Appeals court reverses teacher tenure ruling

By Sean Fowler | May 19, 2016

LOS ANGELES – California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal recently ruled that "the law is the law" when it comes to teacher tenure in the state, but this has some concerned about what the protections of that tenure means for students.

"The case has brought into clear focus the need to change antiquated statutes that have not served our students or our teaching profession well," Mike Stryer, California senior executive director of Teach Plus, told the Northern California Record in a statement.

In 2012, the California Superior Court heard the case Vegara v. California, in which nine student plaintiffs sued the state saying that rules about teacher tenure and layoff restrictions hurt students in poor and minority neighborhoods. 

Since there are purportedly some ineffective teachers protected by the tenure rules, the students alleged those teachers were being sent over to the poorer schools, hurting the education of students there, especially since California already ranks in the lower third of state spending per student. The Superior Court ruled that the laws providing that tenure were indeed unconstitutional. 

In April, however, a three-judge panel of the court of appeal reversed that decision, maintaining those laws are indeed constitutional. Their reasoning was very simple; the rules protecting the tenure of teachers are the law, while the law contains no such provisions that guarantee California students a great education. In essence, the law demands that workers receive protections, but not the education of children.

Teach Plus, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve education, is fighting to increase evaluation measures and to provide more support for struggling teachers. It recently announced a two-tiered accountability system for teachers, and had that model selected by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute as one of 10 they said states should institute. Bills have also been introduced in the state legislature that seek to increase the amount of evaluations and generally make it easier to discipline and even fire ineffective teachers. In one of the most extreme examples of protections for teachers, California teachers who are convicted of serious crimes must have a hearing before being dismissed and can be reinstated after just one year.

Perhaps sensing some difficulty in a judicial solution after such a forthright and clear-cut ruling from the court of appeal, Stryer says it now falls to the lawmakers to make sure California children are receiving the best possible education. 

"We urge policymakers to work collaboratively with teachers and other education stakeholders to make sure that our students are not losing exemplary educators," he said.

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