Somewhat amazing decision this morning out of California Superior Court in the case of Vergara v. California.
Nine public school students, with the support of the educational rights activist group Students Matter…filed suit in May 2012 against California and several of its educational agencies. As the students' lawyers stated in a court filing opposed to the defendants' (failed) motion for summary judgment, the rules they are challenging "prevent California's school districts from providing even a minimally acceptable education to some of California's most vulnerable students because they effectively prohibit school districts from prioritizing, or meaningfully considering, the interests of their students when making critical teacher employment decisions."
And this next part is important: "As a direct result…school districts are forced to place failing teachers—those who are often well known to be either unable or unwilling to perform their jobs in even a minimally satisfactory manner—in classrooms where they perform miserably year after year in teaching California's students. Students taught by these grossly ineffective teachers are missing out on half or more of the learning that students taught by average teachers receive in a school year, leaving them far behind their peers and placing the quality of the rest of their lives in jeopardy."
The Superior Court today decided for the students.
Judge Rolf M. Treu reasoned that the challenged teacher rules—regarding permanent employment status, dismissal procedures, and a "last in first out" rule for layoffs—do indeed damage California children's constitutional right (on the state level) to an education. He wrote that the challenged statutes "cause the potential and/or unreasonable exposure of grossly ineffective teachers to all California students" and "to minority and/or low income students in particular, in violation of the equal protection clause of the California constitution."
"Evidence has been elicited in this trial," the Judge writes, "of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience." He was convinced by expert testimony that bad teachers can cause over a million in lifetime earning losses for students, and cost them 9 months of learning per year compared to students with even average teachers. He estimate 2,750 to 8,250 inferior teachers active in California now.
"Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that that Challenged Statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students."
The decision is stayed for now, pending the appeal by the state.
Students Matter, the activist group who sponsored the suit, announced in a press release today that:
"This is a monumental day for California's public education system," said Plaintiffs' lead co-counsel, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. "By striking down these irrational laws, the Court has recognized that all students deserve a quality education. Today's ruling is a victory not only for our nine Plaintiffs; it is a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California."….
During trial, Plaintiffs presented overwhelming evidence that California's statutes dealing with teacher dismissal and permanent employment impose a real harm on students and their fundamental right to equality in education. The evidence demonstrated that:
- Permanent employment is granted in far too little time, resulting in grossly ineffective teachers attaining lifetime job protections;
- The dismissal statutes are far too costly and time consuming, forcing districts to remain stuck with grossly ineffective teachers; and
- The quality-blind layoffs resulting from the "Last-in, First-out" (LIFO) statute force districts to fire top teachers and retain ineffective ones.
Importantly, the trial showed that these statutes harm both students and teachers, and that they serve no necessary purpose.
Students and administrators alike cheered this blow to the teachers' position, also from the Students Matter press release:
"This ruling means that kids like me will have a real chance to get a great education and succeed in life," said Plaintiff, and rising high school freshman, Julia Macias. "With this case, we have shown that students have a voice and can demand change when we stand together. I am incredibly thankful to the judge for giving me and my fellow Plaintiffs the opportunity to present our case."
Reacting to the decision, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said: "This is a truly historic day for our education system. Today's decision is a call to action to begin implementing, without delay, the solutions that help address the problems highlighted by the Vergara trial. Every day that these laws remain in effect is an opportunity denied. It's unacceptable, and a violation of our education system's sacred pact with the public."