California Teacher Tenure Law Ruled Unconstitutional
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Aired 6/11/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Michael Stone is a member of the board of the California Teachers Association, he represents teachers in San Diego's North County.
Lisa Berlanga is executive director of Up For Ed, a parent-led organization that advocates for quality education in the San Diego Unified School District.
Superior Court Ruling On Teacher Tenure
A court ruling Tuesday in Los Angeles could have national implications, when it comes to job protections for schoolteachers.
A judge ruled that tenure and other protections for California's public school teachers are unconstitutional. According to the judge, the system discriminates against minority and low-income students, by placing ineffective teachers in their schools.
The judge sided with nine students who brought the lawsuit. He ruled that California's laws on hiring and firing in schools have resulted in "a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms." And he said a disproportionate share of those teachers ended up in schools that have mostly minority and low-income students.
“The judge has struck down five laws that that were creating gross inequities in our education system," said Theodore Boutrous Jr., the lead attorney representing the students who brought the complaint through the group Students Matter. "Students were being treated unequally, being deprived of their educational opportunity, in violation of the California constitution, and (the judge's) decision makes that very clear in powerful language. This is going to have a huge impact and we could not be happier with the decision.”
The California Teachers Association, the state's biggest teachers union, is vowing an appeal.
Jim Finberg, lead trial counsel for the teachers' unions named in the case, said the judge’s decision was inconsistent.
“He doesn’t identify a class of people who are treated differently, he hasn’t shown that the statutes at issue caused the harms that he complains of," Finberg said, "I think the decision doesn’t reflect all the evidence that was presented at trial, and applies an inappropriate legal standard."
Teachers have long argued that tenure prevents administrators from firing teachers on a whim. They also contend that the system preserves academic freedom, and helps attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn't pay well.
Other states have been paying close attention to how the case plays out in California.
Statement from Tom Torlakson, California superintendent of public instruction:
“All children deserve great teachers. Attracting, training, and nurturing talented and dedicated educators are among the most important tasks facing every school district, tasks that require the right mix of tools, resources, and expertise. Today’s ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is.
“While I have no direct jurisdiction over the statutes challenged in this case, I am always ready to assist the Legislature and Governor in their work to provide high-quality teachers for all of our students. Teachers are not the problem in our schools, they are the solution.”
After the ruling, many took to social media to share their thoughts on the decision. We've collected a few reactions below.
KPBS education reporter Brooke Binkowski contributed to this report.