Poor kids versus bad teachers: Vergara v. California and the social construction of Teachers

Jeanne M. Powers, Kathryn P. Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: In the past decade, the laws governing teachers' employment have been at the center of legal and political conflicts across the United States. Vergara v. California challenged five California state statutes that provide employment protections for teachers. In June 2014, a California lower court declared the statutes unconstitutional because they exposed students to “grossly ineffective teachers.” Purpose: The purpose of the article is to document and analyze how Vergara was presented in the print news media. It is important to understand how the print news media presents education policy debates to the public, because the print news media shapes the general public's understanding of education and other public policy debates by providing frames and themes for interpreting the issues in question and people associated with them. Research Design: Using the social construction of target populations and political spectacle as conceptual lenses, we conducted a content analysis of print news media articles on the Vergara case published between June 2012 and November 2014. We provide a descriptive overview of the full corpus of articles published during this period and a thematic analysis of the 65 unique news articles published in the aftermath of the decision. The latter focuses on news articles because they are intended to provide more objective coverage of the case than opinions or editorials. Findings: In the print news media coverage, the word“teacher” was often paired with a negative qualifier, which suggests that Vergara was an effort to change the relatively advantaged social construction of teachers. Similarly, metaphors and the illusion of rationality associated with political spectacle were used in ways that bolstered the plaintiffs' claims. While Vergara consumed a substantial amount of philanthropic and public dollars, ultimately it did not change the policies that govern teachers' employment in California. Vergara may have been more successful in shaping the general public's perceptions of teachers and the conditions of teachers' employment in the period following the trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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