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The national impact of the Calif. Superior Court ruling on teacher tenure

Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.

Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.

By Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.
Trice Edney Newswire

Recently, the California Superior Court ruled as unconstitutional three state laws pertaining to teacher tenure. They include tenure to teachers after teaching two years, layoffs by seniority of teachers and a comprehensive and complex process for firing teachers.

While the public school system would like to ensure that a quality education is rendered to all students, the critical questions to be asked are: What can be the impact of the California Superior Court ruling on teacher tenure across the nation? What are the pros and cons regarding teacher tenure in the public school system?

Just as the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in 1890 set the precedence nationwide for no prayer in public schools, the California Superior Court ruling in 2014 for no teacher tenure can set the precedence nationwide for no teacher tenure in public schools. Plaintiffs in the case of Vergara v. California argued children from poor communities are being taught by an inferior educational system because they are placed with the weakest teachers in the classrooms, and these teachers are deep-rooted in their jobs and difficult to terminate.

In a 16-page ruling, the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu sided in favor of the plaintiffs, and abolished California’s teacher employment laws because he determined the laws violate students’ civil rights. To support his ruling, Treu stated, “both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily and for no legally cognizable reason, let (alone) a compelling one, disadvantaged by the current permanent employment statutes which are so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

As reported in the Washington Post, Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District said, “It is a historic day. We can rectify a catastrophe. We can and will and must assure children have the most effective teachers in their classrooms every day. Not some children, not most children, not even nearly all children. But all children.”

Two other recognizable persons expressing support of the ruling were Former Chancellor Michelle Rhee of the District of Columbia Public Schools and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Rhee, the founder and CEO of Students First, who eliminated tenure in her district in 2010, said, “It is my hope this movement continues on the national stage for all of our students.”

Duncan said, “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.”

On the other hand, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association said in a statement, “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.”

Showing irrelevance to the lawsuit, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers said, “It’s surprising the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.”

While this issue of teacher tenure is ever pressing, public schools must find creative ways to ensure all students are taught by a competent and highly qualified teacher before, during or after granting tenure. They must also ensure students receive a quality education germane to a 21st economy.

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of six books including, “Current Issues and Answers in Education.” He is publisher of The Holmes Education Post, an education focused Internet newspaper.  Holmes is a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at rwh@theholmeseducationpost.com.

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