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Will the Vergara Ruling Backfire?

When a Superior Court judge ruled in Vergara v. California that the state's teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional because they disproportionately deprive poor and minority students of a decent education by leaving ineffective teachers in place, the verdict was hailed as a victory for the plaintiffs.  But if the ruling stands, it has the potential to invite litigation with entirely different goals ("Silver Linings Casebook: How Vergara's Backers May Lose by Winning," University of Maryland Law Journal, Volume 15/Issue1).

I'm not a lawyer, but it's not hard to imagine new lawsuits that challenge the disparities in working conditions between teachers in affluent and impoverished school districts, inequities in class size, differences in funding formulas etc.  In other words, teacher effectiveness does not exist in a vacuum.  It is the result of many factors beyond the control of teachers. Therefore, these differences could be cited as evidence of harmful practices, which would put school districts on the defensive.

Future plaintiffs can't have it both ways.  If they want ineffective teachers to be removed from the classroom because of the harm they do to their students, then they are going to have to show that disparate outcomes may be caused by unequal conditions. They can't pin all the trouble on teachers alone.  

Equally troubling is that the courts have become involved in an issue that rightly should be the responsibility of the state Legislature ("Must the courts improve California's schools?" Los Angeles Times, Jul. 8). This abdication means that taxpayers are left up in the air while matters wind themselves through the judicial system. In short, the Vergara decision will have unintended consequences.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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