THE BLOG
07/29/2014 01:55 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2014

The Vergara Era, Part 2: A New Opportunity

The other day, I was in a science center when I stumbled upon a quote by John F. Kennedy that seemed to speak to this precise moment in public education: "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." While the quote was meant to make me think of climate change, I was thinking about Ron Taw, a dedicated veteran teacher, who wants to help his union lead on education equity and reform. I was also thinking about what Ron's vision for unionism and educational justice might mean for the students beyond his classroom in South Los Angeles--the students in Watts, Pacoima, Boyle Heights and my neighborhood in Highland Park.

In the controversial Vergara v California court decision, a judge ruled that California statutes granting teachers "permanent status" after two years and basing teacher dismissal solely on seniority violated the constitutional rights of students to a quality education. As mentioned in my last blog post, this case is part of long lineage of court cases challenging the constitutionality of public education policies, practices and laws. Now more than ever, it is important that we connect the court room with the classroom to ensure that public policy conversations are informed by practitioners and focused on equity for students.

Without question, the future steps of new policy creation and implementation must be taken with the courageous teachers, school leaders, and parents who will propel our schools forward. Teachers at E4E are already leading this conversation by publishing and promoting teacher-created recommendations that would better attract, support and retain great teachers.

This week, E4E is proud to feature an op-ed by one of these courageous and forward-thinking teacher leaders. Ron Taw was a part of the 2012 E4E Teacher Policy Team on Teacher Evaluation, and since then has run for United Teachers Los Angeles Vice President - NEA in 2014. In a commentary that was published on LA School Report, he shares his hopes for his union's involvement in navigating the post-Vergara landscape.

I came to education out of the business world. Before entering the classroom, I was making my way up the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company. But then, over 15 years ago, I realized that I wanted a job where "success and advancement" would mean changing more lives, not just earning more money.

That's why I came into teaching, and why I stay. So as someone who deeply loves his job and his students, I am disappointed in the reactionary response of many of my colleagues to the ruling in Vergara v. California, in which California's teacher tenure laws were ruled unconstitutional.

Rather than an attack on teachers, Vergara has given us an opportunity to completely rethink the systems of teacher tenure, support, evaluations and lay-offs. When I received tenure, it was the result of an arbitrary and opaque process, divorced from my work in the classroom helping students. At the moment, tenure remains the only official milestone for most teachers' careers. So rather than an empty stamp, we want tenure to be meaningful, impactful, and part of a career-long system of professional development.

This ruling presents a rare opportunity for actual classroom educators to own our profession and lead the nation in creating an innovative, student-focused and teacher-driven system for how we hire, evaluate and retain educators. Read more of Ron's post here.

As we all digest the media headlines and op-eds discussing this landmark verdict, we can see this, in black and white terms, as a victory for the reformers and a blow against the status quo defenders. Or, we can see this case as an opportunity to evolve a profession that is far too rigorous, too dynamic and too powerful to stagnate. Whether you agree or disagree with the court ruling, we all have an opportunity to look beyond the past or the present and to shape the future policies that will elevate our profession and the kind of education we offer our students. We owe this kind of future-forward policy thinking to teachers like Ron and the students we proudly serve.