LOS ANGELES – In a hugely controversial ruling (in which the full implications are still being sorted out) a judge “struck down” job protections such as tenure for public school teachers. The lawsuit was brought by nine students and ruled on by the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu.
The students and their financially-endowed and corporate-backed legal team argued that tenure allowed incompetent or unmotivated teachers to continue working in the system, and further that these teachers were more pervasive in low-income schools, teaching low-income students. The students said that some of their teachers rarely show up to class, and when they do they don’t teach at all, but instead sit in the corner and wait for the day to end. They also argue that low-income schools are the destination of choice for district administrators to dump the worst teachers who, once tenured, are nearly impossible to fire.
The divisive lawsuit was backed by some very notable figures, such as Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy. He says that getting even the most incompetent of educators out of the school system costs the district on average $350,000 per case. Michelle Rhee, a Harvard graduate who founded StudentsFirst and The New Teacher Project as well as having ended tenure for public school teachers during her time as the chancellor of the Washington DC public schools, says this case is a civil rights issue.
Rhee said that “those kinds of laws have led to a situation where poor and minority children in the state are disproportionately impacted, meaning they are saddled with some of the lower-performing teachers in the state.”
In addition to notable philosophical support, the lawsuit was financially backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and his group Students Matter. According to CBS News, in Los Angeles it takes as little as 16 months in the classroom to secure tenure.
Of course, this judgement will not go unchallenged. Interestingly, during his ruling the judge cited precedence from the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education, in which it was determined that all students regardless of socioeconomic and racial status have the right to equal education. This judgement hinged on the premise that these low quality teachers are more pervasive in the classrooms of low-income and minority students.
The other side of the argument presented by the 325,000 strong teachers union argues that tenure prevents administrators from firing teachers on a whim and that it preserves academic freedom. It also is said to be a huge point of attraction to get talent into a field that is underpaid.
The juggernauts in the education field, such as National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel, vowed to appeal the decision for as long as necessary. “[this is] yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession” and moreover he argues, to privatize it.
An article on the Daily Kos calls this “the most dangerous lawsuit you probably haven’t heard of”. The author states that the lawsuit “has nothing to do with guaranteeing a quality public education, and everything to do with trying to eliminate what the supporters of Students Matter believe is the biggest obstacle to a privatized education system.” The article has turned into a nearly 150 comment strong discussion between members on both sides of the political spectrum arguing on both sides of this issue.
The case for tenure seems to be a topic which transcends traditional political boundaries, with many on the left taking issue with a system that lacks any performance-based accountability. An excellent Pro-Con article has been published which takes the fundamental arguments on either side of the spectrum and presents them side-by-side.
Orange County Workers Compensation and personal injury attorney John Rosenbaum has been practicing law in California for over 35 years. He has a success rate of 99.8%, collecting clients more than $50,000,000 in settlements.