California Supreme Court Won't Hear Case Attacking Teachers


The California Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a suit against the state’s teacher tenure laws, leaving the laws in place after a long-running legal battle. The lawsuit’s wealthy backers say they’ll take their efforts to the legislature next, trying to pass a law denying teachers due process.

The Vergara plaintiffs claimed that teacher tenure protects bad teachers, disproportionately harming poor and minority students. This argument convinced a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, but was overturned by an appeals court—and no wonder, since none of the named plaintiffs had one of the “grossly ineffective” teachers supposedly protected by tenure, and several of the plaintiffs attended schools that don’t have teacher tenure to begin with. Not to mention that one of the terrible awful teachers cited in the lawsuit had been Pasadena teacher of the year. “As the expert evidence clearly showed—and the Court of Appeal carefully reasoned,” said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a statement, “it was the discretionary decisions of some administrators, rather than the statutes themselves, that contributed to the problems cited by the plaintiffs.”

Teacher tenure laws are intended to protect teachers in cases like this one, cited by former Long Beach and San Diego school superintendent Carl Cohn:

When I arrived in San Diego in 2005, one particularly disturbing admission came from one of the district’s area superintendents. She indicated that she had transferred an excellent elementary teacher from her inner-city school because the teacher had exercised her free speech rights in disagreeing with the top-down nature of the previous superintendent’s “Blueprint for Student Success.” The transfer, however, did not silence the teacher. Just the opposite, in fact. The next year, she was elected president of the San Diego teachers union.

Proponents of abrogating the rights of teachers often argue that incidents like this one in San Diego were common decades ago, but no longer happen today. My experience tells me that they are wrong on that score.

What’s more, in stark contrast to all the claims that tenure laws make teachers radically less likely to be fired, the author of a recent study on the effects of teachers unions says that:

By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them. Using three different kinds of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I confirmed that unionized districts dismiss more low-quality teachers than those with weak unions or no unions.

Cases like Vergara aren’t about facts, though. They’re about weakening public education and breaking teachers unions.

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