No Profile in Courage Award for Governor Jerry Brown and state School Superintendent Tom Torlakson who refused to stand up to their allies in the teacher’s unions and asked for an appeal of a Superior Court decision on the perverse effects of teacher tenure in California schools.
Yet, the appeal in the Vergara case may prove to be a good thing for California education in the long term if, and I expect when, a higher court upholds the ruling.
On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu affirmed his tentative ruling that found compelling evidence that California school children were denied their constitutional rights under the state’s tenure system. The system particularly hurt poor and minority students, the judge declared, because “grossly ineffective teachers” most often work in their schools.
With the appeal, a state Appellate Court or ultimately the state Supreme Court would have a final say on the evidence brought by the students. These higher courts will be hard pressed to turn their back on facts that Judge Treu wrote, “shocks the conscience.”
With a state Appeals Court and/or the Supreme Court coming to the same conclusion as the lower court, the warning bell rung by Judge Treu about the state’s tenure system would be loud and clear.
One concern may be the timing of the high court’s ruling (if the case gets that far.) On the same day Judge Treu issued his final ruling, Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar was confirmed for a Supreme Court seat that will become open in January. (Cuellar still must face voters in November.) Governor Brown’s appointees are expected to look at the world in a more liberal light than the justices they replace.
However, Judge Treu’s decision is not one that falls into liberal or conservative boxes. President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recognized the importance of the California case.
“The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems,” Duncan said at the time of Treu’s original ruling in June.
One hopes the higher courts will put evidence that “shocks the conscience” and the constitutional rights of students ahead of any ideological thinking. A ruling from a high court backing up Judge Treu will be a clarion call to the legislature to fix a broken system.