The Los Angeles Superior Court sustained the appellants and ruled that the California teacher tenure laws violate the state constitution. (Read full text here)
The NY Times writes,
“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”
In his sharply worded 16-page ruling, Judge Treu compared the Vergara case to the historic desegregation battle of Brown v. Board of Education, saying that the earlier case addressed “a student’s fundamental right to equality of the educational experience,” and that this case involved applying that principle to the “quality of the educational experience.”
He agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that California’s current laws make it impossible to remove the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers, because the tenure system assures them a job essentially for life; that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first were harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job was farcical, offering far too little time for a fair assessment of the teacher’s skills.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan vigorously endorsed the decision.
“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.”
The decision is not surprising, in a previous decision the California courts struck down the layoff of teachers in high needs schools by seniority, (“last in, first out”) ruling that the layoff rules disadvantage the neediest students by laying off the least senior teachers who were clustered in the highest needs schools.
The tenure decision, of course, is absurd. There are many states without any tenure laws and the absence of laws has no impact on pupil achievement. The state with the highest level of student achievement for high needs students, Massachusetts, is one of the highest unionized states. The “great teacher,” canard, that waiting in the wings are endless “great teachers” waiting to rush into the classrooms of bad teachers is a fantasy. In the real world we do not have precise methods of measuring teacher ability. If we were able to measure teacher performance two-thirds would fall in the middle of the bell curve – with about two percent at either end of the curve.
Virtually every expert warns that attempts to measure teachers by test scores are fraught with the possibility of errors. To remove tenure and allow principals and school boards to dismiss whomever they choose would unquestionably lead to discharge by favoritism, by race/ethnicity, by size, by anything the firing authority desires.
The teacher unions in California have aggressively fought legislative attempt to extend the probationary period beyond the current eighteen months and the discharge process is lengthy. Perhaps they should have negotiated changes; however that is hindsight.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which opposed the suit, has promised to fight the ruling in court, saying the decision overlooks a bigger problem: inadequate funding.
“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.
“[The judge] argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that,” Ms. Weingarten said. “But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice. … It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.”
The lawsuit, funded by a Silicon Valley zillionaire is disrespectful to all teachers.
In high income schools and school districts kids do well, high test scores, does that mean the teachers are excellent? In high poverty schools kids struggle, that means the teachers are bad, of course not.
Does the decision mean that teacher tenure laws are in jeopardy across the nation? In New York State?
While teachers are uncomfortable with the NYS teacher evaluation law (APPR), as it turns out UFT President Michael Mulgrew was right.
Mulgrew has argued that the new teacher evaluation law actually protects teachers. The multiple measures law (60% supervisory judgment based upon an approved rubric, 20% student test scores and 20% a locally negotiated measure) produces a score and teachers are measured against other teachers who teach “similar” students. In the first year 51% of teachers scored “highly effective,” 40% “effective,” 8% “developing” and 1% “ineffective.”
Teachers with consecutive “ineffective” scores can be charged and undergo an expedited appeal process.
Using the courts to attack tenure in New York State would be frivolous.
Vergara will move through the California appellate courts and a year or two down the road the California Supreme Court will rule.
Vergara will not change one reality – if we superimpose a map of poverty by zip code and schools by lowest achievement the maps would be a perfect match.
50% or higher teacher turnover rates in high needs schools are commonplace, removing tenure will only discourage teachers who want to work in challenging settings. Yes, inadequate teachers should be discharged as a result of an orderly procedure with the decision made by an mutually agreed upon arbitrator in a timely fashion. Tenure is simply a due process protection.
Rather than benefiting students in high needs schools the decision will achieve the opposite.
As the economy continues to improve and onerous laws attacking teachers and the profession spread fewer and fewer of the “best and the brightest” will choose to teach.
And, loyal lifelong teacher Democratic voters are so angry, so disappointed that the chances of Republicans gaining control of the Senate only increases.
If Arne’s glee over Vergara antagonizes enough voters he may spend his last two years watching Republicans dismantle public education.