American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten just sent a letter (see below) to Education Secretary Arne Duncan blasting him for his statement praising a California judge’s decision to throw out five state statutes that provide job protections to teachers.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu handed down a ruling in Vergara vs California Wednesday siding with plaintiffs who argued that California children who live in low-income families receive an inadequate education because they get the weakest teachers who can’t be fired. Treu stayed his decision until an appeal can be heard.

Treu didn’t really explain in his decision why he bought the argument that tenure and other job protections for teachers  inherently harm poor students. They don’t, though how administrators implement those statutes do. While the ruling is is ripe to be overturned,  more lawsuits arguing the same thing are now sure to be filed in other states as a new weapon in the arsenal of school “reformers” who have been seeking for years to weaken unions. In fact, a full-page ad in USA Today on Thursday by an anti-union group encouraged people to sue.

The Vergara suit did not deal with any of the issues that really affect student achievement, such as unfair funding, hunger, absent parents, etc. A few states have thrown out tenure for teachers in recent years and nobody has linked that action to an increase in student achievement.

After the Treu ruling was made public, there was a great deal of response from people on both sides of the issue, including Duncan, who spoke positively about the verdict along with other reformers, including Michelle Rhee. Democrats have traditionally supported labor so his statement stirred some anger among teachers. He said:

“For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems. Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education. This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve. My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation. At the federal level, we are committed to encouraging and supporting that dialogue in partnership with states. At the same time, we all need to continue to address other inequities in education–including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.”


That led Weingarten, the president of the nation’s second largest teachers union, to pen a letter on Thursday to Duncan saying that his statement “added to the polarization” in the nation’s fierce education reform debate and that “teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed.”

Here’s Weingarten’s letter to Duncan: