“The most important court case you've never heard of"
smf: while the LibDems gloated over the fall of Eric Cantor in Virginia on Tuesday there was political news of a distinct red state flavor on the blue state left coast. Progressive education policy in general – and teacher’s unions specifically - took a hit and the voice of The Billionaire Boys Club - who would ®eform public education on a corporate model - was heard and ratified by a single Los Angeles Superior Court Judge …who modestly compared his own ruling to in Vergara v. California to Brown v. Board of Education.
Wednesday, June 11 2014 11:30 a.m. MDT :: In a ruling that sent shock waves through education circles nationwide, a California judge ruled Tuesday in favor of nine students who sought to overturn that state's teacher tenure laws, arguing that the laws robbed them of their right to a quality education under the California constitution.
The students' attorneys had argued that by imposing a "last hired, first fired" standard, California statutes were imposing demonstrably inferior, older teachers on vulnerable students, while removing from the classroom dynamic younger teachers who could transform schools and students' lives.
<<Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter David Welch makes comments on the Vergara v. California lawsuit verdict in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. A judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California's public school teachers as unconstitutional Tuesday
The Deseret News touched on the case earlier this month. "In the crosshairs is a statute that grants permanent employment status after 18 months to teachers before administrators can assure their effectiveness," the article noted. "Another creates byzantine procedures to dismiss incompetent teachers, and a third requires districts to lay off newer teachers first, even if they are proven performers."
Before the decision, Campbell Brown at the Daily Beast had called the case "the most important court case you've never heard of." Now that the judge has ruled, the case's obscurity is fading fast.
"Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students," the judge found, according to the Huffington Post.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed the ruling, signaling his long-standing split from teachers' unions. Duncan has also been a vocal advocate of charter schools, for related reasons.
If upheld on appeal, Duncan told CNN, it could signal "a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students' rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve."
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, called the ruling "deeply flawed" and said NEA would support a California Teachers Association appeal, USA Today reported.
"Today's ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching," said Van Roekel, a former math teacher in Arizona.
"This is a sad day for public education," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, according to the USA Today report. "While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing. For example, the judge believes that due process is essential but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation."
California teacher tenure and seniority system is struck down
by HOWARD BLUME, STEPHEN CEASAR, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1u4fM9b
10 June 2014, 9:02 PM :: The tenure and seniority system that has long protected California public school teachers, even ineffective ones, was struck down Tuesday in a court decision that could change hiring and firing policies nationwide.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu said that the laws governing job security were unconstitutional because they harmed predominantly low-income, minority students by allowing incompetent instructors to remain in the classroom.
The protections "impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education," he wrote. "The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience."
<<Julia Macias, 13, stands on a milk crate as she speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles held by the plaintiffs in Vergara vs. California, which targeted state laws on teacher job security. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times)
The 16-page decision ends the process of laying off teachers based solely on when they were hired. It also strips them of extra job safeguards not enjoyed by other school or state employees. And, lastly, it eliminates the current tenure process, under which instructors are either fired or win strong job security about 18 months after they start teaching.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the ruling a nationwide "mandate" to change similar "laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students." He said the welfare of "millions of young people" is at stake.
The verdict represents a major loss for teacher unions and an undiluted victory by the attorneys and families that brought the landmark case on behalf of a well-funded Silicon Valley group.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, who testified for the winning side, called the ruling "historic" and a "call to action."
Union leaders and other critics faulted the outcome.
"This is a sad day for public education," said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. No student should endure an ineffective teacher, "but in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, [Treu] strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice."
The state's case was handled by the attorney general's office and joined by lawyers for the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers.
Treu wrote that the laws also hurt teachers, saddling them with poor-performing colleagues and the system with expensive dismissal cases, which drain classroom resources.
We have to re-create a system that focuses on placing children's interests at the forefront.- Marcellus McRae, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara vs. California
If layoffs become necessary, teacher performance should matter, he said. When a high-quality junior teacher is laid off instead of a lesser, more experienced colleague, "the result is classroom disruption on two fronts," he wrote. It's a "lose-lose situation" that "is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable."
In his ruling, Treu consistently echoed the arguments of the attorneys who sued California and the top public officials responsible for the state's education laws.
He accepted, for example, that teachers can be evaluated fairly through a statistical analysis based on student test scores, a point of dispute among some educators and experts. He cited testimony quantifying how many months of learning a student can lose because of a bad teacher.
He noted that another expert said a poor instructor costs a class $1.4 million in lifetime earnings.
The judge also cited an assertion from the L.A. Unified School District, the nation's second-largest, that it would like to fire 350 teachers, but restrictions got in the way.
At the same time, he buttressed his ruling using testimony from witnesses called to defend the laws.
Treu wrote that one defense witness "testified that 1% to 3% of teachers in California are grossly ineffective." That works out to 2,750 to 8,250 poor-performing teachers. For Treu, this was evidence of a constitutional violation.
He did not accept contrary assertions that the overall quality of the workforce compares well with other fields. Nor did he accept that making it easier to purge ineffective teachers could have unintended, negative consequences, such as detracting from recruiting and retaining top talent.
"We couldn't be more pleased with the judge's legal analysis," said Theodore Boutrous, a partner at L.A.law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who helped to overturn California's ban on gay marriage.
"Whatever happens, we can't go backward," co-counsel Marcellus McRae said. "The time of defending the status quo and business as usual — those days are over. We have to re-create a system that focuses on placing children's interests at the forefront."
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president-elect of United Teachers Los Angeles, criticizes a judge's ruling striking down the state's teacher tenure and seniority system. Students would benefit more from smaller classes and increasing the number of counselors, he said. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times)>>
Behind the litigation is Students Matter, started by tech entrepreneur Dave Welsh to pursue "high-impact" education litigation. It filed Vergara vs. California, its first suit, two years ago.
The case frequently became a tutorial on school reform and competing theories of what works best to help students.
The evidence clearly showed that, in some cases, the teacher dismissal process can be long and expensive — and that teachers have more protections against wrongful termination than other state employees.
But the state and unions argued that the laws helped ensure fairer outcomes for teachers, from which students also derive benefit.
The judge "fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric of one of America's best corporate law firms," said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. "What this continues to do is promote an anti-teacher narrative."
Students would benefit more, for example, if advocates focused on smaller classes and increasing the number of counselors, said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president-elect of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Poor management is to blame for districts that fail to root out incompetent instructors, union leaders said.
Experts also said that more needs to be done to rectify conditions outside of school, such as crime and poverty, that impede learning.
Vergara supporters said the verdict would restore balance.
"There is an incredible opportunity here to revise the protections afforded to students," said Timothy Daly, president of the New Teachers Project, a New York teacher hiring and research group allied with the Vergara advocates. "This verdict warms my heart because it reminds us that students and families have rights."
Treu stayed his ruling until challenges were exhausted; the unions swiftly announced an appeal. In the meantime, the Legislature could restore similar job protections, but they would have to survive court scrutiny.
Vergara ruling offers California an opportunity to change a broken system
LA Times Editorial by TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD | http://lat.ms/SzNF5C
June 10, 2014 6:44PM :: California's extraordinary protections for public school teachers were dealt a heavy blow Tuesday when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the state's tenure laws unconstitutionally deprive students of an adequate education. To this extent, the judge's opinion was absolutely correct: The tenure laws are bad policy. In almost no other field of work is it remotely as hard to fire someone for incompetence, or for not doing the job at all. Lawmakers have been far too deferential to the powerful California Teachers Assn. over the years, and now they have been given a strong prod to change their ways.
The 16-page ruling by Judge Rolf M. Treu, which is almost certain to be appealed, describes California as an outlier on teacher protection when compared with other states. Most states give school districts a few years to decide whether a new teacher deserves tenure; here, the decision must be made within about a year and a half. When teachers are laid off in this state, seniority trumps performance. Elsewhere, seniority is a consideration, but performance matters too.The decision in Vergara vs. California also describes the tortuous procedure schools must go through to fire teachers, a process that makes it so difficult to get rid of even the worst teachers that many schools don't bother trying.
What Treu's ruling leaves less clear is why these policies, problematic as they are, represent an unconstitutional barrier to a decent education. Treu quotes one witness as saying that perhaps 1% to 3% of teachers are grossly ineffective. Those numbers don't indicate that such teachers are the key factor in the state's achievement woes.
Still, the ruling stands as an important marker of the decades-long frustration with the tenure laws — a frustration legislators should heed. Whether Tuesday's ruling stands or is overturned on appeal, it is unlikely that parents or the public will stand for the old, inefficient policies much longer.
Treu's ruling is not prescriptive, nor does it call for eliminating due process for fired teachers. The Legislature can, and should, continue to offer reasonable protections for teachers, because without them, schools have too much incentive to replace higher-paid, experienced teachers with lower-paid beginners. There are common-sense ways to provide such protections — for example, by allowing binding arbitration in disputed firings rather than requiring disputes to be decided, as they currently are, by an ad hoc panel with so many rules and restrictions that it can take years just to get to a hearing.
It's time for the state to stop defending laws that are indefensible, and to get to work on ones that are fairer to students.
Making it easier to fire teachers won't get you better ones
by Jack Schneider - Op-Ed in the LA Times | http://lat.ms/1nwRsMw
Student Beatriz Vergara, 15, testifies in the Vergara vs. California case with Judge Rolf Treu presiding in Los Angeles Superior Court. (Los Angeles Times)
June 10, 2014, 7:29PM :: Tuesday's ruling by Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, which held that California's contract with teachers violates the state's constitutional guarantee to an equitable education, is certain to set off legal battles across the nation. Explaining his ruling, Treu wrote that inequities in teaching quality, which disproportionately affect low-income and minority students, "shock the conscience." And he's right. They do. Yet his ruling will do nothing to solve the problem.
Teachers stall out not because they stop caring but because they lack guidance and support.-
In challenging tenure, seniority-based layoffs and the teacher dismissal process, the Vergara suit was, its backers claimed, an effort to guarantee "an effective teacher in every classroom." The implication is that teachers are wholly uninterested in professional growth. Protected as they are by unions and collective bargaining agreements, teachers are likely to simply settle in and stop trying once they are awarded tenure.
Research does indicate that, though teachers tend to improve by leaps and bounds in their first few years on the job, they often plateau after that. And supporters of the Vergara suit would like the public to believe that there is a simple reason for this: job security. If it were easier to fire teachers, they reason, classroom educators would be motivated to continue growing over the full arc of their careers. Our most senior teachers would be our best teachers.That logic, however, is deeply flawed. Teachers stall out not because they stop caring but because they lack guidance and support. Engaged in difficult and demanding work, even gifted teachers need relevant, robust and continuous professional development opportunities. But very few get it, particularly in schools serving high-needs students. As a result, most teachers realize only a fraction of their full potential.
Making it easier to fire teachers — even if we imagine that such powers will be deployed judiciously by school administrators — will do little to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom. Instead, it will further erode trust between teachers and school administrators.
If professional development is so unsupported, one might ask, why do teachers grow so much in those first few years? Because at first they're learning job basics: how to fill a whole hour of instructional time, for instance, and how to keep students from chatting in class. And they're also building up a store of knowledge and materials: content expertise, lesson plans and assessments.
What they aren't learning, though, is how to go beyond those basics.
Sure, many teachers do. They work relentlessly and read widely. They attend workshops and engage with colleagues. They experiment in their classrooms and evaluate the results, keeping what works and tossing out or improving on what doesn't. They carefully, and constantly, observe their environments.
But there's a lot stacked against them. American educators teach an average of 25% to 30% more hours than their counterparts in other industrialized nations, leaving little time for anything beyond treading water. They receive little guidance about what they should read or what new techniques are of the greatest value. Professional development is often problematic, delivered too infrequently, too generally and conveying ideas of questionable merit. And standardized accountability testing tends to discourage even the mildest forms of experimentation.
In short, the problem isn't that teachers don't care. It's that they work in a field with little support for professional growth.
Instead of working to erode collective bargaining agreements or promoting other policies that assume teacher negligence — like test-based accountability — we should be channeling our energies into building teacher capacity. And this work starts not with teachers but with those who employ them. Schools and districts need to transform themselves from administrative units into learning organizations, carving out more time during the school day for teachers to collaborate, observe one another and work with experts. They should expand coaching and mentoring programs and develop partnerships with scholars at local colleges and universities. The possibilities are as exciting as they are numerous.
Such work, of course, is not easy. But it has the potential to do something that current reform efforts have failed to do: produce teachers who grow every year, across their whole careers, and who feel ever more effective and more valued. Equally important, such a vision might put an end to the constant cycles of aggressive and interventionist reform, based largely on unfounded assumptions.
Instead of imagining a world in which teachers are easier to fire, we should work to imagine one in which firing is rarely necessary. Because you don't put an effective teacher in every classroom by holding a sword over their heads. You do it by putting tools in their hands.
- Jack Schneider is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and the author of "From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education." He is a native of Los Angeles.
DEASY ON ‘RECTIFYING THE CATASTROPHE’: “Now it will be my responsibility and privilege to ensure that L.A. Unified students have highly competent and effective teachers”
Op-Ed by John E. Deasy in the LA Times | http://lat.ms/TGMORX
Attorney Glenn Rothner speaks during a press conference after an L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violate the state's constitution. (Los Angeles Times)
June 10, 2014, 1:46 pm :: On Tuesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court issued a ruling in Vergara vs. California that could have a profound and positive effect on California's schools.
The court's decision in favor of nine student plaintiffs is a decisive step toward creating a system that puts the educational rights of California students before other interests. In ruling that key state laws governing teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff are unconstitutional, the court put California schools on notice that the education system must behave differently.
The Vergara ruling has presented California schools with an opportunity to rectify a catastrophe.-
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of the students by the education advocacy group Students Matter, contended that California laws have made it far too difficult to weed out bad teachers, thus saddling students with instructors who shouldn't be in the classroom. As superintendent of the second-largest school district in the nation, I testified in that lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, because I agree that state laws have been far too constricting.Nothing we administrators do in the public schools is more important to the education of a child than ensuring the quality of his or her teacher. When parents entrust their kids to us, they expect that we will do everything in our power to guarantee that those kids have the best educators available — teachers who will help unleash their students' potential and allow them to participate in the American dream.
Unfortunately, as the state's education laws have stood, school administrators across the state haven't had the power to ensure that all classrooms were led by good teachers. Teacher tenure laws have required us to decide whether or not to grant permanent employment to a teacher after just 16 months. That isn't enough time to decide whether a teacher will be effective over the long haul.
Once tenure was granted, dismissing a bad teacher became burdensomely difficult. And in times of budget cutbacks, the law required that the last teachers hired were the first fired, which robbed administrators of the ability to make layoff decisions on the basis of which teachers were most effective.
As a consequence of these laws, which were challenged in the Vergara lawsuit, too many students throughout the state have been saddled with grossly ineffective teachers, and administrators have had little power to remove them. Far too much of school districts' money and administrators' time has been spent trying to dismiss ineffective teachers — funds and time that could have been spent far more productively on improving education.
The system has made it difficult to live up to the schools' sacred pact with the public: to ensure that every student graduates ready for college or for joining the workforce.
But that is all about to change. In Tuesday's decision, the court struck down the very laws that have kept ineffective teachers in the classroom and denied students their fundamental right to equal educational opportunity. The court ruled that five statutes in the California Education Code — those governing permanent employment, dismissal, and "last-in, first-out" layoffs — are unconstitutional as currently written.
During the Vergara trial, I testified from firsthand experience about the real harm that these laws have in our classrooms every day. I provided testimony about the barriers these laws create for administrators and the negative impact they have on students — and on the Los Angeles Unified School District's many great teachers. This decision is a call to action to begin implementing the solutions that will help us address the problems highlighted during the Vergara trial.
Now we must engage with elected leaders in the state and across the nation to launch a new dialogue about the future of schools. We will finally have the opportunity to craft a system that puts the needs of children first and allows school leaders to make informed decisions about who should be in front of the classroom.
The Vergara ruling has presented California schools with an opportunity to rectify a catastrophe. Now it will be my responsibility and privilege to ensure that L.A. Unified students have highly competent and effective teachers in their classrooms. This guarantee must be not to some students, or most students. It must be to every single student every single day.
- John Deasy is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Note that his has the earliest dateline of any of the Time’s coverage..
By: Stephanie Simon on Politico | http://bit.ly/1ofKzm4
June 10, 2014 01:45 PM EDT :: A court ruling on Tuesday striking down job protections for teachers in California deals a sharp blow to unions — and will likely fuel political movements across the nation to eliminate teacher tenure.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found five California laws governing the hiring and firing of teachers unconstitutional. But it was his language, more than the ruling itself, that will shake the political debate.
Treu found that the statutes permit too many grossly incompetent teachers to remain in classrooms across the state — and found that those teachers shortchange their students by putting them months or years behind their peers in math and reading.
He ruled that such a system violates the state constitution’s guarantee that all children receive “basic equality of educational opportunity.” In a blunt, unsparing 16-page opinion, Treu compared his ruling to the seminal federal desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, decided60 years ago last month. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” Treu wrote.
In adopting the language and legal framework of the civil rights movement, Treu gave a major boost to school reformers from both parties who have long argued that the current system dooms poor and minority students to inferior educations.
He might also have put further strain on the already-shaky alliance between teachers unions and Democrats.
In recent years, high-profile Democrats — up to and including President Barack Obama — have broken with their traditional union allies over issues such as charter schools, standardized testing and the feasibility of evaluating teachers by how well their students perform on standardized tests. But many other Democrats in state legislatures and Congress remain loyal to teachers unions. Those ties are especially strong in California, where the unions wield strong political influence. The ruling’s scorching finding that union policies violate students’ civil rights could put those longstanding loyalties to the test.
Indeed, even before the verdict, members of the plaintiffs’ team were talking confidently about plans to present their evidence to California Gov. Jerry Brown, a close ally of the teachers unions, to prod him into joining the reformers’ side, at least on key issues such as teacher tenure.
Reformers also plan to take the fight to other states, hoping the strong language of the ruling will prompt Democrats elsewhere to reconsider ties to teachers unions. They’re considering similar lawsuits in Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and elsewhere. And they plan a relentless public relations campaign, backed by millions of dollars from reform-minded philanthropists, to bring moms, dads and voters of both parties to their side.
Jim Finberg, a lawyer for both major California teachers unions, said he wasn’t worried by the ruling or the coming public relations juggernaut. The case, he said, was all about “busting the teachers union,” not supporting children. “People who really care about education will see through that,” he said. “The truth will out.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed those comments, accusing the plaintiffs of seeking to divide and conquer rather than support public schools. “The other side wanted a headline that reads ‘Students win, teachers lose,’ ” Weingarten said. “This is a sad day for public education.”
But Education Secretary Arne Duncan signaled his support for the ongoing campaign to reform hiring and firing laws. He noted that “millions of young people in America … are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.” And he called the ruling “a mandate to fix these problems.”
The Education Department has been slowly drafting a plan to nudge states to better distribute effective teachers.
Though the ruling was couched as “preliminary,” there was nothing tentative about Treu’s opinion. He found “no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms” and that the legal system protects them by making it all but impossible for districts to fire even the worst teachers.
He also expressed outrage at a system that shields veteran teachers from layoffs, regardless of their competence. “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable,” he wrote.
What’s more, Treu added, evidence at trial showed that teacher protections embedded in California law disproportionately hurt black and Hispanic students, who are far more likely than their peers to be assigned truly bad teachers.
The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Treu decided the disputed laws should remain in place pending that appeal. He will also take both sides’ comment under advisement before finalizing his ruling within the month.
Teachers unions, who have the money and the membership to exercise considerable clout in many state legislatures, defend tenure, seniority and other job protections as simply guaranteeing due process. They accuse reformers of spending big to demonize teachers and weaken unions instead of tackling other forces that affect academic achievement, such as poverty, crime and inadequate state funding.
“Let’s be clear,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “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.”
Van Roekel added that the ruling will “make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.”
The closely-watched case, Vergara v. State of California, was brought by nine students who said their education suffered because they were stuck in classrooms with lousy teachers who failed to challenge them, inspire them or even maintain basic discipline. Plaintiff Julia Macias, who will be entering high school in the fall, hailed their victory as proof that “students have a voice and can demand change when we stand together.”
In fact, the students had quite a lot of help from powerful forces. They were represented by a high-powered legal team including former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, who is perhaps best known for successfully fighting to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The team was hired by a nonprofit organization called Students Matter, which in turn was founded — and has been largely funded — by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch.
Sources familiar with the plaintiffs’ work said the trial and accompanying public relations campaign cost “in the low millions,” with most of that financed by Welch.
The plaintiffs went after five laws that require administrators to decide whether a rookie teacher deserves tenure after just 16 months in the classroom; require a lengthy and often costly process before a teacher can be fired; and protect veteran teachers from layoffs, even if they are less effective than their younger colleagues. They put on evidence that firing a teacher can take so long and cost so much, some districts decide instead to shuffle the worst or least experienced educators to low-income schools, in what’s known as “the dance of the lemons.”
“Have we not had enough in this country’s history of short-shafting poor people and minorities?” attorney Marcellus A. McRae asked in his closing statement. “This is an abomination. This is unconstitutional. This has to stop.”
After the ruling, McRae applauded the court for reaffirming “the fundamental principle that constitutional rights do not depend on a child’s skin color or zip code.”
The state of California and teachers unions fought back hard.
They argued that the laws at issue in the case are not meant to shield bad teachers, but to ensure all teachers are treated fairly. They challenged the plaintiffs’ formula for identifying “good” and “bad” teachers, which relied in part on complex calculations of a teacher’s impact on her students’ standardized test scores. And they argued that minority students suffer far more from inequities in school funding and from the inherent disadvantages of poverty than from tenure laws.
Union leaders have also argued that the key to improving education is to bolster teacher training on the front end, so only well-qualified educators are put in front of classrooms.
The plaintiffs “present a false dichotomy,” said Finberg, the union lawyer. “They assert that one has to choose between teacher rights and student learning. In fact, the interests of teachers and students are aligned. When teachers have good working conditions, students thrive.”
The judge’s ruling did include some sympathy for teachers. He noted that California’s laws requiring administrators to decide quickly whether teachers merit tenure not only let bad teachers into the profession — but potentially kept good teachers out as well.
And he described the seniority-based protections as unfair to excellent young teachers who get pink slips just because they’re relatively new to the profession. “This court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one) disadvantaged” by the California laws, Treu wrote.
The four-week trial was conducted without a jury. Both sides, especially the plaintiffs, ran aggressive public relations campaigns during the trial, hoping to win in the court of public opinion.
Students Matter plans to continue that PR campaign in the coming months to pressure lawmakers to scrap the statutes Judge Treu declared unconstitutional and come up with new policies, such as eliminating tenure altogether or requiring teachers to spend more time in the classroom demonstrating their skills before they are granted job protections.
“What’s needed ultimately is political reform that levels the playing field in Sacramento so that students don’t have to take the state to court to get an effective teacher,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “We should not rule out the possibility of an education system that retains tenure but awards it on merit rather than time served.” He added that some districts and some union locals have been “begging” to implement such a system but have been blocked by the state laws the judge just found unconstitutional.
As debate over replacement laws begins in Sacramento, Students Matter plans to put on information sessions and pressure lawmakers to hold formal statehouse hearings to reprise evidence it introduced at trial.
The legal team is also considering similar litigation in other states.
Already, many states have sharply cut back on the job protections that unions cherish, aiming to give school districts more flexibility with personnel decisions.
Eleven states now use evidence of student growth — generally their scores on standardized tests — as a key factor in determining whether a teacher earns tenure, according to theNational Council on Teacher Quality. And 29 states now make clear that ineffectiveness — not just gross incompetence — is grounds for dismissal.
At least 18 states require districts to consider teacher performance, not just seniority, before making layoff decisions.
Within an hour of the verdict, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of D.C. schools, had announced a new website, SaveGreatTeachers.com, which will put pressure on lawmakers in the remaining states to change their policies to abolish or weaken tenure and other teacher job protections.
“I applaud the parents and the nine courageous students who stood up for their future and their right to a quality education,” Rhee said. “It is my hope that this movement continues on the national stage for all of our students.”
Treu acknowledged that his findings would reverberate through state legislatures. “That this Court’s decision will and should result in political discourse is beyond question,” he wrote. But he emphasized that his decision didn’t stem from any political motive, but solely from his consideration of “the evidence and law.”