2012 by Students Matter, a Bay Area nonprofit created by the wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and financed partly by L.A. billionaire Eli Broad.
That’s when Students Matter revealed the names of an advisory committee that reads like a Who’s Who of privatized education interests. Heading the list is Students First,