In a scathing opinion, Los Angeles trial judge Rolf Treu ruled that California’s laws governing teacher tenure, teacher layoffs and teacher dismissals were unconstitutional. Judge Treu said that the evidence presented in the case of Vergara vs. California was not only compelling, but “shocked the conscience.” Most shocking of all, and what likely most moved the judge, was the testimony of the children who were the plaintiffs in the case.
Beatriz Vergara, the high school sophomore from Pacoima who was the named plaintiff in the case, testified that her seventh-grade history teacher made “rude comments.” How rude? According to Beatriz, her teacher “would call us stupid and tell us that we’re going [to] clean houses for a living, and that Latinos are going to end up being ‘cholos.’”
Elizabeth Vergara, sister of Beatriz, testified that her eighth-grade English class covered one chapter of an assigned book over the course of an entire year.
Raylene Monterroza, a sixteen-year-old plaintiff, testified that the best teacher she ever had was laid off because of the state’s “last in, first out” layoff policy. She also testified that her fifth-grade teacher would belittle students and “threw an overhead projector at the students,” which injured a student in her class.
These horror stories were made more horrible because the state’s laws on tenure, layoffs and dismissal protected ineffective teachers and their often shocking behavior. Even the state’s own defense witnesses admitted as much.
Defense witness Vivian Ekchian, a former Los Angeles school official, admitted that there are ineffective tenured teachers that the district didn’t seek to dismiss, and that the district would have sought to dismiss hundreds of teachers with multiple poor evaluations if the dismissal process took less time, cost less money and were less burdensome. Ms. Ekchian also admitted that Los Angeles Unified School District had zero dismissal actions that took two years or less.
Another defense witness admitted that the “last in, first out” policies, which protect ineffective senior teachers at the expense of effective junior teachers, demoralizes junior teachers. A defense witness who works for the California Department of Education admitted that the most vulnerable students (like the plaintiffs), who attend “high-poverty, low-performing schools, are far more likely than their wealthier peers to attend schools having a disproportionate number of ineffective teachers.”
Given such testimony from the children/plaintiffs, plus testimony from the administrators and teachers who are victimized by the state laws, and even the admissions from the mouths of defense witnesses, it is no wonder that Judge Treu delivered such a devastating condemnation of the state’s laws.
While the children won, the biggest losers were the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, which defended the indefensible status quo. The Vergara case showed once and for all that the teacher unions care only about turf protection, not about the achievement, performance and real learning of California’s students.
While the Vergara case will be appealed, Judge Treu’s decision should be cause for celebration among all who truly care about the future of all the state’s children.