Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Evening Edition

California Teacher Tenure Law Ruled Unconstitutional

teaser_art.png
California Teacher Tenure Law Ruled Unconstitutional
California Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional
GUESTS: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.

TOM FUDGE: Our top story on Midday Edition, public educators in California have been following the case in Los Angeles that pitted the group of education reformers against the state of California and the Teacher's Union. Yesterday, Judge Ralph Troy came down with the ruling that shook the education establishment. He struck down as unconstitutional a law that gives teachers permanent employment, also known as tenure. Laws that demand seniority be used to determine what teachers get laid off, and he also set aside other rules that he said make it virtually impossible to fire an inept teacher in a fair, but efficient manner. These laws are unconstitutional, he said, because they deny low income students from getting the education they deserve by sticking them with terrible teachers that cannot be got rid of. The ruling was praised and condemned yesterday, depending on who was commenting on it. Theodore Boutrous Junior is the attorney representing the organization Student Matters, the plaintiffs in the case. THEODORE BOUTROUS JR: We saw these problems with grossly ineffective teachers being given permanent employment, and the administrators being unable to get them out of the system, even when they were harming students in terms of educational advancement. And then terrific Junior teachers being laid off first simply because of a lack of seniority. TOM FUDGE: On the other hand, Jim Finberg is the attorney for the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers who intervened in the case against the state. JIM FINBURG: The judge didn't look at a lot of the compelling evidence that was presented at trial that in fact these statutes do help school districts retain qualified teachers which is absolutely essential for the education of our children, and as evidenced from superintendents who said that the tenure statute gives them enough time to evaluate probationary teachers. TOM FUDGE: Joining me in studio to continue our conversation about the judge's ruling yesterday are Michael Stone and Lisa Berlanga. Michael Stone sits on the board of the California Teachers Association, Michael, thank you for coming in. And Lisa Berlanga is Executive Director of Up For Ed, an organization that advocates for quality education in the San Diego Unified School District. First, I would like to get a reaction from both of you for this very dramatic ruling. Lisa, what did you think of this ruling yesterday? LISA BERLANGA: Yesterday we were very excited than the ruling came out. Parents have been watching carefully the progress of this trial, and we were thrilled that the judge sided with the students who brought these issues forward and has passed a law that is going to change things, and have been the same for a very long time, is that to see that we will have changes to the system. TOM FUDGE: What you think the system needs to be changed? LISA BERLANGA: We have teachers tell us stories every day that they were brand-new teachers and they started their first job and during about 2008 to 2011 there are pink slips every year. Teachers literally every year were pink slipped and moved to other schools. Our friend Sarah was an outstanding teacher, and one day, in her third school, she went in when she knew thinks that had been given. The principal was in her office crying, and told her I am so sorry, you're the best teacher I have at this site, but I have to let you go. TOM FUDGE: Michael, your turn, would you think of this ruling? MICHAEL STONE: We thought it was the wrong decision, the wrong solution, and the wrong process. Basically, legislation is the best way to change policy, not to the courts. This had nothing to do with the rights of students, it had everything to do with a multibillionaire in Silicon Valley who wants to push an anti-teacher agenda using multimillion dollar PR firms. For us, teacher experience shows as you go along you are more effective. This is really going to hamper the way to recruit and retain teachers. TOM FUDGE: So, you're saying that is the reason why seniority is used to make so many determinations? Because experience matters? MICHAEL STONE: Experience does matter, and there is also flexibility within local school districts to take into account. Absolutely, experience does matter when you look at the studies out of Stanford. The more time you are in the classroom, the more professional development you have, the more skills you have, the better and more effective you are. TOM FUDGE: Since you brought up the issue of seniority, let's talk about it. Lisa, how big of a problem that you think we have around the issues of seniority in the San Diego School District? I guess that is what you are talking about when you talked about the pink slips being sent out to what you consider to be the wrong people. LISA BERLANGA: Well, again, maybe not all of the wrong people. Some of the wrong people. The problem is, everything is based on seniority in the San Diego unified School District, solely. The teacher is given pay raises every year based on seniority. If you make it out the year, you go down a step every year. It has nothing to do with your evaluation. A principle can come in and give you an evaluation and you can get in needs improvement, it doesn't matter, you will still get your race. When budget cuts have to be made, all that is looked at is seniority, nothing else in the district matters. How you perform is not recognized and has no relevance. TOM FUDGE: Do you believe that in San Diego County we have inept teachers who are there simply because they have high seniority? LISA BERLANGA: A few, yes. We have many more fabulous teachers that go unrecognized for being a fabulous teacher. TOM FUDGE: Let me get Michael to respond. MICHAEL STONE: I think that is interesting, one of the teachers they named in the case who testified was actually a teacher of the year in Pasadena in 2013 to 2014. The idea that is an ineffective teacher, we really take issue with. If there are problems with an individual teacher, it is up to the administration to evaluate, and there are systems in place to move them out of the profession. We should be looking at, we have been hemorrhaging teachers for the last ten years, we lost over 30,000 teachers in the state. We should not be laying off people at all, we should be having more teachers, lower class sizes, we should be engaging the community. That is what I would rather see, rather than a lawsuit. TOM FUDGE: It is interesting what you said Michael, you said that there are systems in place to remove bad teachers, whereas Judge Troy was saying basically that it is near impossible to fire a teacher under the current situation. You disagree? MICHAEL STONE: I do disagree, matter of fact there is a bill going around actually passed through the Senate unanimously AB215 by Joan Buchanan, that deals with this issue, streamlining the dismissal process and makes it a lot more efficient, going forward. They still just have to give due process to teachers, that is what we are concerned about, so it is not an arbitrary dismissal. TOM FUDGE: Let me read a little bit from the decision, these are not necessarily direct quotes, Judge Troy noted that California was one of the only five states they gave teachers tenure, permanent status in a job after two years or less. He also cited evidence that it could take two to nearly ten years and cost $50-450,000 to conclude a teacher dismissal case. Again there, I think he is saying no one will go through that if they have to go through all of that to fire a teacher. MICHAEL STONE: That is why we are supporting AB215, Joan Buchanan, who was a former school board member up in the Bay Area. She knows firsthand what it is like to be on a school board and so, that is why we are pushing forward unanimously before the Senate to streamline and deal with the cost issue. TOM FUDGE: Let me get a response from what you just heard, Lisa. LISA BERLANGA: We are all for bills that will streamline the process, and there were bills last year that did not pass the house. So there are new ones up. But that alone says that there is an issue, if there are laws being passed, there is an issue with the process. I myself was a principal and try to go to the process of letting go of ineffective teachers, and it is a difficult, time-consuming process. And I have talked to other principals who said to get rid of the teacher it took over 50% of their time. TOM FUDGE: Okay, in your case, were you able to get rid of the teacher? LISA BERLANGA: I was, but we I was in a charter school. We were under union contract, I had a little more flexibly than other principals have. TOM FUDGE: Us talk a little bit about that process, this was a situation where the legislature did not come up with this decision, it was a judge, it went through the courts. Do think that was appropriate, Lisa, and why? LISA BERLANGA: I think people do not feel like they are being heard. I know that parents and students do not feel like they are being heard. There is not been any processes or law that a pass. We try to advocate for a lot last year that would streamline the process to let go of teachers and it failed miserably. There were hundreds of parents testifying in Sacramento, and four union folks got up and the bill did not pass. It is frustrating as a parent and as a student to not see any change happened and have ineffective teachers and feel powerless to do anything about it. TOM FUDGE: Let me ask you directly, to feel the bills are not passing because the teachers union has too much power in Sacramento? LISA BERLANGA: Absolutely. Yes. TOM FUDGE: All right, Michael what do you think? MICHAEL STONE: I would challenge that the charter schools have too much power. I would look at my situation in Orange County at the California Charter Schools Association, dumping over $100,000 in a race to change the composition of the Orange County Board of Education. To me, AB215 is a solution. It is something that has unanimity with regard to the state senate. The governor vetoed a bill last year because there was question about evidentiary procedure. So this maybe 215, he indicated he would sign that, we would love to have Up For Ed sign on, I don't think that they have. The courts are not the right place to have these kinds of policy discussions. TOM FUDGE: You disagree with the decision, the judge said that these laws are unconstitutional because they are denying children an adequate education. He said specifically in disadvantaged schools and racial minority schools, that is the case. Do you disagree with that? MICHAEL STONE: I do disagree, and another thing that I think is interesting that this governor has put forth is a new way of funding the schools, local control funding formula that deals with high need areas, more money, and let's have a conversation with the community and the local control accountability plan where we invite teachers and stakeholders to develop a plan that meets needs locally and get the funding. Hopefully, I can this is a new funding formula, it will work. TOM FUDGE: Lisa, if this judge's ruling becomes law and we have to still wait a little while to find out if it does, how do you think that will change the way that school districts in California do business? LISA BERLANGA: I hope it will give school districts and principals more flexibility to hire the appropriate teacher and retain the appropriate teacher for the site. We have a lot of challenges, teachers have a lot of challenges in the public school system, and we need strong teams of teachers who get a lot of support and feedback. And they need consistency. They need to be able to stay at the same school, and work with the same students in order to work with the students who need it most. TOM FUDGE: How would you like to see the teachers evaluated? LISA BERLANGA: I would like it to be a multipronged approach. I think most parents would come you like to see test scores used as a piece, not the sole measurement. We would like to see parent student surveys used, principals have traditionally gone in and done observations, that should be a piece of it. There are also the things that one can look at for evaluating teacher effectiveness. It is a complicated issue, but it can be done and done well. TOM FUDGE: Michael Stone, is your organization appealing Judge Troy's ruling? MICHAEL STONE: Absolutely, we're not sure on the timeframe, but we will be. TOM FUDGE: If his ruling is not struck down by the California Supreme Court, what you think will happen? Do think a lot of teachers will be fired for bad reasons, just because they have said something clinically incorrect or something like that? MICHAEL STONE: That is the fear, that is exactly what we are worried about, that we will have arbitrary dismissals and not a hearing of the facts, the issue of evaluation. Let's be clear, the other side wants to use standardized test scores as pretty much the sole determinant on teacher evaluation. They are very clear on that, they have been clear on that, we don't feel that is a good use, it is not what the tests are designed for. TOM FUDGE: I just saw Lisa shaking her head, a quick response to that? LISA BERLANGA: We don't want test scores used as the sole evaluation. Most education reformers are talking about multifaceted evaluations, not simply seniority, we want something else rather than just seniority. TOM FUDGE: I would like to thank my guests for joining me today. Thank you very much. MICHAEL STONE: Thank you. LISA BERLANGA: Thanks, I appreciate the opportunity.

Advertisement
Superior Court Ruling On Teacher Tenure
The Los Angeles County Superior Court decision on California's teacher tenure protections, June 10, 2014.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

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.”

Advertisement

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.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.