On the witness stand here Tuesday, Beatriz Vergara bit her lip and looked toward her mother and sister in the gallery as Eileen Goldsmith, a lawyer for California’s biggest teachers unions, began cross-examining the 15-year-old.
Ms. Vergara is one of nine student plaintiffs in a lawsuit bearing her name that challenges California’s strong employment protections for teachers. She testified earlier that three of her middle-school instructors had failed to teach or discipline students properly. “I think a teacher’s supposed to motivate you, encourage you, keep you going to school,” the 10th-grader said. “If you have a bad teacher, you’re not going to want to go to school.”
How well certain teachers educated Ms. Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs is at the heart of the closely watched case. Research has pointed to teacher quality as the biggest in-school determinant of student performance, and in recent years many states have moved to simplify dismissal procedures for ineffective teachers and encourage districts to consider teacher performance in layoff decisions rather than conducting reductions in force based only on seniority.