Russlynn Ali + The Case Against Teacher Tenure

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Why you should care

Because a case in Los Angeles County Superior Court could be the next Brown v. Board of Education.

Teacher tenure has been a flashpoint in school reform debates, and in California an innovative class action suit aims to topple it. Advocate Russlynn Ali sat down with OZY to explain the plaintiff’s side of the story.

Russlynn in blue suit and red top outdoors sitting in a park with green grass behind her

Battle for Public Education in California

In Vergara v. California, a group of nine students contend that their right to a quality education is hurt by the state’s labor laws governing teacher tenure in K-12 public schools. The case is framed as a civil rights issue, arguing that tenure makes it nearly impossible for schools to fire ineffective teachers, and that this system ends up disproportionately affecting low-income, ESL and African American and Latino students. If the plaintiffs are successful, the case could be a watershed for how employment law shapes public school policy across the country. Teachers’ unions, who are defending against the case, say school funding is the root cause of of unequal education in California, not the five rules establishing teachers’ employment rights, and they accuse the plaintiffs of using the courts to mount an “astro turf” anti-union campaign. While critics may argue that the suit is an attack on teachers, Ali tells OZY that the case affirms the power of a teacher in students’ lives.

Where do you stand on the issue of tenure for K-12 teachers?

Russlynn Ali is on the advisory board of one of the organizations funding the plaintiffs in this case. She is also the chair of the Emerson Education Fund, part of the Emerson Collective headed by Laurene Powell Jobs, who is an investor in OZY.

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