Tenure on Life Support

, Malcolm A. Kline, 5 Comments

When a California judge threw out the state’s teacher tenure laws, he sent shock waves throughout the K-12 educational establishment nationwide and gave hope to American parents from coast to coast.

vergara v california

“On a warm day in early June, a Los Angeles County trial-court judge, Rolf M. Treu, pink-cheeked beneath a trim white beard, dropped a bombshell on the American public-school system,” Haley Sweetland Edwards reported in Time magazine on November 3, 2014. “Ruling in Vergara v. California, Treu struck down five decades-old California laws governing teacher tenure and other job protections on the grounds that they violate the state’s constitution.”

“In his 4,000-word decision, he bounded through an unusually short explanation of what was an unprecedented interpretation of the law. Step 1: Tenure and other job protections make it harder to fire teachers and therefore effectively work to keep bad ones in the classroom. Step 2: Bad teachers ‘substantially undermine’ a child’s education. That, Treu wrote, not only ‘shocks the conscience’ but also violates the students’ right to a ‘basic equality of educational opportunity’ as enshrined in California’s constitution.”

The teachers’ unions were not amused. They are appealing the ruling and doubling down their efforts in political campaigns. Meanwhile, a group of New York parents are suing over their own state’s teacher protection laws, an effort endorsed by CNN reporter turned education activist Campbell Brown.

At the same time, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, not all of those recognized to be on the right are applauding the trend. “Michael Petrilli, who runs the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, says that while he generally does not support teacher tenure and job-protection laws, he is concerned that the recent spate of education litigation in California and New York sets an adversarial tone at a time when reformers need teachers to buy into other large-scale reform efforts, like implementing the Common Core State Standards in classrooms,” Edwards reports.

Some parents might regard this as taking the sweet with the sweet.  “In June, the Gates Foundation called for a moratorium on tying consequences to evaluations based on Common Core standards until 2016, and in August, the Education Department announced that states could delay using student test scores in teacher evaluations for two years,” Edwards writes. “This month, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools called for state and district leaders to cut back on unnecessary testing and test preparation.”