California Teachers’ Unions Promise Appeal After Tenure Ruling

A controversial court decision that could change the state's laws on job security for teachers drew a strong reaction from teachers' unions, while the U.S. secretary of education sees it as a potential conversation-starter.

A court decision that threatens to upend the tenure model used in K-12 public schools throughout California—and by extension, the rest of the country—is drawing some strong reactions this week.

The decision, which arose in a lawsuit brought by a group of nine students with the financial backing of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, found statutes protecting school teachers’ jobs  unconstitutional, notably one that gives teachers tenure after less than two years on the job. However, the judge stayed his ruling pending a likely appeal. More details:

This suit is not pro-student. It is fundamentally anti-public-education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality.

About the ruling: In the Tuesday decision in Vergara v. State of California, Judge Rolf M. Treu of the Los Angeles County Superior Court held that the tenure statutes are unconstitutional because they create education inequality, saying they unfairly affect low-income and minority students often stuck with ineffective teachers who are difficult to fire. The lawsuit was backed by Students Matter, a nonprofit run by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. “Our public education system is failing our children because it has stopped putting their needs and their success above all else,” Welch said in a statement reported by Bloomberg. “This case was designed to change that.” California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a top education official named as a defandant in the lawsuit, expressed concern that the ruling could make “attracting, training, and nurturing talented and dedicated educators … even more challenging than it already is.”

Unions promise fight: The National Education Association called the decision a “ruling … against due process for teachers” and questioned the motives behind the suit. “Let’s be clear: This lawsuit was never about helping students but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, which joined the state in defending the lawsuit, promised an appeal. “This suit is not pro-student. It is fundamentally anti-public-education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality,” CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said in a statement.

Fodder for conversation: Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he welcomed ongoing discussion and debate about how to evaluate teacher performance. “My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift,” Duncan said in a statement reported by The Huffington Post. “Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.”

The tenure fight is playing out elsewhere as well. The North Carolina Association of Educators sued over a state statute that eliminated teacher tenure. Last month, a judge struck down the law, saying it violated the constitutional protections around teachers’ contracts. The state said it would appeal.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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