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,