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VICA: Teacher Tenure Ruling a Big Gain for California

Posted: July 2, 2014 6:46 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2014 6:46 p.m.

Two years ago, nine students sued the state of California for violating their constitutional right to equality of education with unfair teacher tenure laws.

The students argued that teacher tenure exposes students to inadequate teachers, and a disproportionate number of poor and minority students were getting stuck with them.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Rolf Treu ruled in their favor, striking down all laws that protect ineffective teachers at the expense of students. While there will undoubtedly be years of appeals, the court’s decision is a big gain for the state.

The judge found that in addition to disadvantaging teachers and students, there is no compelling reason to rush to tenure.

Before this month’s ruling, California teachers could qualify for tenure after just a short 18 months on the job. This is hardly enough time to determine whether or not permanent employment status is deserved.

Treu also remarked that the termination process for a tenured teacher is a “joke.”

After a teacher received tenure, it was nearly impossible for a school district to investigate, discipline or fire them, even for the most egregious offenses. This put students at risk of receiving a sub-par education, or worse.

Furthermore, if a school district terminated a teacher, and that teacher decided to dispute the termination, it could have taken months or even years of legal wrangling to resolve the issue.

The union, principal, school board and courts would be involved. All the while, the teacher would continue to receive a full salary and benefits on the taxpayer’s dime while not working.

Because of this complicated termination process, districts were often hesitant to fire bad teachers, leaving them in classrooms for longer periods of time.

Only when overwhelming evidence of deplorable behavior presented itself would many school districts finally take action, diving into what could be a years-long, expensive fight.

The judge also questioned the “last in, first out” pattern of laying teachers off – if a school district needed to conduct a round of layoffs, the last hired teacher was fired, regardless of merit.

Common sense would suggest that the matter of keeping a job should be dependent on the quality of one’s work, not seniority.

The Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) has advocated for teacher firing reform in past years, like raising the Los Angeles Unified School District’s probationary period for teachers from two years to five years. VICA has also supported increased accountability and consequences for underperforming teachers, as well as standardized testing as a means of determining teachers’ effectiveness.

Other school and state employees, as well as other private employment sectors, don’t enjoy the same safeguards that teachers do.

And, while other employers have no trouble recruiting employees despite the fact that they cannot offer permanent employment status, neither would schools. For example, charter schools that do not provide tenure have no shortage of applicants.

Teacher tenure means that school districts have to enter into long-term spending commitments.

One thing that can always be counted on is economic uncertainty. Districts should be able to maintain flexible budgets to prepare for any coming decreases in revenue.

Senior teachers tend to pick wealthier populations when making decisions about where to apply for and accept jobs. Already underserved communities are then left with educators who are less experienced in dealing with classroom challenges.

Keeping ineffective teachers at the K-12 level results in students who are underprepared for higher education. Students who don’t receive a good education in their formative years are less likely to perform well in the workforce.

Teacher unions will inevitably fight for tenure in the coming years, but it’s become evident that the practice negatively affects students, teachers and school districts.

With tenure in place, teachers who are bad instructors – or worse, have displayed violent or inappropriately sexual behavior – cannot be fired at will. New teachers are terminated first, regardless of talent.

School districts have no choice but to waste precious resources in order to let go of underperforming and dangerous teachers.

A happy future for California is dependent on the proper cultivation of young minds, and teacher tenure is disruptive to this goal shared by all.

We should be rewarding excellent teachers, rather than letting the bad ones skate by.

The Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) is a business advocacy organization based in Sherman Oaks that represents employers throughout the Los Angeles County region at the local, state and federal levels of government.


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