Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Judge Takes on Teacher Tenure

Where legislators have failed, where governors have accommodated, judges are stepping up and reforming sclerotic, bureaucratic roadblocks which have empowered unions while impoverishing students, parents, and families.

Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara, student-plantiffs in Vergara vs. California
Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara: Plaintiffs in Teacher Tenure Case
(Source: LA School Reports)
For decades, school choice and voucher activists in the state of California have fought for education reforms which would return the power of one's education to the family, to the parents, and away from the unions, from the bureaucrats, and from state legislatures.

The first major court decision, Vergara v. California, declared teacher tenure unconstitutional, along with other arbitrary, union-defended practices which rewarded mediocre (or incompetent) teachers at the expense of students.

Judge Rolf Treu
LA Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ( LA School Report)
The opinion delivered by Judge Rolf M. Treu focused first on the US Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, which had reversed the Court's prior judicial doctrine of "separate but equal." The judge then outlined the state's compelling interest in ensuring that all students receive a proper education.

Citing more recent California State Supreme Court rulings, Judge Treu outlined that decisions from school districts which adversely affected one group of students at the expense of other students, such as the premature closing of a school, or a lack of funding, were also unconstitutional acts. Equality had to extend to educational opportunity, without any delay or dispute.

Moving from the equality of access to the quality of education, the judge summarized the plaintiffs of the case, nine students from Los Angeles Unified. Their argument for removing teacher tenure and "Last hired, first fired" statutes rested on the premise that those conditions denied the students equal access to a quality education.

In a summation which affirmed the argument of the plaintiffs then outlined the specific reasons for supporting their contentions, the judge agreed that the current teacher tenures laws were unconstitutional, violating the Equal Protections clause of the California State Constitution.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy (LA School Report)

The nine students filed lawsuits against California Governor Jerry Brown and the State Superintendent Tom Torkalson, as well as the State Board of Education and the LAUSD superintendent John Deasy, who  following the lawsuit reported that he supported the students' legal challenge. How often does that happen, where a defendant agrees and accommodates the charges of the plaintiff?

The opinion also points out that the California Teachers Association intervened in the case, trying to prevent the lawsuit from going forward. Well.

Recognizing the crucial importance of a quality education, and a responsibility of the state to provide that service, the court moved to inspect the challenged statutes with scrutiny.

The first: Permanent Employment Statute

The judge pointed out that most teachers undergo a two year probationary status, when in reality the period does not last for two years, but less, because teachers must receive notice of tenure by March 15, as opposed to the end of the school year. Local superintendents have pointed out this contradiction, then concede that new teachers get tenure before the probationary period officially ends.

That's a problem in itself, regardless of the quality or the competence of the teacher. For that reason alone, the judge ruled the two year tenure law unconstitutional.

Then: Dismissal Statutes

The judge summarized the intense amount of time and money which school districts must spend to get rid of ineffective or incompetent teachers. The stories about abusive or unacceptable teachers are too numerous to relate in one post. The comparing the dismissal process and due process hearings of classified school employees, the court ruled that there are procedures in place which can protect due process without requiring the extended, "uber due process" which has discouraged school districts form getting rid of ineffective teachers.

Finally: LIFO (Last In, First Out)

The judge identified the cold reality of these statutes, which would force the best, the most gifted teachers out of their jobs first just because of seniority. Identifying the "lose-lose situation" inherent in this statute, the court found that the best interests of the student depend on keeping the best teachers, regardless of seniority, in their jobs while removing bad teachers, regardless of their time or tenure on the job. Currently, LIFO automatically separates good teachers from students, an undue and unconstitutional burden for both parties. Furthermore, the opinion provided information that seniority is not the overriding condition of retention for employment in twenty other states. In other words, the judges decision to strike down LIFO would not occur in a vacuum of judicial activism, but within a current of reforms emerging across the country.

Effects on low-income, minority students

Establishing through legal, judicial, and empirical evidence the failure of teacher tenure statutes, the Judge Treu's opinion rounds out his ruling by reminding the reader that these laws have disproportionately harmed students in low-income areas, and particularly minority students. The implicit violations of the different Civil Rights Act legislation passed by federal and states government would have invited more problems than solutions, and the judge wisely argued in dicta about the adverse consequences of teacher tenure.

Teacher tenure, impossible dismissal procedures, and LIFO hurt all students, regardless of race or financial status.

Finally, a judge in California had the time and courage to take on these outdated, adult-driven statutes, which cared more about the bureaucrats and the unions, instead of the parents, the students, and the teachers, many of whom do want the most qualified people in the classroom teaching students.

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