The Vergara decision is three weeks old – and due to the teachers unions’ appeal, nothing has changed. Or has it?
Because Judge Rolf Treu has placed a stay on his Vergara ruling pending the outcome of the teachers unions’ appeal, the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes are still alive and well in California. However, there already has been some fallout engendered by the decision.
Introduced in February of this year, AB 1619 would have required school districts with fewer than 250 students to grant tenure to teachers after three years. Amazingly the unions had not, until earlier this year, tried to sink their hooks into these smaller districts that have no tenure laws at all. The bill, cosponsored by the California Teachers Association (surprise!) and Lorena Gonzalez, former leader of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, sailed through the State Assembly but hadn’t made its way out of the Senate Education Committee. As reported by LA School Report, “Paul Ochoa, an aide to Gonzalez …, said the bill ‘will not move forward this year,’ but he was uncertain if Gonzalez would try again next year.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci recently observed that there’s no doubt that “had it not been for the Vergara ruling, not only would AB 1619 have passed already, but we probably wouldn’t have even heard a word about it.”
While California is wrestling with the ramifications of Vergara, New York has inaugurated a similar lawsuit. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who has become involved with education reform of late, launched the Partnership for Educational Justice in December 2013. Inspired by Vergara, she has identified six children who have agreed to serve as plaintiffs, arguing they “suffered from laws making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”
Ms. Brown wants a verdict in her group’s case to spur legislators to come up with better education policies. ‘My hope is this would be a wake-up call to politicians who failed to solve these problems for years,’ she said.
Her team has been meeting with parents to find plaintiffs. One is Jada Williams in Rochester, who wrote a seventh-grade essay complaining about teachers who she said gave no real instruction and failed to manage unruly students. Her mother, Carla, said in an interview: ‘When a child in class is educationally neglected, that’s a criminal act.’
David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who financed Students Matter, the advocacy group that filed the Vergara suit, has given Ms. Brown guidance, and came to a meeting of about 30 people at her apartment in April to discuss it, she said. A mother of two children in private school, Ms. Campbell said she gave seed money to the Partnership for Educational Justice. She declined to disclose other donors. She has applied for nonprofit status.
Shortly after the Vergara verdict, the USC Rossier School of Education and Stanford-based Policy Analysis for California Education conducted a poll and found
… that two-thirds of voters (68 percent) agree that the state should do away with “Last In, First Out,” a policy that requires the newest K-12 teachers be laid off first, regardless of merit. Just 17 percent said California should continue to conduct teacher layoffs in order of seniority….
California voters also largely opposed the state’s tenure laws for public school teachers, according to the poll. Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure, as it makes firing bad teachers difficult. Twenty-five percent of voters said the state should keep tenure for public school teachers to provide them job protections and the freedom to teach potentially controversial topics without fear of reprisals.
When asked specifically about the timeline to tenure — which can be awarded after as little as 18 months in the classroom — 38 percent said two years is too soon to award tenure, and 35 percent said public school teachers shouldn’t receive tenure at all, the poll showed. Seventeen percent of voters said two years was the “right amount of time” to earn tenure, and 4 percent said two years was too long, according to the poll.
Perhaps most interestingly, the poll showed that when asked about California’s teachers unions,
… 49 percent of voters said they have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with 31 percent saying unions have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.
Then, for sheer entertainment value, we have the teachers unions’ responses to the ruling and its aftermath, bloviating about the turn of events every time a microphone is within harrumphing range. In an obvious slap at Campbell Brown, New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee nonsensically claimed that, “If hedge fund millionaires and celebrity dilettantes were truly interested in guaranteeing students a quality education, they would join parents and unions in fighting for fair funding for all children, not just the affluent.”
The funding canard doesn’t even merit a response. And if Magee has issues with “celebrity dilettantes,” why didn’t she pillory Matt Damon for statements he made supporting tenure at an SOS rally in 2011? I guess, for her, some celebrity dilettantes are more equal than others.
Responding to the Vergara decision, National Education Association leader Dennis Van Roekel informs us that, “This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.”
His might as well have said, “The cow jumped over the moon” for all the sense he made. Getting rid of incompetent and criminal teachers and trying to save the hides of young teachers victimized by last in/first out rules is what the case was about. Privatization and an “ideological agenda?” Not even close. Actually it’s the teachers unions’ “ideological agenda” that is helping to spur the very school choice movement that Van Roekel and other union leaders are forever decrying.
And of course American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in, claiming that the decision “strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.” Oh please. Teachers have plenty of “voice” except maybe when they run afoul of the union for not toeing the party line. Effective teachers won’t be affected by the Vergara decision, though some pedophiles’ and incompetents’ livelihoods may be cut short.
Mike Antonucci analyzed the national and California teacher union leaders’ responses to the Vergara decision and noted that none of them used the words “tenure” or “seniority.” He writes,
My view of all this is that the unions will, as they have in the past, score well with the general public when attacking evil corporate puppetmasters. But judging from the media reports of the Vergara ruling – almost all of which prominently use ‘seniority’ and ‘tenure’ – they will have an uphill battle altering the public perception of protecting bad teachers.
If the USC poll is any indication, the Vergara trial – if nothing else – has been a public relations disaster for the unions. Translating that into meaningful political change is going to be the tricky part. And so, the battle continues.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.