David B. Cohen is a teacher who is a leader in the teaching profession in California. In this post, he offers a calm, thoughtful appraisal of the Vergara decision. While not agreeing with the decision, he points out ways in which the issues can be resolved in the future.

He acknowledges his outrage towards the group that brought the case, which dared to call itself “Students Matter”::

“I’m suspicious of wealthy and powerful individuals and groups whose advocacy for children leads to “reforms” that won’t cost a cent, but will weaken labor.

“Students matter – but apparently, California’s shamefully inadequate funding levels don’t. That’s the status quo they accept; teacher protections are apparently the status quo to fight. In many funding categories, California is at or near the bottom of the state rankings. Students Matter has done nothing that will put a needed book or computer in a school. Not one wifi hotspot. Not one more librarian, nurse, or counselor. Not one more paintbrush or musical instrument. Not one hour of instructional aide support for students or professional development for teachers. They don’t have any apparent interest in the more glaring inadequacies that their considerable wealth and PR savvy could help. But forming a non-profit organization for litigation purposes and calling it “Lawsuits Matter” wouldn’t be as catchy. Their arguments regarding education problems and policy were flawed and unconvincing. Their standing in the case may be legal, but has the look of opportunism, with some incredible wealth and some powerful connections to education “reform” and charter school interests permeating the organization.”

He goes on to analyze the decision with care. On the subject of the time frame for tenure, he notes that he and other teachers had previously proposed that the probationary period should be extended to three years. He gives a spirited defense of seniority, saying it is the fairest way to handle the pain of layoffs.

He concludes with an appeal for calm:

“Judge Treu’s ruling closes by invoking Alexander Hamilton on the topic of separation of powers; he reminds us that judging and legislating are separate functions, and that the legislature must remedy what the court finds unconstitutional. Therefore, with years of appeals ahead, and then a legislative process to follow, I think it’s too soon for teachers or unions to begin talk of disaster. Mine is an admittedly amateur reading, but it would seem possible to under this ruling to pass constitutional muster with laws that make the following changes:

“Permanent status awarded in third year rather than second year
Streamlined (not eliminated) due process laws
Seniority used as one factor rather than the sole factor in layoffs

“Don’t get me wrong: just on principle, I’d rather see the whole case rejected on appeal. But if the ruling, or parts of it, should stand several years from now, then teachers still have room to advocate for a strong profession. Let’s stay informed and engaged. Stay vigilant, even adversarial as necessary – but calm.”