Two kinds of people in California have a problem with public school teachers: high schoolers who hate math class, and education reform ideologues who despise teacher unions. On Tuesday, those two forces high-fived in court after scoring a legal victory against labor protections for educators.
Throughout the trial in Vergara v. State of California, reform advocates alleged that the rules of tenure—the due process procedures that govern the dismissal and layoff of senior public school teachers—are unconstitutional because they violate the the state constitution’s statutes on equal protection and educational equality. The plaintiffs, nine California public school students, claimed that subpar teachers did such a bad job that they violated students’ educational civil rights. Moved by their testimony, Judge Rolf Treu sided with the disgruntled youth, citing the principles established in Brown v. Board of Education to assail tenure as a violation of children’s entitlement to an equal education.
Two unions, California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers’ Association, have announced that they will appeal, calling the lawsuit “fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality.”
But already, hardline reformers are gunning to use a similar legal strategy to dismantle tenure in other states. Helming the campaign is StudentsFirst, an aggressive national lobbying organization run by former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
The decision mirrors the reform movement’s rhetoric: (1) teachers are directly responsible for their students’ performance, (2) ineffective teachers diminish students’ future economic prospects and (3) therefore anything that needlessly prevents schools from canning “bad” teachers must be abolished in the name of equality. Tenure rules, Treu declared in the tentative decision published this week, had “resulted in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students.”