While he supports the Vergara verdict, Rick Hess doubts the courts can order higher quality of schools.
California’s employment laws have made it ridiculously tough on school systems to do anything about lousy teachers. There are 275,000 teachers in California. Even if just one to three percent of teachers are lousy, as defense expert David Berliner estimated, one would expect 3,000 to 8,000 teachers to be dismissed each year for unsatisfactory performance. Instead, the average is just 2.2. Meanwhile, Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy testified that it costs his school system between $250,000 and $450,000 to remove just one tenured teacher for poor performance.
The unions have “used the courts to protect generous benefits, challenge layoffs, attack school choice, and force states to spend more on K-12,” writes Hess. Now they’ve discovered the virtues of judicial restraint.
However, “courts have a long history of failing to weigh costs and benefits and imposing requirements that prove bureaucratic and unworkable,” writes Hess.
Indeed, if courts can order legislatures to abolish tenure, what else might they require? If plaintiffs pick the right judge and present the right experts, can they get judges to require that pre-K teachers need to have an education school teaching credential? Can judges order schools to adopt the Common Core, if they think that will help ensure that all students are held to an equal standard? Can judges order legislators to double teacher pay, if that’s what they think it’ll take to ensure that all students have a chance to learn?
If the decision holds up on appeal, California legislators will write new education laws they hope will satisfy the judge. They’re likely to lessen, but not eliminate, barriers to dismissing ineffective teachers, predicts Eric Hanushek.
Students Matter, which brought the lawsuit, hopes to challenge tenure laws in other states, such as New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon, reports Time.
“This is gay marriage,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2010-2011. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states.”
Union leaders had to know that California’s tenure and LIFO (last in first out) laws were “indefensible,” writes John Merrow. Young teachers — and more of the teaching force is young — pay the price when layoffs are strictly by seniority, he adds.