Rolf Treu, Helen Farias, David Berliner, Gary Orfield
  • Rolf Treu, Helen Farias, David Berliner, Gary Orfield
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On June 10, judge Rolf Treu tentatively decided to do away with statutes that provide teachers with job security in the Vergara v. California court case. Treu’s ruling sided with nine student-plaintiffs who argued that low-income students in California receive a substandard education because of teacher tenure laws.

Treu stated that ineffective teachers were allowed to stay in the educational system too long because it was too costly to remove them. He also argued that the time for teachers to acquire tenure was too short — within two years — and that teacher layoffs, because of seniority, adversely affected low-income students.

The tentative decision ignited debate, but as the flame dies down, interesting facts arise. For example, four of the student-plaintiffs had teachers who were in schools that had no tenure.

There is also a question about the number of alleged incompetent teachers. Relying on the testimony of expert witness Dr. David Berliner, Treu declared that approximately 275,000 teachers are incompetent. In a post-trial interview with, Berliner called that a “guesstimate.”

On the same day as Treu’s ruling, the U-T generated an editorial titled: “Judge’s ruling a landmark for California schools.”

The editorial says “the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers will depict reformers who focus on teacher competence…as stooges serving a shadowy corporate conspiracy to destroy middle-class-jobs.”

In this manner, the editorial sweeps under the carpet the involvement of Silicon Valley multimillionaire David Welch, who financed the court case.

The 990 tax form for Welch’s nonprofit was filed under the name “Students Matter” for “The Students First Foundation.” As early as 2012, the organization spent $1,472,270 funding the Vergara litigation and $491,758 doing “outreach in support of the litigation.”

What is Welch’s angle?

According to the news website, Capital & Man, “David and Heidi Welch Foundation has given to NewSchools Venture Fund, which invests in charter schools and the cyber-charter industry…. Welch also supported Michelle Rhee’s education-privatizing lobby StudentsFirst…”

The U-T also wrote “Because of the wealth and clout of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, the system routinely leads to veteran teachers clustering at whiter schools in more affluent communities.”

A post-trial brief avers that districts decide where teachers are placed: “Plaintiffs’ administrator witnesses acknowledged the irrefutable point that their districts maintain complete discretion to assign and transfer their teachers within their district as they see fit.”

Sweetwater Union High School District veteran teacher Helen Farias offers this anecdotal view: “I work at Palomar Continuation school. We serve the district’s most vulnerable students and are a Title One school. Of our 23 teachers, we have 3 district ‘Teachers of the Year’ on staff and the average teacher has 10 to 15 years’ experience.”

The U-T also says unions will argue “that job protections are essential because of capricious school bureaucrats.”

Do districts act capriciously?

Some readers who have followed the travails of the Sweetwater district may recall community members, teachers, and staff alleging intimidation tactics in the district.

Farias writes: “During the crisis at [Sweetwater], it has been the protections that due process provides that have allowed teachers to speak out against the district’s corrupt administration. A more personal example: A few years ago, we had an administration at [Palomar High School] that was dismissive of teacher concerns regarding student drug use on campus. In fact, the assistant principal at the time said we should tolerate the pot smoking as ‘pop culture.’ Because of due process, PHS teachers spoke out against the administration and were able to secure a change.”

Farias also provides an example of the positive effect tenured teachers can bring to low-income schools:

“Often, politics at a disadvantaged school are more intense than at a more affluent school. Typically, parents are more involved at the latter and serve as a checks and balances for administration. At disadvantaged schools, it is typically the teachers who speak out against administrative decisions like eliminating art from the curriculum to replace with test prep, or shortening the school day for the students who are struggling the most (both of these actually almost happened at PHS, but teachers fought it and won). If I feared I would lose my ability to provide for my own family, I would never be able to advocate for my students as I've described.”

Judge Treu’s decision has been compared to the civil rights victory of Brown vs. Board of Education, a 1954 ruling that forced schools to racially integrate. But there are others who worry the Vergara decision will deflect attention from the deepening crisis of segregation and in California.

The UCLA Civil Rights Project titled “Segregating California’s Future” released a report in May. The authors, Gary Orfield and Jongyeon Ee, argue that since the Brown v. Board decision, segregation and poverty have intensified.

Dr. Gary Orfield, a research professor and codirector of the Civil Rights Project, offered the Reader comments on the subject of equality and the Vergara ruling:

“…the Vergara decision will not be the final word on teacher tenure in California…and is unlikely to have much impact on the educational inequality for Latinos in the state…. The decision is very brief and cites very little evidence and goes far beyond what he [Treu] defines as the violation…. I do think that there should be a longer requirement of service before tenure is granted and that dismissal should be much less complex and protracted, but I also think that teachers, including many Latino teachers, need and deserve some protection from arbitrary administrators and crazy policies and requirements that have no basis in research. One only needs to look inside the operation of charter schools without unions to find examples of really arbitrary administrators and teachers without rights.…

“Our problems are much deeper on the teaching front — we have not made the profession attractive to our best students, we have dumbed it down drastically in many schools where test prep has often replaced interesting instruction that is interesting work for teachers, and we are now often using scientifically invalid measures of learning growth in evaluating individual teachers….”

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Visduh June 25, 2014 @ 7:29 a.m.

Comparing this decision to Brown v. Board of Education as a watershed in our society is absurd. Note that this much-ballyhooed decision is still "tentative", and the circumstances pointed out here and in some other informed reports cast huge doubt on it. Start with the fact that most of the plaintiffs were not attending and never had attended schools affected by tenure laws, and you have a soft foundation for any sweeping ruling. Did they even have standing to sue? It is very likely that this decision will be stayed, perhaps even by this judge, pending some long appeal process. During that appeal process, every technicality will be explored, and it is likely that part, even all, of the ruling will be set aside.

It was a sure thing that talk radio and operations such as the editorial page of the Mill would make a big, big deal of the whole thing. Some reform is probably necessary, but the claims of school districts and administrators that it is "virtually impossible" to fire an incompetent or under-performing teacher are overblown. When a district really wants to eliminate such a teacher, it can, and make it stick. It is just that taking such action isn't easy, and school administrators usually want the easy way out of every situation.

But I must point out the irony of "conservatives" gloating about a court decision that basically attempts to rewrite the law. They are the ones who repeatedly decry activist judges and "legislation from the bench." I'd suggest they reconsider their joy at this ruling.


anniej June 25, 2014 @ 7:32 a.m.

Until and unless we are willing to invest our time as parents and taxpayers, major issues will continue to spiral out of control.

It takes a village to raise the future leaders of tomorrow - parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, Administrators, a school board seated by persons of integrity and a quality superintendent. Currently my community is lacking a few of the above crucial ones.

Let me speak of those in my bracket - parent (family) - while we talk a good game, our earned grade, a big fat F?


erupting June 25, 2014 @ 8:15 a.m.

Teachers need protection from administration just as auto workers need strong unions to ensure that their rights are not violated. There are teachers who do not belong in the profession. After spending four years in preparation to work with kids,the rude awakening comes to some that this is not what they were cut out for. Student teaching should take place in the beginning of the course work not the end. This would allow them to not get locked into a profession they were not cut out for. The big concern to me is that student scores are connected to good or bad teachers. I do not believe this is correct or a fair analogy. Education is a joint venture between the student,teacher,parent and provided curriculum. If there is a break down or missing element there is a problem. This may seem simplistic but is very true. Teachers deserve tenure and protection like any worker,but we get caught up in the blame game,and the all or nothing theory instead of working together for the betterment of education.


Susan Luzzaro June 25, 2014 @ 9:27 a.m.

Various media lately have raised the question--is our national education agenda being set by wealthy CEOs. The link to the article below from the Washington Post asks--Would there be a nation wide Common Core Initiative had Bill Gates not financed so much of it.

The article also points out that in the Vergara case -- the expert witnesses, the attorneys, etc were financed a multimillionaire.

Naturally, the question becomes -- is that what's best for education?


Susan Luzzaro June 25, 2014 @ 9:32 a.m.


you make some good points. Teaching isn't for everyone and it would be good to mix some student teaching in throughout the time a person is getting his or her degree. You remind me, too that tenure is not just about two years, teachers actually student teach for one year before that.


Susan Luzzaro June 25, 2014 @ 9:40 a.m.

Visduh, regarding how difficult it is to fire, in the post-trial filing by the defendants, there were numbers given for the teachers fired in the LA district and two other districts. They were significant. But the point was made that a substantial number of teachers--when confronted with inadequacies--choose to resign. This makes the number of fired teachers lower.

Many districts also have programs to assist teachers who are having difficulties.

As the article grew longer and longer, cuts had to be made. But several things struck me: California has now dropped to the bottom of the barrel on per student spending. Also, and this surprised me, the U.S. Census bureau last year identified CA as one of the poorest states.


johndewey June 25, 2014 @ 10:43 a.m.

erupting:   Superintendent Ed Brand's use of private investigators to intimidate critics of his administration as well as other vindictive actions he's taken to maintain "control" are prime examples supporting your point that teachers need protection. Sweetwater is the poster child for the necessity of protective laws like tenure for all employees. Just imagine where teachers like Ms Farias would be without it.


Visduh June 25, 2014 @ 11:10 a.m.

Great comments from annie, erupting, Susan, and johndewey. The role of money in all this educational reform (if we use the term loosely) is noteworthy. While I don't know enough about common core standards to really comment, I've heard some really good things and some that cause me unease. But a guy like Bill Gates needs to steer his charity in the direction of eradicating worldwide poverty, and it needs to stay out of anything in the US that carries major political overtones. He's undeniably a bright guy, but he thinks he's the smartest man in the world, and nobody will dissuade him from his mission to redirect society in America.

As to people getting all prepared for a teaching career only to find out they are not well suited for it, or suited for it at all, erupting makes an excellent point. Actually, those who just cannot function in the classroom usually find another career. (In the case of my extended family, there were two credential holders who, by the time they had earned the credential, refused to use it at all.) Many ill-suited folks are nudged out the door by the system, and don't ever face firing.

Teachers, like all employees, need some sort of protection. Unlike most folks, they actually have some. (Private industry has no real rules protecting employees from arbitrary treatment, Some employers put some processes in place to prevent unfair treatment, but most do not.) Where there is no tenure or no union contract, the employee is utterly at the mercy of the current boss, and many suffer involuntary reassignment, demotion, pay cuts, and even unjustified firing just because the boss takes a dislike to them. If I may borrow from Dionne Warwick, "What the world needs now is . . . more tenure, not less." Just think of how many teachers in Sweetwater would have been cashiered during the back-to-back Brand/Gandara/Brand reign of terror. THAT'S why there are tenure laws.


eastlaker June 25, 2014 @ 11:59 a.m.

Intentional and systematic dismantling of public benefit terrifyingly prevalent in the US today.

The Atlantic magazine has an article on how higher education is connected to the "private" prisons, which have been quite the growth industry. For starters, revered institutions such as Columbia University are heavily invested in the private prison industry. There are several other points to the article, but one of the most worrying is that these companies are doling out grant money to fund studies that support--you guessed it--the private prison industry!!

So yes, there is a great effort to profit from others' suffering--something I have been taught is very wrong. Amazingly, lip service might be paid to being a good citizen/member of the human race by these denizens of corporate expansion, but the concept of making as much money as possible off prisoners seems ok to them. And, these people have money for political donations.


Don Bauder has an article on the problems at Bridgepoint, and the concept of education being overtaken by the for-profit segment, is, of course, a strong element of that sordid tale.

Trying to remove tenure from the US public school system is a dangerous foray, chipping away at the basis of our society.

Why is there such contempt for citizens from other citizens? Why is there such contempt for fellow/sister human beings?

What can Bill Gates possibly be thinking?


eastlaker June 25, 2014 @ 12:47 p.m.

Another good blog:

The quotation at the top of that blog is something we need to take to heart:

"That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children..., is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination..., It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to common purpose...tied to one another by a common bond." Senator Paul Wellstone, March 31, 2000.


PencilPokinVelma June 25, 2014 @ 2:25 p.m.

I am vey pleased with the Vergara outcome, because as a principal I prefer to exert tighter control over my teachers. The older tenured teachers seem to think they know better than I do how to handle situations in their classrooms. I disagree. I would like to replace the veteran teachers with younger teachers who are more eager to respect my authority. Teachers with many years of experience tend to resent my leadership style, and I dislike them because they avoid me. I feel they should retire early and make room for newer ideas.


Susan Luzzaro June 25, 2014 @ 6:04 p.m.

Pencil Pokin Velma--

Of course you would be pleased, you forgot to mention that new teachers cost less. I've been meaning to look up the salary schedule for beginning teachers in the the various South Bay school districts. I bet some people would be surprised at the rate new teachers are paid. Meanwhile keep the faith -- and definitely keep your leadership style.


Visduh June 25, 2014 @ 8:01 p.m.

Velma is a real scream. Whoever she/he is, the talent for satire is good, but not great. If you take her seriously, take a deep breath. NOBODY could be so cynical, and so obvious. Just laugh.


Susan Luzzaro June 25, 2014 @ 10:31 p.m.

Chandra, I thank you very much for the compliment. Though it's x-treme, it's valuable to me. I tried to answer on Facebook, but since I gave up my account...I guess I can't use it. Go figure. Thank you.


Susan Luzzaro June 25, 2014 @ 10:34 p.m.

Eastlaker, I was unfamiliar with the janressergerblog, but it's a good compilation. I did some time behind it today. Thank you.


joepublic June 26, 2014 @ 1:05 p.m.

Something I believe we've learned from this and the Sweetwater/Southwestern corruption cases is the importance of paying attention when judges are up for election.  Unfortunately, we'll have to wait quite some time before Espana (2016) and Treu (2021) might run again.


Visduh June 30, 2014 @ 3:05 p.m.

Judges are seldom knocked out of office unless a major news medium goes on the warpath. That happened two or three times here in SD when either the Tribune or Union or Union-Triibune made a big editorial case for it, and more importantly, the TV and radio outlets picked up on the story. It would be great if So County voters decided that ol' Ana has outlived her usefulness (if she ever had any as a judge) and elected a challenger. Our judgeship elections are usually genteel affairs, and usually the incumbents win going away. So it was in the most recent election. Then you have the problem of short memories, and by 2016, who will remember Ana's laxity and proclivity for lenience in the face of betrayal of the public trust?


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