Earlier this summer, the California Superior Court issued a historic decision that recognizes that every child deserves equitable access to high-quality teachers.
In the unprecedented lawsuit Vergara v. California, the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter argued that five statutes of the California Education Code were unconstitutional. Specifically, the group denounced the Permanent Employment Statute for providing administrators only 16 months to evaluate teachers before deciding whether to grant them tenure; the Dismissal Statutes for the hurdles they erect to removing ineffective teachers from classrooms; and the “Last-In, First Out” Layoff Statute, that in tough financial times forces administrators to make teacher layoff decisions based solely on seniority, with no weight given to a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.
The court proceedings revealed that while these statutes affect all students, their detrimental effects have proven to disproportionately impact some students more than others. A 2012 report from The Education Trust-West, for example, revealed that, under these statues, low-income African American and Latino students are subjected to increased teacher turnover and are two to three times more likely to have ineffective teachers concentrated in their schools.
Faced with this evidence, on June 10, the California Superior Court struck down all five statutes as unconstitutional.
Although Vergara v. California focuses on elementary and high school instructors, the ruling has important implications on higher education. Colleges and universities are largely responsible for educating the high-quality teachers and administrators required to meet the state’s educational needs and to offer the professional development support that practitioners need to successfully address the challenges they face once they are placed in our schools.
Cal State Fullerton always has taken this responsibility seriously. We lead the way in teacher preparation and evaluation, and our College of Education remains dedicated to providing the best teachers, both student teachers and new hires, to schools throughout California. Indeed, the CSUF College of Education is the only provider of teacher preparation programs in Orange County that is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
In the past 10 years alone, the college’s students have earned almost 12,000 credentials to work as teachers and school administrators (with almost 500 of those credentials earned during 2012-13). And during the past academic year, roughly 30 percent of the college’s student teachers and 30 percent of its graduates were placed or employed in low-income schools within Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. College of Education graduates ultimately were employed as first-year teachers in 17 counties within California.
Cal State Fullerton is also committed to supporting teachers and administrators throughout our region. One example is the Hazel Miller Croy Reading Center, where reading instructors and graduate students offer individualized tutoring to K-12 students and adults to improve their reading skills. Another is the SchoolsFirst Center for Creativity and Critical Thinking in Schools, whose emphasis on integrating arts in the classroom has led to connections with the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and the Tiger Woods Learning Center. Cal State Fullerton also has established partnerships with several neighboring districts, including Anaheim and Santa Ana, to provide equitable pathways to higher education institutions.
California’s teachers unions have indicated they will appeal the Vergara v. California decision. Yet, the ruling is already driving similar lawsuits across the country and encouraging legislators and school administrators to evaluate current education policies and practices.
Regardless of how the appeals process unfolds, one thing is clear: We need to eradicate inequitable policies and practices from our schools.
On June 7, just a few days before the Vergara v. California decision was unveiled, U.S. Secretary of State Arne Duncan presented a “50-state teacher equity strategy,” whose objective is to guarantee low-income students and students of color equitable access to quality teachers. This effort will focus on helping states develop effective teacher equity plans.
As this conversation unfolds, Cal State Fullerton will continue to produce exceptional teachers for our schools, and we will hold ourselves accountable for providing equitable educational opportunities for all students – those we serve and those they will serve in the future.