Will California Courts Declare Teacher Tenure Unconstitutional? The Battle for Hearts and Minds.

About ten days ago New York City was preparing for a snowstorm, across social media teachers pleaded for the mayor to close schools. One teacher posted,

Teachers … just posted on Facebook hoping for a snow day after we just had a day off. Why do people embody negative stereotypes i.e., teachers always want more days off. With a new contract negotiation looming why not be perceived as hard working and underpaid not the opposite!

He’s absolutely right!!

Gresham’s Law, The theory holding that if two kinds of money in circulation have the same denominational value but different intrinsic values, the money with higher intrinsic value will eventually be driven out of circulation by the money with lesser intrinsic value, Gresham’s Law can applied to education, “bad” teachers drive out “good” teachers, Teachers who make negative comments about kids or families or schools create the public image that all teachers are uncaring.

A billionaire entrepreneur is funding a legal dream team to challenge the California teacher tenure law. “… nine public school students are challenging California’s ironclad tenure system, arguing that their right to a good education is violated by job protections that make it too difficult to fire bad instructors.”

The New York Times writes,

“Children have the right to access good education and an effective teacher regardless of their circumstances,” said David F. Welch, the telecommunications entrepreneur who spent millions of his own dollars to create Students Matter, the organization behind the lawsuit. The group describes itself as a national nonprofit dedicated to sponsoring litigation of this type, and the outcome in California will provide the first indication of whether it can succeed.”

The challenge to the law is unique, “The case … relies on a civil rights argument that so far is untested: that poor and minority students are denied equal access to education because they are more likely to have ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers.”

The California Teachers Association has vigorously defended the current law – teachers receive tenure after eighteen months and the process to dismiss a tenured teacher takes a year or two and costs hundreds of thousands in legal fees. See article in LA Times here

On the other coast the story is different. In New York City the union negotiated a plan to speed up the process – from the time charges are preferred the process must be completed in four months. State Commissioner King called the plan “a model for the state.”

Ex-Mayor Bloomberg had his home boys in Albany introduce legislation to end seniority – principals would choose the teachers who would be excessed from a school due to a school closing or staff reduction regardless of seniority – if the teacher did not find a job within a year they would be laid off. The bill passed the State Senate and the Governor was non-committal. The union and the commissioner spend months negotiating a principal-teacher evaluation plan. The plan is complex, in New York City unwieldy. At the end of the first year of the plan only 1% of teachers were found “ineffective.”

Tenure and seniority are not under attack from the players – the legislature and the governor.

The key quality of union leadership is not “toughness,” the effective leader is nimble. While I’m far from expert it strikes me that the union leadership in California took the easy way out – they satisfied their members, and may end up losing a crucial protection. Unions are membership driven and ultimately the membership votes on union leadership.

The union leadership in New York was creative – they removed one of the major complaints – the length of the process – and negotiated a law which both retains seniority and establishes an evaluation plan that found 51% of teachers “highly effective” and 40% “effective.”

Teachers benefit from a negotiated, due process procedure, a procedure that is expeditious; some teachers are not cutting it and should pursue a different career. The California Teachers Association may win the court battle – they risk losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the public.

Leadership means educating your membership, picking battles judiciously, and supporting an agenda that is also supported by allies in communities, in the legislature and the governor’s office.

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3 responses to “Will California Courts Declare Teacher Tenure Unconstitutional? The Battle for Hearts and Minds.

  1. There are tenure cases that have rolled on for too long. In virtually every case, it’s the employer who causes that. Not the teacher or his representatives. So why is the blame assigned to the teacher? ANYONE WHO PAYS ATTENTION KNOWS THAT ITS ABOUT ATTACKING THE LAW AND NOT THE SPECIFIC CASE. IT’S ABOUT PRODUCING STATISTICS FOR THIS FARCE.

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  2. Eliminating tenure from the teaching profession is not a solution in terms of seeking higher quality education. Tenure should not be as easily attained as it is presently. It should be a commodity to which our better teachers should have as a professional goal and objective, linked directly to the success they have with their charges. I have always held to a belief that teachers in their probationary years, who receive instructional unsatisfactory reviews leading up to their tenure year, should either be extended an additional year, referencing that year as their maximum tenure eligibility year, coupled with a revocation of their license at that years end, if Satisfactory ratings have not replaced unsatisfactory ones. Of course this is an academic driven philosophy. I also believe that corrupt, immoral and any other sleazebag individuals at any position in our schools should be subject to summary removal, with punishments ranging from permanent bans to long term unpaid suspensions, barring non felony related misconduct.

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