Commentary: Vergara’s dissenting justices write for history

Judge Rolf Treu affirm vergara decisionIn the long struggle to make the United States more just and perfect, court majorities have made some horrific mistakes. When that happens, the burden falls on dissents to provide hope for the future arc of the moral universe.

Such dissents often come from the most distinguished jurists. Benjamin Curtis, for instance, was the first formally trained lawyer on the United States Supreme Court. In 1857, he dissented from the Dred Scott case that eviscerated the civil rights of African Americans, arguing that: “free persons, descended from Africans held in slavery, were citizens of the United States.” John Harlan dissented in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) with the following famous lines:

“Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. … The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”

Justices Curtis and Harlan were vindicated by history, as were Justice Louis Brandeis in Olmstead v. United States (1928) regarding the right to privacy, and Justice Harlan Stone in Minersville School District (1940) regarding freedom of religion.

Today, justices unable to persuade their peers write for history, as in the 2011 dissents of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg (the Dukes v. Walmart case regarding workplace rights of women) and Sonia Sotomayor (the United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation case regarding the rights of the Apache Nation).

These examples come to mind in light of recent news from California, the nation’s largest state, and education reform, which the Urban League’s Esther Bush and many others have called the greatest civil rights issue of our time.

As background, in 2012 public school student Beatriz Vergara and 8 other schoolchildren sued California for violating their constitutional rights by providing them with systematically inferior education. In 2014, Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed with the students, ruling that the California educational system “shocks the conscience” in its mistreatment of students of color. Judge Treu’s decision met with immediate and widespread approval from almost every major newspaper editorial board of the left, right, and center, as well as longtime progressive education leaders such as California’s former Congressman George Miller.

Unfortunately, three California appellate judges, led by Justice Roger Boren, made a clearly flawed decision to overturn Vergara.

As I wrote at the time, I was confident that the California Supreme Court would overturn Justice Boren’s clearly flawed ruling, in part because of my confidence in two of the individual justices of that court: Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. Both Liu and Cuéllar have sterling reputations and have been discussed as future justices of the United States Supreme Court.

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Vergara-inspired lawsuit turns to federal courts

Press conference after Vergara decision LAUSD

David Welch, StudentsMatter founder, speaking at a press conference after a Vergara decision.

The attorneys involved in Vergara v. California, a landmark case that challenged teacher tenure laws, announced Tuesday they have filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut challenging that state’s laws that they say restrict school choice options.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the California Supreme Court’s decision Monday to decline to review an appellate court ruling that overturned Vergara v. California, effectively putting an end to that case’s four-year journey through the courts. The battle now moves to the California Legislature.

In the new case, Martinez v. Malloy, the plaintiff attorneys argue that the state laws violate equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit names 11 students and parents as plaintiffs. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and other state leaders are named as defendants.

“These inner-city children are compelled to attend public schools that the State knows have been failing its students for decades—consistently failing to provide even a minimally adequate education,” attorneys write in the lawsuit. “Yet, at the same time, Connecticut has taken steps that prevent these poor and minority children from having viable public-school alternatives— knowingly depriving low-income and minority schoolchildren of the vital educational opportunities available to their more affluent and predominantly white peers.”

The attorneys cite three categories of laws that are being challenged: the state has put a moratorium on new magnet schools, “arcane and dysfunctional” laws that govern public charter schools and the state’s inter-district open choice enrollment program that penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts.

“Federal courts have a proud tradition of recognizing and protecting our most cherished fundamental rights — particularly when our children’s futures are at stake,” said Joshua Lipshutz, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “It is time for the federal courts to step in and stop states, like Connecticut, from forcing inner-city children to attend failing schools.  Under the U.S. Constitution, every child deserves a chance to succeed in life.”

“As urban parents, we have to work ten times as hard, be ten times as engaged, and be ten times as savvy about the system to give our children even a slim chance of getting into a quality school,” said Jessica Martinez in a statement, the mother of one of the plaintiffs. “Connecticut’s laws hurt and impede, rather than help us.”

StudentsMatter is sponsoring the lawsuit. They say tens of thousands of poor and minority students in Connecticut are harmed by the laws.

“Every child deserves access to a quality education and the opportunities it provides, but the state is effectively limiting that access for some children — a direct violation of their Constitutional rights,” said StudentsMatter founder David Welch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. “This case is about parents standing up and demanding answers for a broken and harmful system.”

With Vergara’s demise, heat’s on California Legislature to take up teacher tenure


Assemblymembers Shirley Weber, left, and Susan Bonilla.

In the wake of a crushing defeat for a landmark challenge to California’s teacher tenure laws, the battle for change has shifted from the courts to the state Legislature.

While most parties agree that the inequities brought to light during the Vergara v. California trial must be righted, there’s a difference of opinion from those inside and outside the Legislature about whether that’s possible in the current political landscape in Sacramento, where teachers unions are among the most powerful lobbying groups.

Marshall Tuck, a former Los Angeles charter schools executive who ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent in 2014, credited Vergara and its nine student plaintiffs for the change he’s seen in the halls of the capitol.

“There’s real momentum that’s been built around these kids and the support they got,” Tuck said. “I believe that the momentum will hopefully continue and that we’ll get these changes.”

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, takes an opposite view.

“There’s no momentum. It’s the reverse,” she said. She pointed out that the California Teachers Association has racked up three wins since spring, with the appellate court’s unanimous ruling to overturn Vergara, the Supreme Court’s decision this week to decline to review the case and the thwarting of her own bill that would have made changes to teacher tenure and dismissal procedures.

“That’s the reality. It gets harder with every defeat,” she said.

Bonilla agrees it’s the Legislature’s job to make these changes.

“That’s why I carried my bill. The Legislature needs to take action. They shouldn’t abdicate their responsibility to the children of California.”

Even though Bonilla’s AB 934 was defeated after initial backers withdrew their support and lobbied against the final watered-down version, Tuck said the bill showed that the Legislature has made progress.

“Really for the first time, you saw a Democrat introduce meaningful legislation that addressed a lot of the areas that Vergara sought to address,” he said. “That, to me, really shows progress.

“Four years ago, there was zero dialogue about improving these laws,” he said.

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Commentary: How to weed out bad-apple teachers? Ask parents

bad-applesBy Lindsay Sturman

The epic battle over how to improve public education in California grew more stratified last week when a bill to mildly reform California’s onerous teacher employment laws was gutted beyond recognition and quickly died. With it went the hope that our elected officials would finally decide the question which is at the heart of the debate: Is there a fair way to fire a teacher? 

Assembly member Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 was meant to address (and head off) the issues raised in Vergara v. California, a lawsuit brought by nine students who argued the laws are too protective. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed; an appeals court did not. Now the state Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether to take up the case. While both sides agree there are ineffective teachers in our public schools, and they are concentrated in low-income communities, they can’t agree on what to do about it. Unions say there is no objective way to evaluate teachers, arguing principals can be biased and incompetent, and test scores are influenced by factors outside of a teacher’s control (such as poverty). The default system is that teachers get almost no scrutiny, and terrible teachers are left in the classroom indefinitely because no one is identifying the bad ones.

No one, that is, except for parents.

When a teacher is mean, lazy, chronically drunk in class or “grossly ineffective,” the parents know immediately. They know from their friends, from their kids or simply from observing a class. What has been overlooked by all parties in the debate is that in the absence of workable teacher dismissal laws there is an outsize role parents play in what happens to truly bad teachers. In affluent and high-performing schools, PTA parents — with booster club money, political clout and enough free time — will march into the principal’s office, file petitions with the district and protest until someone does something about a poorly performing teacher. That something is coaching (or nudging) the teacher to improve, and if that doesn’t work, “coaching them out.”

The phenomenon of “coaching out” is when administrators are forced to work around the stringent dismissal process, which can take a decade and cost $250,000and convince incompetent teachers to leave on their own. Teachers only agree to this when there is another job waiting for them. That job is very often in a low-income, low-performing school, where turnover and vacancies occur more frequently. This shuffle of teachers is known as the “Dance of the Lemons” and was part of the testimony in the Vergara trial.

But the parent part of the equation went unnoticed amid bigger headlines (such as teachers calling students racial epithets and slurs such as “whore” and no one doing anything about it, and that students can lose nine to 12 months of learning from one year with a grossly ineffective teacher). Mark Douglas, assistant superintendent of personnel services at the Fullerton School District, referenced the role of parents. He said the Dance of the Lemons results in the transfer of less effective teachers to economically disadvantaged schools because an “(ineffective) teacher can exist without parent pressure at a lower-end school.”

In other words, bad teachers cannot survive in affluent and high-performing schools because they can’t survive the parents. Empowered parents will hold everyone’s feet to the fire until a poorly performing teacher gets support, improves or moves on. If parents are constantly pressuring a school to stay on its toes and strive for excellence, is it such a surprise when affluent students do well? It’s important to note that parents in low-income and low-performing schools do protest and fight to get rid of ineffective teachers, but their voices go unheard in the same way voices from low-income communities across the country go unheard. Just look at Flint, Mich.

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6 top education news stories in Los Angeles in the first 6 months of 2016

Burning birthday candle number 1

(Photos courtesy of iStock)

The first half of 2016 brought high stakes and high drama to Los Angeles’ education scene, from dire budget predictions to heated charter debates to attempts at overhauling teacher tenure laws.

There were anniversaries to celebrate along the way — 25 years for both charter schools nationwide and Teach For America — and comings and goings of superintendents, plus the glimmerings of electoral races to come (for the school board’s members and president, LA City Council, mayor and even governor) that promise a starring role for education.


The new year started with the announcement that Michelle King had been chosen by a unanimous vote of the school board to be LA Unified’s next superintendent, the first black female ever to lead the district and the first woman since 1929. The three-month nationwide search had ended at home, with an LA Unified “lifer” who was educated in the district and has worked for it for nearly 30 years. King replaced Ramon Cortines, who stepped down at the end of 2015.

King had to immediately grapple with how the district would co-exist with the growing number of charter schools and the school board’s opposition to a plan to significantly increase their numbers. In fact, the day she was confirmed by the board was also the day of the unanimous board vote against an early draft plan to expand charters.

King called for healing, and in her first community town hall she stressed, “It’s not us versus them.” She met three times with the new head of the nonprofit formed to lead the expansion of the city’s high-quality schools, Great Public Schools Now Executive Director Myrna Castrejon, who, like King, was announced in January, is a minority woman and single mother, and stands to have significant impact on the shape and state of education in LA.

King also took on the plummeting graduation rate as well as predictions of a massive deficit within three years, holding a series of special board meetings in May and June to address the predictions and as well as recommendations outlined in a November report by an independent financial review panel.

She presented her first budget in June, which most board members praised, but noted there was much work yet to be done.

“Are we there? No, we’re not there, but we are on a path moving forward in the right direction,” King said as she presented the budget to the board.

“In general, I think that your staff and you have done a good job of trying to meet the needs in the district with the limited funds we have,” board member Monica Ratliff told her.

Burning birthday candle number 2


The future is dire,” is what King heard at the outset of the special meetings on the fiscal health of the district.

Internationally renowned education expert Pedro Noguera of UCLA, hired by the district to advise King and the board and facilitate the special meetings, warned that unless more serious measures are taken, the nation’s second-largest school district is destined to lose more students.

The challenges LA Unified is facing, Noguera said, include declining enrollment because of the growth of charters and demographic shifts, chronically under-performing schools, structural budget deficits and the need to increase public support for schools.

The details were daunting: the budget deficit was projected to reach nearly half a billion dollars in three years; a district audit showed LA Unified debt outstripped assets by $4.2 billion; unfunded pensions topped $13 billion and have more than doubled since 2005; per-pupil funding had doubled but the district still faces financial crisis; and plans for a turnaround included boosting enrollment but not cutting staff. Indeed, even though the district has lost 100,000 students in the last six years, its certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years.

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Commentary: A promising bill on teacher effectiveness is gutted in backroom deal

Beautiful young teacher writing on the blackboard

By Ben Austin

Last month, my organization, Students Matter, issued its support of California’s AB 934 – a state bill that, though imperfect, honestly attempted to address the grave defaults in the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws challenged by the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California. (A 2014 ruling in that case sided with the students but was overturned by an appellate court earlier this year; the plaintiffs are now appealing to the California Supreme Court.)

Students Matter worked with California Assemblymember Susan Bonilla’s office for months to craft commonsense legislation that supported effective teachers and prioritized quality across California’s public education system. When introduced, the bill drew praise from parents, educators, community leaders and newspaper editorial boards across the state.

All that progress was eliminated last week with the strike of a pen.

Late last Tuesday night, Students Matter got notice of a new version of AB 934, revised in advance of an upcoming vote before the California Senate Education Committee. Watered down and gutted beyond recognition, the new AB 934 preserves the unconstitutional and unjustifiable disparities in students’ access to effective teachers caused by the current laws.

• Read more: Parents want legislature to act on teacher tenure

Rather than bring California in-line with the states making strides toward educational equity, AB 934 continues California’s decades-long tradition of robbing students of the quality education they deserve. In an about-face betrayal of California’s students and hardworking families who depend on our public schools, AB 934 now abandons California’s 6 million public school students and hard-working public school teachers by embracing a harmful, unpopular and unconstitutional “business as usual” mindset.

So what happened? A backroom deal that was manufactured by the state’s most powerful special interest groups, which swapped a promising bill out for a reinforcement of the status quo. And while the new AB 934 might work for those groups and their lobbyists, it’s a bad deal for California students, parents, teachers and voters, who trusted their elected representatives to serve and protect the people.

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5 things you need to know about Vergara as CA appeals court hears arguments Feb. 25


The California Supreme Court could be the next step. (Credit: Paul Sakuma-Pool/Getty Images)

Nearly two years after the trial in Vergara v. California first began, the case is set to move forward as judges from a state appeals court hear arguments Feb. 25.

The plaintiffs – nine students in five California public school districts – argue that five laws governing teacher dismissal, tenure, and “last in-first out” layoff policies deprive them of their right to a quality education, in violation of the state’s constitution. Those policies disproportionately harm minority and low-income students, they say.

After a two-month trial in early 2014, Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, declaring those laws unconstitutional. Treu delayed the portion of the ruling banning the imposition of those laws pending appeals.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the appeals court arguments.

What are the plaintiffs’ arguments, and who is supporting them?

Attorneys representing the students argued that California’s constitution, as interpreted in past cases, requires the state to provide a quality education. The five laws in question deprive students of that equal education, and poor and minority students are more likely to be assigned low-performing teachers, the plaintiffs argued.

Specifically, they said California’s two-year time period for tenure was too short to adequately evaluate new teachers. The cumbersome dismissal procedure made it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers who harmed students, they said. “Last in-first out” layoff policies forced districts to ignore teacher quality and students’ best interests.

Parents, students, teachers, superintendents and other school officials testified on their experiences under the law. Researchers testified about the harmful effects of an ineffective teacher on students’ test scores and long-term earning potential as adults.

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State appeal court sets arguments in Vergara case for February

judgeThe California Court of Appeal, Second District has scheduled for Feb. 25 oral arguments in the landmark Vergara v. California lawsuit. The appeal decision will be closely watched throughout the state and beyond, as the future of California’s teacher employment laws surrounding tenure, seniority and dismissal hang in the balance.

In 2014, Judge Rolf Treu struck down the current laws after ruling in favor of a group of California students who had sued the state and its two largest teacher unions, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). The students successfully argued that the laws deprived them of a quality education by keeping bad teachers in the classrooms.

Treu’s ruling was stayed, pending the appeal, and should it stand, would require state lawmakers to draft new teacher employment laws.

“At its core, this case is about ensuring that every child, regardless of income, color or zip code, has equal access to the quality education they deserve. The trial court correctly found that striking down these laws as unconstitutional was necessary to vindicate the right to a quality education promised to all of California’s school children,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., lead co-counsel for plaintiffs, in a statement. “We look forward to oral argument in February.”

Union leaders in the state have painted the case an attempt by powerful interests to crush teacher unions. The plaintiffs in the case have been financially supported by the organization Students Matter.

“We should be clear that the deep-pocketed financial backers of Vergara have an anti-union track record and that this lawsuit is part of that long-term agenda,” CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said previously in a statement. “To suggest that education reform should be driven by how teachers get fired misses the reality of what’s really happening across the country.”

Supporters of Vergara lawsuit file ‘friend of the court’ briefs

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

A group of of education chiefs from around the nation, as well as some teachers, parents, student groups and business organizations, lended their official support to the Vergara lawsuit today by filing several amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs.

The briefs, which the group Students Matter reported were to be filed today, are documents submitted by individuals or organizations that are not party to a lawsuit but have an interest in its outcome.

“[T]here is no denying a teacher’s impact and no justifiable reason to not make every effort to improve in-classroom instruction, even while challenges remain outside the classroom,” said a group of current and former education leaders in one of briefs, according to Students Matter, the organization that funded the Vergara lawsuit. “While teachers as a whole certainly deserve due process, states must, and certainly may, strike a balance between such job protections and their responsibility to provide students with quality teachers and a quality education.”

The briefs’ authors include Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, former Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and former State District Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Cami Anderson.

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Vergara appeal moves forward, but final decision may be 1 year away

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

An appellate court ruling in the landmark Vergara v. California case moved closer to an end date today with the attorneys for the nine student plaintiffs filing their appeal brief.

The brief is a response to the appeal arguments made by the defendants in the case, the State of California and its two largest teacher unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association.

The defendants lost the case last June when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s laws regarding teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissals by saying they deny students access to a quality public education. Treu stayed his ruling and left it up to state lawmakers to fix the problems he cited, making the outcome of the appeal a potential tectonic shift in education should the ruling stand.

The defendants now have 20 days to file additional reply briefs, unless they are granted an extension. Once the briefs are all filed, the court will schedule a date for oral arguments, but there is no timeframe on when the court must schedule it, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., the plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, explained in a phone call today with reporters.

The plaintiffs in the case have been financially supported by the organization Students Matter.

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Analysis: CA’s season of change (maybe) for public education

california public education reform and future LAUSDHere’s one vision of the future for California public schools: Every teacher is effective. Schools are free of child molesters. Schools provide quality instruction time to every kid in every classroom.

These are all possibilities, judging from this season of potential change for the state’s public schools.

In recent weeks, a trio of separate but related actions has taken aim at the state in efforts that proponents say would improve the safety and academic performance of California’s 6.2 million public school students. But whether they would, in fact, lead to constructive change or serve merely as change for change sake remains to be seen.

If all three efforts succeed, one outcome is clear: the state and school districts would have new responsibilities aimed at providing students a better learning environment through changes that could hold important benefits for low-income and minority children.

In chronological order:

  • The ACLU of Southern California and two other law firms in late May filed a class action in an Alameda County state court — Cruz v. California — on behalf of 18 students from seven schools, charging that students are being denied adequate instruction time. Two of the schools are in LA Unified — Fremont High School and Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School. Another two are in Compton Unified —Compton High and Franklin S. Whaley Middle School.
  • Early this month, a state superior court in Los Angeles delivered a stunning victory to nine student-plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, striking down a series of state laws that govern teacher protections as a way to remove ineffective teachers from their classrooms.
  • Last week, with unanimous support in both chambers, the state Assembly and Senate sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would make it easier to get rid of teachers accused of immoral and illegal behavior.

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Citing Vergara, union watchdog group urges parents to sue

Center for Union Facts VergaraJust in case parents around the country missed the decision in Vergara v. California, a union-watch group in Washington is spreading the word.

The Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit, ran an ad in today’s USA Today that urges parents and school reform advocates to to follow Vergara’s lead and sue when teacher unions block reform efforts.

Judge Rolf Treu decided in favor of the nine student plaintiffs, declaring unconstitutional laws that set rules for teacher tenure, seniority rights and dismissal. As chief defendant, California was joined by the state’s two biggest teacher unions.

“While the final resolution of this case may still be years away after inevitable appeals, it demonstrates there are means beyond traditional legislative venues to achieve education reform,” said Richard Berman, executive director of the Center. “Just because teachers unions block reform efforts in state legislatures and local school boards, reform advocates don’t have to sit idly by while children and our education infrastructure suffer.”

A spokesman for the Center said the ad was part of an on-going campaign to focus on teacher unions that urges parents to have a voice in education policy.

Commentary: An extraordinary effort for extraordinary need

Ben Austin

Ben Austin

LAUSD School Board Member Steve Zimmer’s recent commentary “Standing with Beatriz” hit the nail on the head on one key issue: for our children, the stakes are high.

Let me acknowledge first that Mr. Zimmer is a good person who is doing what he feels is best for the children of LAUSD. On this issue, however, we have a principled disagreement about what that is.

Mr. Zimmer portrays himself as a grassroots underdog taking on a phalanx of nefarious billionaires who aim to “privatize” public education. What he fails to mention, is that he was also supported by over one million dollars in campaign contributions from the biggest and most powerful special interest group in the state. That fact doesn’t make him right or wrong, but it does make him part of the system. It isn’t a coincidence that the same adult special interests that bankrolled his campaign are now bankrolling the opposition to Vergara.

Mr. Zimmer wrote about the “Vergara fiction,” that the status quo is broken. But this harsh reality is unfortunately not fiction for the children who lose their talented, dedicated and loving teachers to layoffs each year just because they were hired last. And it’s not fiction for the children who have been molested and for those who were literally forced to eat semen by a teacher who was paid $40,000 to retire, with full benefits!

Vergara shifts the focus from the interests of adults to where it should have been all along: children.

Putting children first must be the “north star” by which all decisions are made in our public education system. Ninety one percent of likely California voters support a children-first agenda, but far too often the interests of powerful adults trump the interests of children.

This is not a coincidence.

It’s because kids don’t have a political action committee, and kids don’t have lobbyists.

Beatriz Vergara and the millions of children attending California public schools can’t vote.

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Vergara-like ballot initiative pulled until 2016, report says


A state ballot initiative aimed at regulations governing teachers that was headed for the November ballot has been pushed to 2016, according to a report by ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento.

The measure was seeking to change the way California school districts lay off teachers by using a teacher’s classroom performance rating, rather than seniority. Matt David, a Republican strategist and the measure’s sponsor, decided to wait until 2016 to bring the measure to the voters because of the high start-up costs associated with new annual teacher evaluations, the KXTV report said.

The fiscal analysis of the initiative, conducted by the independent Legislative Analysts office, showed that the cost of the new annual teacher evaluations could hit $1 billion.

Though the decision may seem like a victory for teacher groups statewide, David isn’t backing down.

“We feel it’s necessary to commission a study that examines the true cost based on other states rather than speculate on hypotheticals like the LAO fiscal analysis,” he told the station.

David’s initiative seeks many of the same objectives as Vergara v. California, the state’s most significant teacher rights case in two decades, which recently concluded the testimony phase in California State Superior Court. The case was brought by nine student plaintiffs who say the current state laws protect ineffective teachers and deny their constitutional right to receive a quality education.

The defendants in the suit —the state and its two biggest teacher unions argued that the regulations are fine as they are and blamed problems with ineffective teachers on poorly-run schools and districts.

Messages seeking comment from David were not immediately returned.


Deasy at USC: Vergara is the next big civil rights case

John Deasy, with fellow panelist, Susan Estrich

John Deasy, with fellow panelist, Susan Estrich

More than two months ago LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy took the stand as the first witness for the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, a lawsuit challenging teacher protections. He testified for three days, laying the foundation of their overall case.

Now that the trial has ended, the head of the largest school district in the state continues to make his case to the public, positioning Vergara as a civil rights issue.

Speaking yesterday on a panel called “Rights, Writs and Rulings: Where does a student go for redress?” sponsored by the USC Rossier School of Education, Deasy characterized the Vergara trial as the next point on the civil rights continuum seeking to strike down segregation in public schools: A major focus of the plaintiffs’ case is that low-income and minority students are more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than children from more affluent families.

He spoke at length about Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education, both historic cases that challenged the Fourteenth Amendment. And Deasy drew parallels between more the recent public education battles of Williams v California, Serrano v Priest, and Butt v California, as well as the peaceful protests lead by African-American students in the 1960s.

Deasy said a group of well-dressed black students sitting at a segregated Woolworth’s counter in Greenboro, North Carolina decades ago, politely asking to be served is not unlike a group of nine California students asking for a better education today.

“I would like a cup of coffee. I want to go to a good school,” he said. “We are still struggling some 60 years later to enact the promise of Brown v Board of Education. I am troubled how today we can witness such unequal, non-protected classes of youth at a single institution called public education. Our work is not done.”

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Commentary: Standing with Beatriz against Vergara

Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

Just over a year ago, I won re-election to the Los Angeles Unified School District board. It was an unlikely victory in what may have been the most expensive school board race in U. S. history. The wealthiest of self-styled reformers – Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Michael Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee’s followers – put in over $4-million to try and take over the L.A. Board of Education.

The stakes were high. Los Angeles Unified is by far the largest school district in the nation to be governed by an elected board. Our district has over 900,000 students, over 60,000 employees and an operating budget of over $7 billion. The reformers were clear about their goals. They sought to eviscerate the power of our teacher union by eliminating job protections, seniority rights, and tenure. They sought to link teacher evaluation directly to standardized test scores. And more.

Against this gale force, we were able to build an improbable coalition of families, teachers and classified employees, and community activists. We matched the billionaires’ money with authentic boots on the ground. We talked to people, and people listened. In the many struggles in today’s economy, battles often pit people’s interests against the interests of corporate America. This time the people won.

Or so we thought.

As it turns out, the election isn’t really over. It just shifted venues.

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Vergara trial ends, with CA teacher laws hanging in the balance

3-27-2014_VergaraTrialLastDay_Ted Boutrous

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Ted Boutrous

Lawyers from both sides in Vergara v California — the state’s most significant teacher rights case in two decades — unleashed their final arguments today, in a last attempt to amplify their own case and destroy their opponent’s.

The case is now in the hands of state Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who gave the sides until April 10 to submit any final briefs, after which he has 90 days to issue his ruling. He has the option of striking down all the laws, some of them or none of them.

“I’m not saying it’ll take all 90 days,” he told them inside a downtown courtroom larger than the one used for the trial, so as to accommodate a big audience on the final day of proceedings. “The court has much to consider, and it will consider it deliberately and thoroughly.”

Ted Boutrous and Marcellus McRae, lawyers for the nine student-plaintiffs went first, offering dramatic and emotional rationales for striking down five laws that govern teacher seniority, dismissal and tenure.

3-27-2014_VergaraTrialLastDay_Jim Finberg

Jim Finberg

They were followed by Supervising State Attorney Susan Carson and Jim Finberg, who was representing the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Together, they argued that the plaintiffs came nowhere close to proving their case.

For two hours, Boutrous and McRae laid out their vision, arguing that the statutes handcuff school districts, thus leaving ineffective teachers in the classroom and denying students their constitutional right to a quality education.

Boutrous underscored the impact ineffective teachers have on students. Recalling testimony from Harvard economist Raj Chetty, he told the court that if as few as 3 percent of California teachers were ineffective, the academic impact on their students would be the equivalent of $11.6 billion in lost lifetime earnings.

“If that’s not real and appreciable harm caused by theses statutes,” Boutrous said, “I don’t know what is.”

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Vergara case inside court, dueling press conferences outside

Elizabeth Vergara, at the press conference

Elizabeth Vergara, at the press conference

As lawyers in the Vergara v. California case made their closing arguments inside the court room for the benefit of an audience of one – Judge Rolf Treu – their dueling press conferences held outside were directed at a statewide audience, to be broadcast by a number of television cameras.

The state defense team got their side of the story out first at an early morning event with the message that state laws that offer employment protections for public school teachers help California public schools “keep the American dream alive.”

Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, did not mince words.

“Outstanding teachers, award winning school administrators and the best education policy experts in the country have made it absolutely clear that the plaintiffs in this case are absolutely wrong,” he said.

Kindergarten teacher Erica Jones agreed, despite having been a victim of one of the statute’s that the plaintiffs are hoping Treu strikes down. The Last In, First Out law, or LIFO, ensures teachers with seniority are spared from the lay-off guillotine in times of district-wide reductions.

Jones said she was laid off in March 2009 as a new teacher. “I did not get this pink slip because of ineffective teachers or effective teachers,” she said. “I got this pink slip because my school and the district was incredibly under-funded.”

With no hard feelings, Jones added, “Seniority was merely an organized way to distribute the pink slips.”

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Laws must be struck down, plaintiffs say in their closing

VergaraVia The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — An attorney representing nine California public school students told a judge Thursday that laws making it too hard to fire bad teachers and retain good ones are preventing students from obtaining a decent education and must be struck down.

Theodore Boutrous Jr. made his assertions in a closing argument in the trial of a lawsuit that seeks to make it easier for administrators to dismiss incompetent teachers with tenure and easier to retain effective ones.

Attorneys for those who support leaving teacher tenure laws intact were to make their closing arguments later in the day.

Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who is hearing the case without a jury, did not indicate whether he would issue a ruling immediately afterward or a written one later.

Boutrous said that saddling a student with a bad teacher for just one year can cost a youngster tens of thousands of dollars in future lifetime earnings.

“When a student has a grossly ineffective teacher, it harms them. It harms them for the rest of their lives,” Boutrous said.

Administrators clearly know who their ineffective teachers are, but tenure laws tie their hands, he said.

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Analysis: Vergara approaching time for Treu judgement

Judge Rolf Treu

Judge Rolf Treu

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow in Vergara v California. Lawyers for the nine public school children who are the plaintiffs will speak from 10 to noon, followed by their defense counterparts, from 1:30 to 3:30.

The plaintiffs have the option to get in a last word after that, but, really, is there much new to say by now?

The positions are clear. For two months, the opposing sides have put on AM/FM cases as they try to persuade Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu of their superior wisdom.

Plaintiffs have taken a systemic approach, using the experiences of nine students as a motif for showing why California needs to legislate a more efficient way to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom. The fact that one child’s education could be compromised means all children are at risk.

No, say the defendants — the state, with the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association, as “intervenors.” Their case has been more granular. These kids might have had problems with their teachers, but is that enough to blow up state laws that offer employment protections for public school teachers, whose effectiveness in the classroom is dependent on so many factors outside of it?

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