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LA School Board Member Steve Zimmer Stands With Students Against 'Vergara Fiction'

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Los Angeles School Board member Steve Zimmer nailed the essence of Vergara versus California, the corporate reformers' legal assault on teachers' due process rights. Vergara is one more insidious attempt by the billionaires to impose a simplistic competition-driven ideology on complex issues of policy and practice.

Zimmer should know. He's a Los Angeles teacher who overcame the best that "the wealthiest of self-styled reformers, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Michael Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee's followers," could throw at him as they contributed more than $4 million to try to take over the L.A. Board of Education.

At the polls, Zimmer recalls, "They sought to eviscerate the power of our teachers union by eliminating job protections, seniority rights, and tenure. They sought to link teacher evaluation directly to standardized test scores. And more."

Now, the Billionaires Boys Club is misusing the courts as just another weapon for privatizing education. Winning the case is not their priority, "because the next stop for the reform train is back at the ballot box." They will use Beatriz Vergara's name and face to frame school improvement "as a battle between adult job protections and children's dreams." But, their story line is all made up.

As always, the Vergara public relations hype was invented by the best spin masters that money can buy. "Students Matter, the umbrella organization advancing the case, hired a crackerjack PR team and paid them millions to spread ... the 'Vergara Fiction' across the nation." They concocted "compelling optics and atmospherics, and it is part of a strategy that extends well beyond the courtroom."

These non-educators see Vergara as a means to an end. Zimmer stressed the way that their public relations campaign is a spin doctors' narrative not reality. "They have woven together a story that ensures that if they win in court they win, but if they lose they win even more."

I would add that the Vergara legal case is just as insubstantial. As a former legal historian, I am horrified by their overreach. It is a dangerous misuse of the courts for a faux-civil rights case. As such, it undermines the law as a vehicle for really advancing equality and justice.

Vergara is based on the opinion of the elites -- who don't personally know and love real students like Beatriz -- that the way to advance civil rights is fire teachers and create a top-down, data-driven system of micromanaging schools. Their case is based on the opinions of a few administrators trained by the most ideologically extreme of the corporate reformers, the Broad Academy, and of a few economists.

Worse, these well-meaning economists don't know what they don't know about public schools, and their basic research, real world, is disconnected from their opinions about policy. The economists' role was to put a scholarly face on the Vergara theories, and supply data (misleading though it is) for fancy charts and graphs.

My two decades in the inner city confirm Zimmer's observation that, "The damage the Vergara case will inflict will be felt well before the verdict is read or the first post-Vergara campaign is launched. Every teacher that watched the trial or read the coverage felt the attacks personally."

I hope the public realizes that this "narrative of teachers standing in the way of the American Dream" did not begin with Vergara or even its propaganda film versions, "Waiting for Superman" and "We Won't Back Down." School reformers have long adopted the Lee Atwater/Karl Rove tactic of personalizing their opposition and demonizing them. This legal assault is just an example of how market-driven reformers have become more strident. As Zimmer says, the damage done by their Vergara venom "will linger much longer than the verdict."

We teachers know "thousands of Beatriz Vergaras." As Zimmer explains, "They are my students, my counselees and my neighbors." We are in the battle of educational equity and excellence for the long run, and we don't use our kids as props. The battle against the legacy of generational poverty is complicated and difficult enough. It is made no easier when we must fight off corporate reformers with one hand, while improving classroom instruction and school policy with the other. Neither does it help when the students we mentor must witness such dishonest scorched earth edu-politics, attacks on democratic school governance, and the desecration of our basic principles of jurisprudence.