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Court Decision Struck Down Law on Teacher Tenure

teacher_tenure.jpgA Los Angeles County Trial-Judge, Rolf M. 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. Judge Treu ruled in Vergara v. California that tenure and other job protections make it harder to fire teachers and therefore effectively work to keep bad teachers in the classroom. In addition, he goes on to write in his opinion that bad teachers "substantially undermine" a child's education, which "shocks the conscience" and violates the students' right to a "basic equality of educational opportunity" as enshrined in California's constitution.

  • This decision was the first time, in California or any other state, that a court had linked the quality of a teacher, as measured by student test scores, to a pupil's right to an education. As a result of the ruling, state and national teachers' unions decried the ruling as part of a subversive effort to destroy labor unions. Others praised the decision for challenging the "broken status quo." Of course, at this point either argument is premature. The decision made by Judge Treu holds no precedent setting power, and won't affect any California law unless an appeals court upholds the ruling sometime next year.
  • However, looking at the root of Vergara v. California, it can be said that it is a reflection of our politics that no one is elected based on their need to take on the knotty problem of fixing the public school system. At this point, you still have those politicians who firmly believe in public interest, and are working vigorously to correct the system. To those people, it seems crazy that teachers receive tenure, permanent employment status designed to protect them from unfair dismissal, after a short period of time on the job. In addition, in most areas principals are required to lay off the least experienced teachers, no matter which ones are the best. David Welch, a 53 year old engineer and businessman, is one of those people who is fighting to fix the public school system. Welch remembers asking a big city California superintendent to tell him how to improve the public school system. The superintendent replied "Give me control over my workforce." Since then, Welch has been continually fighting to improve the public school system. Welch stated that children are being harmed by these laws for teacher tenure, which means that there is something illegal being done. That alone would become the legal theory of Vergara.
  • Before the decision in Brown, teachers could be fired for nearly any reason. Then states began passing tenure laws in the early 20th century. What began as a popular idea has become increasingly controversial as countless stories of schools and districts have being unable to fire bad teachers have populated the news. The argument in Vergara took the same idea as in Brown, that ruled separate is not equal, stating that the court should compare the quality of student's in class experiences. The argument is that students who are stuck in classrooms with bad teachers receive and education that is substantially inferior to that of students who are in classrooms with good teachers. The conclusion is that laws that keep bad teachers in the classrooms violate the equal protection clause of the state constitution.
  • No matter where your stance on the issue is, there has to be a better mechanism to monitor how teachers perform, and how student absorb information. After all, it is today's youth that will soon be leading the country.

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