Changes To California Tenure Laws Make It Easier To Fire Ineffective Teachers

Teachers sleeping on the job may soon wake up in the unemployment line. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu declared certain job protections for California teachers unconstitutional.

The case was filed by Students Matter on behalf of nine students and defended by the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association, who have since promised they will appeal the decision. Treu has ordered a stay on the ruling, meaning that the decision will not go into effect immediately. The controversial decision uses Brown v. Board of Education as a backdrop, stating that the current job protections for teachers allow for proportionately bad teachers in low-income areas with a large portion of minorities. Judge Treu argued the current laws do not allow for equal access to quality education.

One change concerned the due process granted a teacher being dismissed. Treu quoted a study saying that the process of firing a teacher “… could take up to 10 years and cost between $50,000-$450,000.” An excerpt from the decision states Treu’s reasoning.

Page 13 Of Court Decision in Vergara vs California

The Vergara vs California case also spotlighted tenure and a Last In, First Out (LIFO) approach during teacher layoffs. The decision on Tuesday was backed by several studies and the testimony of expert witnesses. At present, California has one of the shortest waits for tenure at just two years. Judge Treu’s decision mentions a situation where, due to the fact that paperwork has to be filed months in advance of the two year mark, the teacher can be granted tenure before their two-year induction period has ended. This means a teacher could be non-credentialed and have tenure. Treu also sited an argument by both sides that some teachers would not have time to properly establish their competence during the shortened time period.

Jesse Rothstein, who testified as an expert witness for the defense, states in the opinion column for the New York Times one of his reasons for being pro-tenure.

First, firing bad teachers actually makes it harder to recruit new good ones, since new teachers don’t know which type they will be.

Rothstein also gives his views on the times it’s okay to dismiss experienced teachers.

Finally, the freedom to fire experienced teachers is valuable only when dismissal rates are very high, say, 40 percent or more.

Treu also did away with the LIFO rule used during layoffs. The current practice is to layoff the newest teachers, and not take performance into account. This is a practice that Treu says can mean getting rid of a good, new teacher and keeping a sub-par one in the system.

Other states are watching the proceedings closely, as the final decision could have impacts elsewhere.

Image via Management Help

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