These are two vastly different portraits of California’s education system. In one, poor and minority students are frequently placed in front of incompetent teachers whose blackboards are filled with basic misspellings and who play irrelevant movies instead of devising lesson plans for class time. In the other, the vast majority of teachers are providing students with all they need to learn, and well-run school districts are able to ferret out and dismiss the ones who are not.
For more than two months, lawyers have been arguing in state court over whether California’s laws governing teacher tenure, firing and layoffs violate students’ constitutional right to an education. And by the beginning of July, Rolf Treu, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, will deliver the first legal ruling on the case, which has attracted national attention. In states around the country, opponents of tenure rules, who have tried and largely failed to bring about changes through state legislatures, are looking to this case as a test of whether taking their arguments to court could prove more successful.
Lawyers for the students named in the case, Vergara v. California, have argued that California students are subject to an unfair system that deprives them of a fair education, which translates into the loss of millions of dollars in potential earnings over their lifetimes. But lawyers for the state and the teachers’ unions counter that the problems in the system have little or nothing to do with the rules that govern how teachers are hired and fired.