Teaching Profession

AFT President Takes Secretary Duncan to Task Over Vergara Ruling

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 13, 2014 2 min read

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is angry about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s statement on the Vergara v. California ruling, and she wants everyone to know.

“You added to the polarization,” she said in a letter to the secretary. “And teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed.” She goes on to say that the Education Department needs to do better addressing out-of-school factors that affect student achievement and chastises the department for not acting on the recommendations of its own Equity and Excellence commission.

She cites New Jersey and Connecticut for having “transformed” due process for teachers, without eliminating it.

The move is a little curious because Secretary Duncan’s statement on the ruling was actually pretty anemic as these things go, and took a typically middle-of-the-road approach. It called on districts and unions to collaborate to write laws that better balance student and adult needs.

“Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education,” he said. “This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect, and rewarding careers they deserve.”

In another interview, with CNN, Duncan said that he “absolutely believes in tenure” and due process, but thinks it should take longer than two years to earn.

Let me briefly explain what the Vergara ruling’s implications actually are for due process. First, the judge stayed the ruling until appeals are settled (and an appeal is certain and has a decent shot at passing), so nothing will change immediately for California teachers. Second, even were elimination of the teacher-dismissal laws upheld, California teachers still would receive the right to hear the charges against them under the state’s Skelly rights, which apply to all public employees. Finally, we don’t know yet whether, or how, the state legislature will act to modify due process.

Charles Kerchner, an opinion blogger at edweek.org, and his colleague have a good analysis suggesting that the ruling shows a clear path forward for the state legislature on due process, the length of time to tenure, and other matters.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.