Teaching Profession

Vergara Appeal Brings Out a Who’s Who in Ed. Policy

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 18, 2015 2 min read
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Is there anyone out there who hasn’t weighed in, at this point, on the Vergara v. California appeal?

California’s court of appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments sometime this fall on the next phase in the blockbuster case, which in June 2014 pitched out rules governing teacher tenure, due process, and layoffs in the Golden State. (Sort of. Those laws are still in effect while this appeal is processed.)

If you needed any more evidence that this case has severely polarized people working in the teacher-policy arena, a pile of recently submitted friend-of-the-court briefs should clear that up right away. There are a legion of familiar education names on both sides. (Go here for some of the briefs submitted by those who want the ruling overturned, and here for briefs from supporters of the ruling.)

Just to give you an idea of the players, here are some of the names of the critics:

  • Advocacy groups: Many teachers’ unions. The Lawers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Education Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • Educators/political actors: David B. Cohen. Rebecca Meiliwocki. Steve Zimmer.
  • Scholars: Bruce Baker. Eva Baker. Katrina Bulkley. Marilyn Cochran-Smith. Sara Goldrick-Rab. Edward Haertel. Donald Heller. Richard Kahlenberg. William Koski. Judith Warren Little. Christopher Lubienski. Patricia Gandara. Pedro Noguera. Jeannie Oakes. Gary Orfield. W. James Popham. Diane Ravitch. Richard Shavelson. Lorrie Shepard. Kevin Wellner.
  • Constitutional-law experts, notably Charles Ogletree.

And for a snapshot of folks who support upholding the ruling:

  • Advocacy groups: Black Alliance for Educational Options. Education Trust - West. Foundation for Excellence in Education. Los Angeles Urban League. National Council on Teacher Quality. TNTP. California School Boards Association. California Association of School Administrators.
  • Educators/political actors: John White. Hanna Skandera. Paul Pastorek. Kevin Huffman. Cami Anderson. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pete Wilson.
  • Scholars: Jane Hannaway. Cory Koedel. Jonah Rockoff.
  • Constitutional-law experts, notably Laurence Tribe.

Read the actual briefs for yourself if you want the details. With the exception of those looking at Judge Rolf Treu’s specific legal reasoning, many of them rehash the same ground covered at the trial, going over claims about teacher evaluation, “value added” methods, teacher-quality research, and so forth.

Let me be clear: These different folks’ motivations for submitting these briefs are many and varied. I’ve spoken with some legal experts, for instance, who can see flaws in the Calfiornia statutes in question but neverthless think the ruling was legally unsound, and are opposed to it on that principle. Pundits who favor the ruling like to make this case an “adults versus the students” problem, but it is not that simple.

One other thought: all of this raises some particularly difficult questions for journalists sorting through this case. When pinged for comment, are the folks named in these briefs going to volunteer their participation? Will we reporters remember to ask for such disclosures, and print them? More to the point, is there anybody in education policy or law who could be considered an impartial source at this point?

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

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