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Vergara trial: Stanford education reseacher defends California teacher dismissal system

A Stanford education researcher testified Thursday that the existing teacher dismissal system already works swiftly in a well-managed school district.
A Stanford education researcher testified Thursday that the existing teacher dismissal system already works swiftly in a well-managed school district.
Rebecca Hill/KPCC

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Nationally known education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond testified Thursday in Los Angeles that California's teacher dismissal system already works swiftly, offering a key defense to a lawsuit alleging teacher protections like seniority and tenure violate students' right to an adequate education.

“A school administrator should be able to identify a grossly ineffective teacher easily within even the first year of practice and certainly within two years,” said Darling-Hammond, a Stanford researcher who has studied teacher effectiveness in California and other parts of the country.

Filed on behalf of nine students who say bad teachers got in the way of their education, Vergara v. California seeks to strike down laws granting teachers permanent status after 18 months and a seniority-based teacher layoff system, among other protections. Plaintiffs argue a complicated and costly teacher dismissal process denies students their constitutionally guaranteed right to an adequate education.

Darling-Hammond’s statements contradicted testimony from Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy on the first day of trial January 27, who said the teacher dismissal process often leaves bad teachers in the classroom for years.

Well-managed school districts, professor Darling-Hammond said, are better at getting bad teachers out of the classroom.

“Districts that have effective evaluation practices, as I’ve described them, are able to dismiss teachers that are grossly ineffective within a year of identifying them,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed by Students Matter, a group largely funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and charter school supporter David Welch.

Plaintiff's lawyer Marcellus McRae said Deasy’s testimony on identifying low performing teachers outweighs Darling-Hammond’s because Deasy’s has a longer view.

“What we’re talking about is making sure the tenure statues have enough time so that people can amass data and have enough time to process it,” McRae said.

Darling-Hammond is a teacher certification expert, McRae said, and that doesn’t give her expertise in the art of teaching.

The Vergara trial started nearly two months ago. Both sides have called teachers, school administrators, and researchers to the witness stand to support their arguments.

Students Matter is paying McRae’s law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, to represent the plaintiffs who are California students.

Lawyers hired by California’s two large teachers unions are helping defend against the lawsuit. Closing arguments are expected next week and a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu in the bench trial could come in the following weeks.