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Rights Watch

A Deeply Flawed Ruling on Tenure in California

By Rita Zeidner

What is a “grossly ineffective teacher?” How many teachers are “grossly ineffective?” Where do they teach? Who do they teach? How many do they teach?

These are just some of the many questions left unanswered by Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court in his deeply flawed decision to do away with fundamental teacher protections in California. His June ruling in Vergara v. California upholds the plaintiffs’ claim that tenure and seniority laws are responsible for poorly performing teachers being clustered in economically disadvantaged and predominantly minority schools. According to Treu, these statutes violate the civil rights of poor and minority students and are unconstitutional.

Treu decided the case June 10, following a two-month-long trial that ended in late March.

The suit, brought to court by the organization Student Matter, was bankrolled by Silicon Valley technology magnate David F. Welch. NEA, which joined with the American Federation of Teachers and the State of California to defend teacher rights, will appeal the decision.

In his 16-page ruling, Treu said he was convinced by the plaintiffs’ claim that the relatively short probationary period written into California’s tenure law allowed many unqualified teachers to get a permanent placement.

He also bought into two other audacious claims:

  • the low number of fired teachers in California shows just how difficult it is for the state to get rid of unqualified teachers and
  • legally prohibited from firing incompetent teachers, school administrators instead dump them in poor and predominantly minority schools.

Neither of these claims have any factual bearing. Teaching is a learned skill. Rather than wasting tremendous time and money getting rid of a teacher, California instead spends the much smaller amount it takes to build the skills of underperforming teachers.

The verdict in Vergara applies only to California, but stakeholders around the country are watching this case closely. Opponents of tenure rules have been largely unsuccessful at changing laws through the state legislative process. But if Treu’s ruling is allowed to stand, similar attacks on teacher rights will almost definitely play out in courtrooms from Maine to Washington.

The Donations link on the Students Matter website is just one clue that these folks mean business. Some of the money will no doubt go to cover legal costs. But it will also go toward lobbying. Most state legislatures recognize the importance of strong teacher protections to a quality education. But that could change—especially as groups like Students Matter and Teach Great (in Missouri) grow their war chest. Don’t let your lawmakers be swayed by these groups, their unanswered questions and their anti-teacher agendas.

Teaching is a learned skill. Rather than wasting tremendous time and money getting rid of a teacher, California spends the much smaller amount it takes to build the skills of undeperforming teachers.

 


 

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Published In

1-Aug-14

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