Editorial: San Jose Mercury News
Tuesday’s decision by a Los Angeles judge finding the state’s teacher tenure and discipline laws unconstitutional was a concise summation of the obvious. You’d think people would be up in arms to demand change. But this is California, and that’s not how we roll.
Here, we guarantee job security to all teachers who manage to last 18 months in a classroom, regardless of their level of competence. We do this not because teachers are an oppressed class but because of the mighty political cash their union slings around Sacramento.
Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s logical and emphatic ruling should lead to sensible changes in rules so that bad teachers aren’t all but impossible to fire and the best teachers aren’t the first ones shown the door when funding cuts force layoffs.
But it will take years for higher courts to deal with this. And like the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision cited by Treu, Vergara v. California will ultimately be settled by nine people who also enjoy lifetime tenure — the state Supreme Court, since the case is based on the state constitution.
If the decision is upheld, the effects will be profound in California and perhaps nationally — although even now, few states give tenure after such a short time or make longevity the overriding factor in deciding who gets laid off.
In the meantime, political theater of the absurd has commenced. Both sides are sniping at the other’s motives as they try to influence the court of public opinion. The tragedy is that the kids who have been denied equal education will continue to suffer in classrooms with incompetent, or at least far from the best, teachers.
Critics frame Vergara as an attack on teachers. But its very premise is that there are excellent teachers in public schools.
The plaintiffs are nine Southern California students who claim they are receiving an inferior education because tenure and discipline rules make it infeasible to dismiss incompetent teachers — and because the system is rigged so that disadvantaged schools are the dumping ground for those teachers.
The suit was filed by the Silicon Valley nonprofit Students Matter, bankrolled by Atherton entrepreneur Dave Welch. Tuesday’s decision had to be bittersweet for them because this was the first battle in a long war. The conditions that “shocked the conscience” of Treu continue, and another generation of disadvantaged children is denied access to equal education.
Treu was stunned by the evidence of how poor teachers affect students, saying, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.” He said current laws protect bad teachers, harm students and disproportionately affect poor and minority pupils.
This case has quantified that harm. We’ll see how long parents let the Legislature and the education establishment ignore it.