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Eliminating Teacher Tenure: A National Trend, or Will New York's Lawsuits End What California Started?

At Teachers College on Dec. 3, experts will debate the impact of the Vergara v. California teacher tenure decision on teachers and students around the country
At Teachers College on Dec. 3, experts will debate the impact of the Vergara v. California teacher tenure decision on teachers and students around the country

On Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 2 p.m to 8 p.m., Teachers College, Columbia University, will host a national conference focusing on a California lower court’s controversial Vergara decision on teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal rules, and on two similar lawsuits, Davids and Wright in New York State. Three expert panels – including both supporters and critics of the Vergara/Wright approach – will debate the impact of teacher tenure on low‑income and minority students. The conference will take place in Milbank Chapel at Teachers College, New York City. Enter at 525 West 120th Street (between Amsterdam and Broadway). CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


One of the event's organizers, Michael Rebell, director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teacher's College and a nationally prominent litigator on educational equity issues, says the conference will be “the first objective, non-partisan discussion about an explosive and complex case.” (Read Rebell’s op-ed on the Vergara decision.)

Rebell, who is also a professor of law and educational practice at Teachers College, will participate in a discussion about whether the courts are the proper venues for resolving complex policy questions such as how to improve the quality of teachers in low-income, heavily minority, and low-performing schools.

Jeffrey Henig, chair of the Education Policy and Social Analysis Department at Teachers College, will lead a discussion about whether the Vergara and similar decisions can improve the quality of instruction in schools that serve low-income students.

BACKGROUND:  On June 10, a California trial court ruled that the state’s teacher tenure and dismissal policies unfairly subjected low-income and minority students to ineffective teachers. The decision, Vergara v. California, which is set to be appealed, broke new legal ground by holding that these policies violated the state Constitution.

The decision has sparked intense debate, both aligned with and cutting across traditional partisan ideologies. Supporters announced plans to file similar suits in other states and filed two (which have been consolidated) in New York, challenging teacher tenure laws on behalf of low-income students across the country. Opponents have countered that the nationally coordinated, well financed lawsuits are an attempt to get rid of teachers unions.

Adding to the drama surrounding the issue, the Vergara decision has made such unlikely allies as David Welch, the Silicon Valley billionaire who backed the plaintiffs, and Russlynn Ali, a former Assistant U.S. Secretary for Civil Rights in the Obama administration. The various suits have involved the super-lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies, who opposed each other in Bush v. Gore. In New York, the head of one of the plaintiff organizations has accused the other of racism.

And while the media has portrayed the Vergara decision as sparking a national movement, the conference will highlight that the legal, constitutional and educational issues in New York are quite different from those in California.

The following panelists are scheduled to participate:

PANEL I.  Background on Vergara decision and Wright lawsuit: Devora Allon is a litigation partner in the New York City office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and is a member of the firm’s legal team that is representing the plaintiffs in Wright v. State of New York; and Richard Casagrande, Gen. Counsel, NY State United Teachers (NYSUT), which has intervened as a defendant in Wright and in Davids v. New York.Moderated by Michael Rebell, Professor, Law and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University

PANEL II. Can these decisions improve the quality of instruction in schools serving low achievers? Eric Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and Susan Moore Johnson, Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor in Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Moderated by Jeffrey Henig, EPSA Department Chair, Teachers College, Columbia University

PANEL III.  A discussion with Mona Davids, president, New York City Parent Union and lead parent plaintiff in Davids v. State of New York

PANEL IV.  Are courts the proper venues for resolving these issues? Remarks, Elana Sigall, New York State’s Deputy Secretary for Education; Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis at Teachers College; Michael Rebell, Professor, Law and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University; Joshua Dunn, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs; and Kevin Welner, Professor, Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice, University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Moderated by Jay P. Heubert, Professor of Law and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Adjunct Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; Co-Chair, Teachers College School Law Institute

Published Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

Eliminating Teacher Tenure: A National Trend, or Will New York's Lawsuits End What California Started?

At Teachers College on Dec. 3, experts will debate the impact of the Vergara v. California teacher tenure decision on teachers and students around the country

On Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 2 p.m to 8 p.m., Teachers College, Columbia University, will host a national conference focusing on a California lower court’s controversial Vergara decision on teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal rules, and on two similar lawsuits, Davids and Wright in New York State. Three expert panels – including both supporters and critics of the Vergara/Wright approach – will debate the impact of teacher tenure on low‑income and minority students. The conference will take place in Milbank Chapel at Teachers College, New York City. Enter at 525 West 120th Street (between Amsterdam and Broadway). CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


One of the event's organizers, Michael Rebell, director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teacher's College and a nationally prominent litigator on educational equity issues, says the conference will be “the first objective, non-partisan discussion about an explosive and complex case.” (Read Rebell’s op-ed on the Vergara decision.)

Rebell, who is also a professor of law and educational practice at Teachers College, will participate in a discussion about whether the courts are the proper venues for resolving complex policy questions such as how to improve the quality of teachers in low-income, heavily minority, and low-performing schools.

Jeffrey Henig, chair of the Education Policy and Social Analysis Department at Teachers College, will lead a discussion about whether the Vergara and similar decisions can improve the quality of instruction in schools that serve low-income students.

BACKGROUND:  On June 10, a California trial court ruled that the state’s teacher tenure and dismissal policies unfairly subjected low-income and minority students to ineffective teachers. The decision, Vergara v. California, which is set to be appealed, broke new legal ground by holding that these policies violated the state Constitution.

The decision has sparked intense debate, both aligned with and cutting across traditional partisan ideologies. Supporters announced plans to file similar suits in other states and filed two (which have been consolidated) in New York, challenging teacher tenure laws on behalf of low-income students across the country. Opponents have countered that the nationally coordinated, well financed lawsuits are an attempt to get rid of teachers unions.

Adding to the drama surrounding the issue, the Vergara decision has made such unlikely allies as David Welch, the Silicon Valley billionaire who backed the plaintiffs, and Russlynn Ali, a former Assistant U.S. Secretary for Civil Rights in the Obama administration. The various suits have involved the super-lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies, who opposed each other in Bush v. Gore. In New York, the head of one of the plaintiff organizations has accused the other of racism.

And while the media has portrayed the Vergara decision as sparking a national movement, the conference will highlight that the legal, constitutional and educational issues in New York are quite different from those in California.

The following panelists are scheduled to participate:

PANEL I.  Background on Vergara decision and Wright lawsuit: Devora Allon is a litigation partner in the New York City office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and is a member of the firm’s legal team that is representing the plaintiffs in Wright v. State of New York; and Richard Casagrande, Gen. Counsel, NY State United Teachers (NYSUT), which has intervened as a defendant in Wright and in Davids v. New York.Moderated by Michael Rebell, Professor, Law and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University

PANEL II. Can these decisions improve the quality of instruction in schools serving low achievers? Eric Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and Susan Moore Johnson, Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor in Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Moderated by Jeffrey Henig, EPSA Department Chair, Teachers College, Columbia University

PANEL III.  A discussion with Mona Davids, president, New York City Parent Union and lead parent plaintiff in Davids v. State of New York

PANEL IV.  Are courts the proper venues for resolving these issues? Remarks, Elana Sigall, New York State’s Deputy Secretary for Education; Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis at Teachers College; Michael Rebell, Professor, Law and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University; Joshua Dunn, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs; and Kevin Welner, Professor, Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice, University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Moderated by Jay P. Heubert, Professor of Law and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Adjunct Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; Co-Chair, Teachers College School Law Institute
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