Vergara decision to drive reforms in teacher employment, Stanford experts say

June 11, 2014

By Clifton B. Parker

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled June 10 that California's teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education. The closely watched case, Vergara v. State of California, could change the way teachers are hired and fired in the state and around the nation.

Stanford News Service spoke with William Koski, the Eric and Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education at Stanford Law School and director of the Youth and Education Law Project, and Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow on Education Policy at the Hoover Institution, about the ramifications of the case. Both Koski and Hanusek are on the faculty of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, where they are also both professors by courtesy.

What impact will this ruling have on teacher tenure issues across the nation?

Koski: This is a significant decision because it's the first time a court has found certain fundamental teacher employment protections – time to tenure, due process protections and "last in, first out" reduction in force rules – unconstitutional because they violate students' fundamental right to an education. Although the ruling is based on provisions in the California Constitution and therefore limited in effect to California, the organization backing the plaintiffs, Students Matter, and others sympathetic to reform of teacher employment protections will seize on the theories advanced in the case and bring litigation in other states. Moreover, the litigation will stoke the already burning fires in many state legislatures to continue to reform teacher employment laws and collective bargaining rights. The irony, of course, is that the ruling will have no immediate effect in California because it will be stayed pending appeals.

Hanushek: This groundbreaking decision on teacher tenure turns the policy focus onto student outcomes and begins a process of reconsideration of whether existing laws, regulations and contracts are in the best interest of students. The Vergara ruling narrowly applies just to five California statutes that were ruled unconstitutional, but it will undoubtedly echo around the country. Courts and legislatures in other states will be prodded to pay more attention to the balance between teacher rights, pay and benefits and the quality of education provided in our schools.