Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California


public schools trailer for Going Public doc

We're all abuzz about what's happening in Ukraine and Darrell Issa's asshatitude, but there's another important story that deserves attention, and it's about our schools. What is taking place in my home state can make a real difference; it involves a lawsuit, by billionaires, against the state of California claiming that tenure and seniority violate the state constitution.

But you and I know that it's just another way to go after unions and teachers. This case hits home, because I spent over fourteen years working in public schools as a theater arts educator and director.

The trial is now underway. You probably haven't heard about it because it hasn't gotten much coverage. It's called Vergara v California, and I have a source or two at the trial who fill me in daily.

Basically, a tech entrepreneur opened a non-profit, got money from billionaires to sue the state of California because-- ta daa!-- they don't like teachers. Seriously, that's what it boils down to.

They claim that fair working conditions for teachers hurt students. Again, seriously, that's what they're saying. Even though the research tells us otherwise. See, while these people are backed by billionaires and ideology, the defense in the case is backed by research and pesky things called facts.

The defense's first witness was a woman named Dr. Susan Moore Johnson. She's one of the most respected researchers on education policy. She's an education professor and researcher at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Here are some highlights from her testimony:

- Due process allows teachers to do their best work: "It's essential that the people who work with students, primarily the teachers, are able to do their best work, and that means that the conditions of their work haveā€¦to ensure that they have the resources they need, the time they need and the conditions they need to teach well."

- Better working conditions mean greater student improvement: "When we took the data from the surveys and identified the schools that were rated as very favorable working environments, favorable working environments, unfavorables, and we linked that to student achievement using a student growth measure which is used in the state of Massachusetts, we found that student improvement was greater in schools where teachers reported better working conditions."

- Laws around tenure, seniority and due process help retain good teachers: "Teachers remain in schools where there are strong and effective principals who deal fairly with them and with students and create environments where they can do their best work. Teachers want to be able to teach effectively, and schools that enable them to do that are schools where they will stay. And that's regardless of the income level of the school."

So who do we believe? The experts in educational research and the teachers who spend every single day working tirelessly in the classrooms... or the billionaires and anti-union folks who are trying, yet again, to destabilize our public schools?


  • Elin Hansen

    Maxine Jones...good point taken. The unions are their to protect the good teachers!

  • Elin Hansen

    Waxlips, you don't mention this in your note, but being hit by a teacher, that sounds like you might have attended a private Catholic school. I've known plenty of Catholics who attended Catholic schools in the 60's and 70's and had many knuckles rapped and today it's become part of their badge of courage.
    I agree with Prof Smartass when s/he talks about the really awful principals who are chosen by the superintendents to run schools. There are some real bullies out there and if you take this conversation back to it's beginnings you'll realize that it won't be long before it's the really good / older teachers who are fired rather than any bad one if schools were to do away with tenure. First to go would be the older, seasoned teachers who cost the district too much money. Second, the bully's victims, and thirdly, those who have political and educational opinions differ with the administration.

  • I worked in public schools for nearly two decades. There are good, caring teachers, and there are a few bad apples. I helped get one VERY bad apple fired for his little fling with a student who had just turned 18, so I understand bad.

    But in all my years working at several different CA schools at all grade levels, most (not all, but by far, most) teachers did it for their love and devotion to the kids and their jobs.

    I myself went through the public school system in CA as a student, and then, as I said, as an educator. I'm grateful to the teachers, the librarians, the groundskeepers, the nurses, the counselors, and yes, the unions. But mostly, I'm grateful for the kids. They made it all worthwhile.

  • Robert Clinton Tucker

    Maxine, your statement is based on an assumption, as is the researcher's, that ALL teachers do their job for the good of the student(s). For newer teachers that may be true. Even for some who have been there awhile they may still believe. But I went through California's public school system and I can tell you that belief is a pure fantasy. And I even heard it straight from a couple of my educators, they chose their paths and by the time they realized they no longer cared for it, they could not turn back. So the unions protect these teachers who may still churn out some success stories, but overall have little regard for their job. Then there's the few who do it because of a sickness in their heads called peophilia. I hear a new story almost biweekly now about another teacher just here in California who gets arrested for these things. And usually they've been gettin away with it for awhile. I'm sorry but until these thoughts are taken into account, I can't feel sorry for these individuals.

  • Maxine Jones

    Waxlips....most teachers are there to do a good job. It isn't an easy job: low pay, poor morale, poor conditions, rebellious students, and misinformed parents.The work load outside the classroom is nearly equal to that inside.
    Most bad teachers leave and leave early. The unions are there to protect the GOOD teachers. As Professor notes, they may be fired because they are competent, well-educated, and more expensive.
    For profit schools don't care about these qualities. In our area, they have hired classroom aides as teachers. High- school educations...2 year college at best. Unions are trying to prevent this.
    Please rethink your position.

  • Professor Smartass

    When a teacher is truly bad, the union will simply ensure that the district dots their I's and crosses their T's.

    Unfortunately, being a bad teacher is far from the only reason administrators will try to fire a teacher: experienced teachers cost more, and since they know their way around, they are more likely to resist the latest scam politicians are bribed to force on schools.

    Also, principals change schools far more often than teachers, so they may feel threatened by some of the more competent teachers, especially since a lot of principals are crappy teachers who promoted themselves out of the classroom by taking a few night classes.

  • Waxlips

    I agree with you about the politicians and billionaires. However, I can remember my first grade teacher who hit me while standing in front of the class. I wasn't the first one, there were others, that teacher scarred me for life and I'm sure the other students as well. I was also a teacher and now retired. And while spending my 24+ years in the academic arena I had witnessed teachers and administrators that just simply should not have been there. And while the CTA has made it nearly impossible for administrators to fire teachers its the students that suffer. I do understand that there are more good teachers then there are bad however, it takes nearly an act of Congress to fire a bad teacher as a result too much money spent on the legalities, too much time spent on paperwork, too much suffering for the students. Administrators need to be able to get rid of incompetent and nonproductive teachers in a timely manner. One day is a long time for a student to spend with an incompetent teacher. How do you think the students feel when they have to spend the entire year with that teacher? Like I said before it's all about the kids.

  • Elin Hansen

    Waxlips, there are not nearly as many bad teachers as bad politicians, or greedy and vulture capitalistic billionaires. I can remember my forth grade teacher as quite mean spirited, but for me it only made me stronger in the long run, and it made me take notice of the words I chose to use when I became a teacher. No, what's bad for kids is what's happening to our society, not one bad teacher, which by the way has been a PR campaign from the beginning to discredit all teachers and public education in general.

  • Waxlips

    Bad teachers are bad for kids. Bad teachers need to be fired ASAP, not five years later. The CTA is to powerful. It's supposed to be about kids.

  • Rdzkz

    Like the VAMPIRE CAPITALI$M! Was at predatory capitali$m but you are right we have reached a new level --it is what Mitt Robmoney-Cayman$ call 'harvesting the state'.

  • Bruce_William_Smith

    This article is a parody of a witch hunt. Not one person among "them" is mentioned in this article or in the first three comments that follow it; "their" position is never accurately summarized or quoted; the pupils (Miss Vergara and the other plaintiffs) are completely ignored, as if irrelevant.

  • aeskylos

    Making school a corporate enterprise replete with taxpayer money is the dream of every greed hole entrepreneur.Education for profit. The free market rules. Screw the poor kids.

  • Elin Hansen

    ...and by whatever way possible, just as they turned the banks into
    predatory lenders, they want to turn education, public education into a
    way to get rich. They've one big hurdle though which they need to get rid of
    first....teachers who are in the way...teachers who are by far the
    largest group more altruistic than others in working professions, and
    have done so with lower wages. Low, but not nearly low enough for the
    billionaire vultures...they want it all.

  • Beren_Camlost

    They also want to detroy public education in it's entirety. Because this is the new vulture capitalism. The idea anymore isn't to create a new idea or product, but to identify revenue streams and divert them to corporate coffers by whatever means is necessary.