“Students” Suing the State of California over Teacher Tenure

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As per a recent article in the New York Times, “nine public school students [emphasis added as I use students loosely] 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. But behind the students stand a Silicon Valley technology magnate [David Welch] who is financing the case and an all-star cast of lawyers that includes Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general of the United States [and George W. Bush’s former Solicitor General], who recently won the Supreme Court case that effectively overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.”

It seems, also, that Students Matter, the organization founded by the aforementioned David Welch is leading the lawsuit. See, for example, the Students Matter’s “Vergara v. California Trial Tracker” that automatically pops up on their homepage when/if you visit, that also makes explicit their overly simplistic, slanted, and divisive position and goals: “Californians shouldn’t have to choose: we can create an education system that gives every child a passionate, motivating and effective teacher and gives effective teachers the respect and rewarding careers they deserve. A statewide lawsuit filed by nine brave kids, Vergara v. California challenges the laws that handcuff schools from giving every student an equal opportunity to learn from effective teachers.”

As per the Times, and more fairly put, “At issue is a set of rules that grant permanent employment status to California teachers after 18 months on the job, require a lengthy procedure to dismiss a teacher, and set up a seniority system in which the teachers most recently hired must be the first to lose their jobs when layoffs occur, as they have regularly in recent years.”

In addition, John E. Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and “a staunch opponent of tenure rules and ‘last in, first out’ seniority for teachers,” testified on the side of the plaintiffs, while also noting, however, that “good administrators don’t grant due process rights to ineffective teachers.” Inversely, and as per a recent blog on The Huffington Post, is that the California Teachers Association is arguing that “the lawsuit is both destructive and unnecessary, because reform efforts are already underway to make it easier to dismiss teachers.”

Regardless, and while whatever is decided in the Los Angeles Court will likely be appealed to the State Supreme Court, this is certainly “one-to-watch” as funders/backers are certainly putting teacher employment laws to the test, not only in California but all of America’s public schools. While tenure has been eliminated in some states, including DC (the source of many other posts on this blog), this is the first lawsuit to take on large states with large urban districts with largely “blue” political histories. This is also the first lawsuit to claim that in the state of California students are being “hurt” by teachers who are protected by their employment laws.

Most concerning for readers of this blog is that without teacher tenure, increased reliance will be placed on teacher-level estimates derived via value-added measures to determine which teachers should be terminated and when. But this will be done, as evidenced here and elsewhere (largely in the research literature), in highly arbitrary, inconsistent, invalid, unfair, idiosyncratic, and prejudiced ways, particularly as teachers will no longer be protected under such teacher tenure systems, losing as well their due process rights to (often rightfully) defend themselves against unfair human capital decisions based on such systems.

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