Vergara vs. California: Teachers Unions on Trial

Seal_of_the_California_Department_of_Education.jpg (JPEG Image, 230 × 230 pixels)An oft-cited question in education circles is how much poorly-performing teachers are able to continue to collect paychecks because of tenure systems and powerful teachers’ unions.  This question becomes even more contentious when it is combined with the argument that more poorly performing teachers usually teach at underprivileged schools. In other words, the inability for administrators to remove underperforming teachers may be a civil rights issue.

This is essentially the argument of the lawyers representing 9 California public school students in the case Vergara v. California.

The plaintiffs seek to overturn several California laws that they say protect bad teachers and therefore harm students – especially in low-income schools, which they contend employ a “disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” Represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, the plaintiffs aim to prove that California’s teacher tenure law, seniority-based layoffs and other job protections pushed by the unions make it impossible for districts to fire even the most incompetent educators. If they win, they hope to bring similar lawsuits in other states.

“Through this case, we’re saying that equality in educational opportunity isn’t a privilege limited to the few. It’s a right that must be available to everyone,” said plaintiff attorney Theodore Boutrous.

The case is ongoing, and we will be sure to update you on its progress.

One notable development so far has been the role of L.A. school superintendent John Deasy. Although called as a witness supporting the side of the plaintiffs, Deasy’s testimony has been helpful in some way to each side.

Deasy’s testimony about the difficulty, especially in terms of prohibitive time and cost to fire teachers, of removing negligent teachers, in some ways plays directly into the argument of the plaintiffs. For example, The L.A. school district spent $3.5 million fighting to dismiss seven teachers for poor performance. The fight took a decade. The district only succeeded in removing four.

But on the other hand, the defense, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, argues that Deasy’s testimony proves that the labor laws in California are not the issue; the ineffective use of the law by management is.  As long as management properly takes advantage of the leeway given them by the current laws, there should be no problem removing obviously ineffective and grossly negligent teachers, or so goes the argument of the defense.

For an impassioned support of the position of the defense, please see the following article:

And for more information on the ongoing case in general, please visit: