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Court Clears for Trial Calif. Case on Teacher Tenure and Dismissal Procedures

A California Superior Court judge has scotched a bid to throw out a case altering teacher-tenure rules in the state, clearing the way for the case, Vergara v. California, to proceed to trial. 

It's the third time that a court has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs—several California students—in allowing the trial to go forward, and against the state and other defendants, which include the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. 

The plaintiffs seek to strike down five sections of the state's education code governing the tenure-granting process, the layoff process, and dismissal procedures. The lawsuit argues that those statutes make it next to impossible to get rid of  "grossly ineffective teachers," while concentrating them in the neediest schools. It seeks to make the case that the statutes violate poor and minority students' right to an equal public education in California. 

The unions were not named in the suit, but they chose to join it as defendants earlier this year.

The case is getting national attention because it's a bit of a crucible for many of the most contentious issues in teacher policy today. For one, it's backed by an advocacy group financed by a tech entrepreneur, exactly the type of individual that has bankrolled groups lobbying for similar policies in other states—and spurred fears about "corporate education reform."  It's potentially precedent-setting if, indeed, the right to quality teaching is interpreted as a constitutional right in California.  And finally, as evidenced by this case's nickname as the "bad teacher" lawsuit, it is deeply caught up in the polarizing national discourse about teachers and unions. 

As I've reported for Education Week, advocates for these changes in the state have taken to the courts in part because California lawmakers, unlike legislators in many other states, have not significantly changed rules governing teacher quality.

The trial will begin Jan. 27.

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