California Political Watch’s Gloria Romero (former California Senate Education Committee Chair) discusses the legal battles erupting nationwide over teacher tenure. The practice is fiercely defended by teachers unions because they say it protects teachers from arbitrary firings. A growing number of students, parents, and policy experts say tenure makes it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers.
That was the issue in the now famous Vergara v. California case, in which nine students sued the state for not upholding its constitutional guarantee of quality education for all students by keeping grossly incompetent teachers in the classroom. The students prevailed, but as expected the ruling is being challenged by none other than California Gov. Jerry Brown.
A similar case was also filed recently in New York, and Romero details just how ugly the underbelly of education politics really is:
Amid much pomp, Students Matter, the nonprofit funding Vergara, announced support for a similar challenge, Davids v. New York.
Since then, peculiar things have occurred: Both Students Matter and the high-profile law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher representing the Davids plaintiffs pro bono have withdrawn; even the judge has recused himself. What happened? Welcome to the politicized world of education reform and the power brokers leading it, observers say.
Another similar case has also been filed in New York, Wright v. New York, by the Partnership for Education Justice (PEJ) headed by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown. So what happens when two cases, one filed by Mona Davids, a public-school parent leading New York City’s Parent Union (NYCPU), and the other by a prominent television news anchor, start battling each other? As Romero continues:
According to lead plaintiff Mona Davids… Students Matter and the Gibson firm were “bullied” by wealthy interests intent on backing a different lawsuit filed weeks after Davids. Since the filing, the New York attorney general has ruled to consolidate the cases, leaving only Davids.
Davids has long battled to obtain better educational outcomes for children. She’s savvy and won’t back down – the type of fighter parents want when seeking empowerment. She has sided with teachers unions against perceived inequitable charter school co-locations; she’s also sided with reformers to make it easier to fire bad teachers but not totally dismiss tenure rights.
The media flocked to cover Brown’s lawsuit, drawn by her ability to raise money and promote her cause. But the decision to consolidate the lawsuits under Davids was a major blow to Brown’s team. That’s when the strong-arming began, I’m told. Davids and Sam Pirozzolo, another plaintiff, allege that Brown’s team began efforts to drain their support in order to reinstate her organization’s lawsuit.
Members of Brown’s team denied any wrongdoing, and on September 11 the New York State Supreme Court affirmed that the cases would remain consolidated. The Daily Caller reports that the bad blood between the NYCPU and the PEJ is at a boiling point:
The spat exposes fault lines between local activists fighting to improve their children’s schools and national organizations that view individual cases as the building blocks of nationwide change. Sam Pirozzolo, the NYCPU’s vice president, explicitly objected to the idea that a national group’s intervention was wanted or needed in New York.
“We object to ‘outsiders’ like Campbell Brown coming into New York City and saying we parents don’t know how to speak for ourselves and for our children,” he said.
Students are typically the first causalities in education battles waged by the adults. The fight to ensure quality teachers in every classroom is too important to be sidetracked by such in-fighting. Hopefully, the adults claiming to fight on behalf of students will grow up—the sooner the better.