California’s defense begins in Vergara trial

Part 66 of 66 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson |

California began calling witnesses to testify Wednesday in a lawsuit that aims to overturn laws that, students say, deny them the right to a quality education.

RIGHT TO EDUCATION: Nine California students, sponsored by Students Matter, are fighting in court for a better education.

Judge Rolf M. Treu refused Tuesday to dismiss the case, Vergara v. California, which is being heard in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Nine student plaintiffs, sponsored by Students Matter, have spent four weeks presenting their case against three practices enshrined in state law — the permanent employee statute, which often grants teachers permanent status after 18 months of teaching; dismissal statues, which makes it difficult for a school’s administration to dismiss a teacher for poor performance; and the “Last-In, First-Out” statute, which requires layoffs based on seniority rather than performance.

These practices deny students their right to a quality education and disproportionately affect poor and minority students, the students argue.

The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association have intervened in the lawsuit. CFT says these rules are not unfair to students, and that trying to dismiss ineffective teachers will not solve the problems public schools are facing.

“This simplistic idea is wrong in a number of ways. Most public schools are successes, by most reasonable measures; and while the role of the teachers is always an important in-school factor, external factors like poverty and underfunding have the greatest impact,” the CFT website states.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president for National Council on Teacher Quality, said teacher quality is the most important in-school factor in student learning.

“An effective teacher and a highly effective teacher make a really significant difference in the trajectory of their students, and the same is true in the negative capacity for an ineffective teacher,” she said.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at

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