Jim Clark: Does California discriminate among K-12 students?

Most would agree that one of the best things that can happen to a child is to have a really great teacher. Conversely most would agree that one of the worst things would be to have a poor, uninspired teacher.

Governor Sandoval was elected to office with a far reaching education reform platform. He has had his struggles with Nevada’s Democratic Legislature and their cozy relationship with the teacher union.

However, he has successfully reformed Nevada’s Charter School Law and extended teacher probationary periods from one to two years before tenure can be granted.

The governor must be delighted with the nuclear explosion which just took place in California in the form of a lawsuit titled Vergara vs. California.

Here, nine minority students filed a complaint against the state claiming that the current California system discriminates against low income and minority students in K-12 classrooms.

The theory of the case is that California’s teacher tenure and layoff laws result in marginally effective teachers who can’t be fired which in turn results in their being assigned to poor and minority schools.

In the 1890s the U.S. Supreme Court held in Plessey vs. Ferguson that segregation is lawful as long as facilities are “separate but equal.”

In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education looked at the result of Plessey and concluded that there is not even a hint of “equal” facilities and that school integration must occur “with all deliberate speed.”

The Vergara case draws on the reasoning in the Brown case in that the evidence showed the proximate result of California’s tenure and layoff policies resulted in an unconstitutional deprivation of the plaintiff students’ quality of education.

They faulted California’s tenure laws which mandate permanent employment in 18 months … not enough to evaluate and weigh a teacher’s effectiveness.

They also blamed Golden State teacher layoff laws which mandate strict seniority and no consideration of merit.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed, ruling: “there is no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified that it can take more than two years on average to fire an incompetent tenured teacher and sometimes as long as 10 years.

“The cost,” he stated, “can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.”

The teacher union condemned the ruling claiming that “it would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers;” they called it “a sad day for public education” adding that the ruling ignores a larger problem in school quality: full and fair funding.

These reactions put the teacher union at odds with the Obama Administration Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who called the ruling “a mandate to fix these problems” adding that he hoped the ruling would help “build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities …”

The teacher union has appealed the ruling which suspends its effect, pending appellate action.

However, as the New York Daily News reported: “Sweeping and unambiguous, (the ruling) is more than one decision in one big state, although even that is significant considering the shudders it will cause. It is an indictment of the laws of any state that protects inferior teachers at the expense of students … and a powerful inspiration for other families nationwide who will turn to the courts out of desperation.”

Mazel tov, Governor Sandoval. Help is on the way.

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at

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