Teacher Tenure Struck Down in California

I sense a disturbance in the Force. In what must be the big news of the day, a California judge has found teacher tenure to be unconstitutional:

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California’s public school teachers as unconstitutional Tuesday, saying such laws harm students – especially poor and minority ones – by saddling them with bad teachers.

In a landmark decision that could influence the gathering debate over tenure across the country, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu cited the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education in ruling that students have a fundamental right to equal education.

Siding with the nine students who brought the lawsuit, he ruled that California laws on the hiring and firing of teachers have resulted in “a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

He agreed, too, that a disproportionate share of these teachers are in schools that have mostly minority and low-income students.

The judge has stayed his order pending appeals. This is a state court and the decision only affects California but I strongly suspect that this decision will prompt other similar suits on related rounds all over the country, will be bitterly condemned by some, and roundly praised by others. In other words, I think this is probably a very polarizing decision pitting as it does teachers unions against students.

23 comments… add one
  • steve

    Would love to see the stats. Find it difficult to believe that schools in well off areas dont have most of their teachers tenured.


  • ...

    Steve hints at the division: teachers unions plus the parents of students in the best schools versus everyone else. Sounds depressingly familiar.

  • ...

    I propose that the only way to handle the disparity in teacher quality is to randomly assign teachers throughout a school district at the beginning of each year, subject to specialization.

    I bet that’ll go over well with the libs with students in the good schools!

  • PD Shaw

    Indeed, there is a disturbance in the force. An Illinois public official was convicted of bribery and extortion today, Things are surely going to change now. Surely.

  • ...

    I really like the egalitarian feel of this. It also helps level property value disparities. Fairness DEMANDS my proposal be forced on everyone, just like desegregation!

  • An Illinois public official was convicted of bribery and extortion today,

    That reminds me of one of my favorite jokes which, oddly enough, I first heard in German. I’ll tell it in English.

    The captain of the ship is outraged that he’s found the first mate drunk on duty. He notes in the ship’s log “First mate drunk today.”

    When the first mate sobered up he was upset to see the notation in the log where it would be a permanent part of the record. He made his own notation in the log: “Captain sober today.”

    An Illinois public official found innocent of bribery and extortion. Now that would be news.

  • PD Shaw

    @Dave, from the account I heard on the radio on the drive home Derrick Smith was complaining that the feds were picking on him because he was a politician. It reminded me of one of the sayings you like to repeat, Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is.

  • PD Shaw

    I suspect the legal underpinning of the judge’s ruling are weak, but the evidence might be strong. Doug at OTB has posted the decision, which I’m interested in reading. (Brown v. Board is not considered a strong legal decision either, but it somehow started a ball rolling)

  • Derrick Smith was complaining that the feds were picking on him because he was a politician

    That’s actually more like the guy on trial for murdering his parents whose lawyer called for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.

  • PD Shaw

    You’re killing me here.

  • PD Shaw

    Before I read the decision, here are some things I’m looking for:

    Are California’s immigration problems mentioned?
    Is this a problem within school districts or is at the state level?
    How much do magnet schools contribute to inequality?

  • PD Shaw

    Post-read analysis:

    No mention of immigration.
    Problem identified at state level.
    No mention of magnet schools.

    Not much evidence overall. Favorite factoid: The state-defense’s expert witness testified that 1% – 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective, equivalent to 2,750 to 8,250.

    Summary of analysis: education is important; grossly ineffective teachers cost a lot of money in life-time earnings; California’s tenure system is more protective than most states de jure and de facto; the cost and difficulty of removing grossly ineffective teachers is so high that school districts don’t try; thus the tenure protections are unconstitutional under California’s Constitution.

  • MaryRose Jeffry

    I have a number of teacher friends here in California who are quietly applauding this decision. There are too many bad teachers that administrators are unwilling to deal with. They just move them around. There was a male kindergarten teacher in Bakersfield accused by his peers of hitting a student, and reported to CPS. Yes he is still teaching.

  • michael reynolds

    In what must be the big news of the day

    You tempted the gods. And poor Eric Cantor had to pay.

  • ...

    The teachers union ruling is still more important, but the Cantor story is more fun. For all the bitching and moaning about the Tea Partiers, they’re the last large group of voters in the country that don’t just bend over and take it from their party, not always.

    If only Boehner could get crushed….

  • steve

    I surprised they did not need better evidence. I would have thought they would have needed comparisons to systems without unions and demonstrate better outcomes for those schools/systems without unions. As far as I know, that evidence does not exist. Why didn’t the judge issue an order to reform the system to deal with problem teachers rather than eliminate it? Meh. This wont improve outcomes for kids but it may decrease salaries a bit for teachers.


  • PD Shaw

    @steve, it’s not a well-written legal opinion, but it is tentative and maybe it will improve.

    The judge didn’t do away with unions, but with the dismissal legislation.

  • PD Shaw

    One of the judge’s main points is that California has a short tenure period of two years, but because a teacher must be formally notified months before the two years is completed, it’s actually less. Which is bizarre given that teachers are trained and recommended for teaching credentials only upon the completion of two full years on the job. That means, a teacher may become tenured without teaching credentials to allow them to teach because the tenure decision has to be made before the credentialing decision.

    32 states have a three year period
    9 states have a four-five year period
    4 states have no tenure period

    I think if California passes a longer tenure period, the judge’s specific objection here falls away.

  • steve

    PD- Just to be clear, I think 2 years until tenure is incredibly stupid. About 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first 5 years. If you are setting tenure at 2 years you are inevitably keeping some people that were probably going to leave. Still, I am surprised that he decided to do away with tenure in whole as opposed to directing a change. OTOH IANAL so maybe he had to decide that way. (Sorry about the union/tenure confusion. Got home in the wee hours of the morning.)


  • jan

    “There are too many bad teachers that administrators are unwilling to deal with. They just move them around.”

    Government schools, like any government job, insulates their people from accountability. Like you said, instead of getting fired for moral, ethical or professional incompetence, they become musical chairs, and are simply repositioned into another job. Even firing a teacher for child abuse is difficult. The only infraction that might pass the PC test is if a teacher was associated with a gun. Then he/she would be fired instantly.

    “One of the judge’s main points is that California has a short tenure period of two years, but because a teacher must be formally notified months before the two years is completed, it’s actually less.”

    The tenure is incredible to me, in how one can be assured of a lifelong job with such a short probation period. When you add in the fact that teachers then receive 90% of their highest paid salery, as a departing pension, it makes one wonder where the money is going to come from, in the near future. Of course, higher taxes, the elixir for all spending explosions!

  • michael reynolds


    Mark this day on your calendar: we agree.

    2 years is absurd. And by what right are teachers exempted from the uncertainty all employees share? From the burger cook to the accountant to the CEO to the House majority leader, anyone who draws a paycheck can be fired.

  • Andy

    The seniority and tenure systems are perverse and broken and cannot last for long. If this court decision sticks, it could do much to save unions from themselves.

  • jan

    Wow! A consensus for sanity!

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