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Fate of California Teacher-Protection Rules Now in Hands of Judge

The closely watched suit challenging five California statutes governing teacher protections came to a conclusion yesterday, as lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendents in Vergara v. California made their closing arguments. (Both LA School Report and The Los Angeles Times have good summaries for you.) 

The lawsuit, bankrolled by a Silicon Valley entreprenuer and argued by some of the same lawyers who argued the Proposition 8 gay-marriage case before the U.S. Supreme Court, seeks to overturn rules governing teacher dismissal, tenuring, and layoffs in the Golden State.

The course of the two-month trial, heard by Judge Rolf N. Treu without a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court, hinges on very different readings of the laws in question:

  •  Is 18 months too short of a time to decide whether to grant teachers tenure, or is it sufficient and indeed in the best interest of students?
  • Are seniority rules blind to real differences in teacher quality, or is it the only fair and objective way to govern layoffs? 
  • Are low dismissal rates of poorly performing teachers the result of the state's "byzantine" procedures, or the failure of administrators to adhere to them?

At the heart of many of those questions is the still-thorny issue of how to identify the best teachers. That's been a national theme, with some 35 states crafting new evaluation systems to help identify and remediate their teachers. Underscoring the lack of consensus on the topic, though, attorneys for the plaintiffs called several youths who painted unflattering portraits of their teachers, as well as researchers who testified to earnings and educational benefits of those students taught by teachers with high "value added" scores. 

Lawyers representing the state of California and the two state teachers' unions noted the district awards some of the teachers deemed ineffective had received—and said that "value added" methods were flawed and unreliable.

The parties will have until April 10 to submit final briefs in the case.  Judge Treu then will have 90 days to issue a ruling. Whatever it is, the opposing side is almost certain to appeal.

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