California’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissal are unconstitutional, a Los Angeles trial judge has ruled. Low-income and minority students don’t have equal access to competent teachers argued Students Matter, which sued on behalf of nine schoolchildren.
The evidence “shocks the conscience,” wrote Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu in the Vergara v. California decision. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”
Enforced will be delayed pending an appeal by the lawsuit’s defendants, the state and California’s two major teachers unions.
Plaintiffs alleged that schools serving poor students have more teachers with less seniority, and therefore are more likely to lose teachers during seniority-based layoffs. As a result, those schools suffer from higher turnover and more inexperienced and ineffective teachers.
The suit also challenged the state requirement that school districts make decisions on tenure after a teacher has had about 18 months on the job — thus denying districts adequate time to determine a teacher’s competence.
Moreover, because of cumbersome dismissal procedures, Students Matter said, in 10 years only 91 of California’s teachers, who now number 285,000, have been fired, most for inappropriate conduct. And, the group noted that only 19 were dismissed for unsatisfactory performance.
The unions called the lawsuit a threat to due process, such as the right to a pre-dismissal hearing, and to protections from arbitrary or unfair administrators.
Union spokesman Fred Glass said, “The millionaires behind this case have successfully diverted attention from the real problems of public education.” That’s a reference to Dave Welch, co-founder of a telecom company, who’s the primary founder of Students Matter.
Education Trust hailed the decision. “The decision will force California to address the reality that our most vulnerable students are less likely to have access to effective teachers.”
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the decision a mandate for change.
For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.
He hopes for a “collaborative process” — a deal, not an appeal — to write new laws that “protect students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”
Vergara equals victory for kids, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.