California Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional

Teacher in a Classroom

June 17, 2014

This week, a California court ruled that teacher tenure is unconstitutional and creates barriers for students who have a right to a high-quality education. According to The Washington Post, the landmark decision has sparked a wave of controversy among educators who rely on teacher tenure for job security and other benefits.

The problem, according to plaintiffs in the case, is that ineffective teachers with tenure remain in the classroom once they reach a status where they cannot lose their jobs. The worries shared in the courtroom Tuesday echo the sentiments of lawmakers and legislators across the country who feel as if teacher tenure stands between students and real education reform. Because of the controversy surrounding the issue, many expect a wave of similar lawsuits to follow in other states.

In this case, Vergara v. California, plaintiffs argued that teacher tenure disproportionately affects minority and poor students, since "grossly ineffective" teachers are especially entrenched in areas with a high level of poverty. The suit was filed on behalf of nine public school students by a group called Students Matter, noted NPR.

"This is a monumental day for California's public education system," lead attorney for the plaintiffs Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. said in a statement. "Today's ruling is a victory not only for our nine plaintiffs; it is a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California."

The California Teachers Association, however, vowed to file an appeal against the ruling, arguing that it blames teachers for complex problems that aren't always within their control.

"We believe the judge in this case did not take into consideration the overwhelming amount of evidence that show that these statutes work very well all over the state in well-run school districts," Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, told NPR. "It's another example of the 'blame teachers first' approach to solving complex education problems."

Judge Rolf M. Treu, who presided over the case, wrote a 16-page ruling to explain his decision and even compared the case to Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that made separate public schools for white and minority students unconstitutional. According to The New York Times, Judge Treu based his decision on the belief that guaranteeing ineffective teachers a position based on tenure is the opposite of what students need and deserve.

"All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child's in-school educational experience," Judge Treu wrote in the ruling. "There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms."

As The New York Times noted, Education Secretary Arne Duncan backed the court's ruling and believes that the end of teacher tenure could improve educational outcomes for millions of students across the state of California.

"My hope is that today's decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift," said Secretary Duncan in a statement. "Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation."

Compiled by Holly Johnson


"California court rules teacher tenure creates impermissible unequal conditions," washingtonpost.com, June 10, 2014, Lyndsey Layton, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/calif-court-rules-teacher-tenure-creates-unequal-conditions/2014/06/10/8be4f64a-f0be-11e3-914c-1fbd0614e2d4_story.html

"California Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional," npr.org, June 10, 2014, Eric Westervelt, http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/06/10/320726651/california-teacher-tenure-ruled-unconstitutional

"Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California," nytimes.com, June 10, 2014, Jennifer Medina, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/us/california-teacher-tenure-laws-ruled-unconstitutional.html

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