California Teacher Tenure Ruling Likely To Lead to Challenges In Other States




The CBS Evening News (6/11, story 8, 2:00, Pelley) reported that the “battle over teacher tenure is about to go national.” A California judge on Tuesday “declared the system unconstitutional and today the group that paid for that lawsuit in California says it may challenge tenure laws in 12 more states.” CBS (Tracy) added that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu “did not mince words. In his 16-page decision he wrote, ‘The number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a sick number of California students. The evidence is compelling, indeed it shocks the conscience.’” Treu “said ineffective teachers disproportionately impact low income and minority students and that getting rid of bad teachers is nearly impossible,” and his ruling “eliminates California’s teacher tenure system in which after just 18 months on the job, teachers are given strong job security.”

        USA Today (6/11, Toppo) reports that Treu’s ruling “could send shockwaves” through the nation’s public schools, “opening the door for lawsuits in at least a dozen other states over teacher quality, observers on both sides of the fight said.” The decision, if upheld, “also could clear the way for lawsuits about issues that are rarely fought in courts.” The case “used a novel approach, borrowing civil-rights strategies from unions and school advocates, who have used lawsuits to fight to equalize school funding between rich and poor districts.”

        The New York Times (6/12, Medina, Subscription Publication) also reports that the ruling “is likely to lead to a flood of copycat lawsuits in other states, shifting the battleground on the issue from the legislatures to the courts. ‘Almost nothing the plaintiffs raised is unique to California,’ said Timothy Daly, the executive director of the New Teacher Project, which has for years pressed for revamping the way teachers are hired and fired, pushing away from tenure rules that give teachers a job for life after only a few years of proving themselves.”

        Analysis: Union Appeals Could Last Years. The Los Angeles Times (6/12, Blume, Ceasar) reports that Treu’s ruling “will undoubtedly spawn a series of appeals that could last years before a final outcome is reached.” The Times suggests that before the “sweeping” ruling means that “any effort to change the laws – or restore them – must now survive court scrutiny.”

        Expert: Ruling Won’t Improve Teacher Quality. Jack Schneider, author and assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, writes in a Los Angeles Times (6/12) column that Treu’s ruling “is certain to set off legal battles across the nation,” and writes that the lawsuit was based on the premise that “if it were easier to fire teachers...classroom educators would be motivated to continue growing over the full arc of their careers,” instead of just in the early years. Schneider calls this logic “deeply flawed,” writing that teachers’ quality does not grow consistently over time “not because they stop caring but because they lack guidance and support.”

        More Commentary. The New York Times (6/12, Board, Subscription Publication) editorializes that the “important” ruling “opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle” and “underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.” Treu “left it up to the state lawmakers to create new statutes that comport with the state Constitution,” and lawmakers are “almost certain to face heavy pressure from the teachers union, who will try to discredit this ruling,” but “unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.”

        In an op-ed for the Washington Post (6/12), Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of District of Columbia public schools and founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, writes that the ruling is “a huge win for California educators and the teaching profession as a whole,” as it says that “teachers should be rewarded for how well they serve children.” Rhee concludes that the ruling “ought to set off a national discussion about how to elevate teachers and treat educators like the professionals they are.”