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?