The California lawsuit brought by gabillionaire anti-union, pro-charter reformsters has finally had a well-deserved stake driven through its non-existent heart.
When the appeals court shot it down, the determined that while one might imagine that in some imaginary alternative universe without tenure laws, students might get better teachers,
the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.
The petition to have the appeal heard at a higher level court has been denied.
There are interesting points to be found in the decision and the dissents. For instance, one dissenting judge argues that while some classes of students are getting a churning mess of less-than-awesome teachers, that doesn't appear to have anything to do with tenure, but is instead "because they were enrolled in a distressed school district."
A conservative observed way back when Vergara was first decided that this case could turn out to be a tactical error (I don't remember which one-- sorry, writer for whom I'm not giving full credit for prescience) because Vergara underlines the state's obligation to provide decent schools under "equal protection." And reading this decision, I am struck that the case-- even in the dissents-- could end up saying, "No, you can't sue the state for having a tenure law, but you could probably sue it for underfunding poorer school districts." In which case the whole business could boomerang back in the faces of the folks who were hoping to use Vergara to weaken public education.
But mostly the folks who were banking on an eventual upholding of Vergara are sad.
Take, for instance, Jeanne Allen. Allen is the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, an organization that has been yipping regularly for the crushing of teacher unions and the sweeping aside of public education in favor of charter schools. I'm on CER's emailing list, and their response to Vergara's death was swift and senseless. Here's the whole thing, minus the press releasy opening graph:
"At a time when innovation and opportunity are so desperately needed in education, it’s astounding to think that hiring and firing decisions are based on artificial parameters such as how many years an educator has been in the classroom. It’s a huge disservice to kids. Our schools need the freedom to staff their institutions appropriately to meet students’ ever-changing needs.
"The California Supreme Court has inserted legal rights that otherwise do not exist. In doing so, they relegate too many children badly in need of a great education to ineffective schools and ignore the science that a great teacher can make a difference in the life of a child.
"Tenure discourages great teachers by protecting those who might not be able to keep their job if they had to prove their success. This decision is bad for aspiring teachers and bad for kids."
Yes, being able to hire and fire teachers at will would totally drive innovation because... reasons? It's the Dread Pirate Roberts School of Management ("I'll probably kill you today.") But then, Allen also assumes that hiring and firing are only based on years of experience-- wait-- hiring is based on years in the classroom??!! In fact, firing is pretty much always on turning out to be bad at teaching. Now, maybe she means layoffs based on years of experience, but as we see in places like Chicago, that's not even true everywhere. At any rate, we know that the traditional system promotes stability and protects the district's investment in teaching staff.
Second paragraph? Well, that of course is what Vergara failed to do-- that tenure (I know, I know-- we should be saying "due process protections" but "tenure" is what most civilians think this is about) has anything to do with maintaining quality education. And while nobody would argue that good teaching is good for children, the "science" presented at the trial was bunk.
Allen would also like to reassert the notion that aspiring teachers would be more interested in teaching if they knew that they would never have job security and could be fired at any time for any reason. Because that's what really gets people interested in devoting their lives to a line of work.
Oh, and I almost forgot-- the heading for this whole thing "Sad Day for Teachers' Rights in California." Because, you know, at the end of the day, Vergara was about protecting a teacher's right to be fired at any time for any reason.
I could point Allen to research like Eunice Han's paper showing that a strong collective bargaining actually increases the likelihood that "bad teachers" will be fired, but Allen doesn't really care about public schools, teachers, or the students who attend public schools-- she's just to rip down public ed and push profitable charters. If she did care about anything except charter growth, she would be questioning things like the chronic underfunding of some schools, or asking how better to hold onto great teachers and get their best work out of them (spoiler alert: you don't do it by threatening to fire anyone at any time for any reason).
I don't want to spend a lot of time doing a happy dance about Vergara's ultimate fate, but the whole business is a reminder that in the public ed debates, there are reformsters who are thoughtful critics who reach some terribly wrong conclusions with reasonably good intentions. Then there are people like the bankrollers of Vergara and Allen, who are just vandals who want to tear down teaching and public education so they can gain some power, make a buck, and never have to listen to anyone disagree with them ever again. Vergara was a bullshit lawsuit with no real purpose except to shut up and shut down teachers, further weakening public schools in California. Its defenders were increasingly driven to rhetorical ploys that defied all logic and sense and actual facts.
There's no doubt that they'll find new outlets for their nonsense (Allen has been peddling her baloney-laden wares on Twitter to support Massachusetts' Let's Make More Charter Operators Rich bill), but at least, once the last few tantrums are over, we won't have to listen to any more Vergara-based foolishness. All the parties who were oh so interested in Vergara could stick around to have a real discussion about how to actually strengthen public education in California. Go ahead and place your bets now on how many will actually do so-- or whether we're just going to be treated to more shenanigans to try to get to the federal level.