Editorial on CA Tenure: ‘A Reasoned Defense is Not Possible


In June 2014, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu issued a historic ruling in Vergara vs. State of California. Treu threw out six laws protecting teachers’ job rights on the constitutional grounds that they had created an educational system that was fundamentally unequal and hostile to minority students. He cited evidence that the laws had resulted in school districts clustering the teachers with the worst records and most problems in schools in the poorest communities – a finding that he wrote “shocks the conscience.”

People can quarrel with the breadth of Treu’s claims. They can argue that reformers are too quick to fault teachers and absolve parents and students for unpreparedness and lack of discipline.

But on one of the core laws Treu cited – the granting of lifetime job protections through tenure after just 18 months on the job – a reasoned defense is not possible. In the trial, the plaintiffs offered ample evidence that the “process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works.” In a typical year, only two of California’s 275,000 teachers are fired for unsatisfactory performance.

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