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Villaraigosa makes his case for Vergara, outside the courtroom

Mark Harris | January 30, 2014

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Antonio Villaraigosa, in support of Vergara plaintiffs

Antonio Villaraigosa, in support of Vergara plaintiffs

Legal battles aren’t only waged in the courtroom; they’re also hard fought in the court of public opinion.

As testimony in the landmark case, Vegara vs. California, resumed today inside a state superior court, another star witness took the stand — more accurately, the mic — outside the courtroom. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a press conference, expressing his support for the nine student plaintiffs challenging state statutes they contend violate their constitutionally protected right to a quality education.

The defendants — California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the state — are arguing that they do not.

The former mayor said he felt compelled to address the important issues in the lawsuit. He stated emphatically that every student has a fundamental right to a quality education. Adding a personal note, he said his success in life came in large part from effective teachers, who motivated him.

Villaraigosa suggested that the current seniority and tenure rules are undermining the state’s public educational system.

“There is virtually no profession where almost every employment decision is based on seniority or how long you’ve been on the job and not how effective you are,” he said, adding, “The American dream is held up for everyone and the path to that dream has always been a great public school education and many of our kids just don’t have that.”

Back inside, it was more charts, exhibits and documents as the plaintiffs’ key expert, Harvard economics professor, Raj Chetty, continued to drive home the point that effective teachers have a measurable impact on student learning, long-term success and ultimate earning capacity.

When questioned by plaintiffs’ attorney Ted Boutrous about the current tenure and seniority laws, Chetty testified that they impose a harmful impact on students, saying, “We should be doing everything we can to keep superstar teachers in the classroom.”

On cross examination, the defense relentlessly tried to undercut the plaintiff’s case by pointing out weaknesses in Chetty’s findings. But going up against the formidable witness, and making sense of the avalanche of empirical evidence, was no easy task. At times, defense attorney James Finberg left both the court and witness confused.

The defense tried to recover by showing that Chetty’s own research suggested that large school districts across California ranked in top quarter across the nation, which showed that students’ fundamental right to a quality education — the heart of the case — has not been violated.

From the theoretical to the practical, plaintiffs’ lawyers next examined Larrisa Adam, a 20-year veteran of the Oakland school system as a teacher and administrator and now principal of Ascend Elementary School, an Oakland charter school. She testified that an ineffective teacher is harmful, and even more so in low income communities where students don’t have access to resources out of school.

She echoed previous testimony from LA Superintendent John Deasy and Chetty, that the seniority does not necessarily reflect effectiveness, and that the tenure laws don’t provide enough time to fairly judge a teacher’s potential.

“I honestly have doubt about all second-year teachers,” Adam said, adding, “I would much rather have more time to decide if someone will be an effective teacher.”

Previous Posts: Vergara trial expert witness: ineffective teachers hurt studentsIn Vergara testimony, Deasy aims at “grossly ineffective” teachersVergara suit on teacher dismissal opens, courtroom packed


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