US teacher tenure ruled unconstitutional

June 11th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that tenure, seniority and other job protections for have created unequal conditions in public schools and deprive poor children of the best teachers.

We don’t have formal tenure here, but it is near impossible here to sack a teacher purely because they are ineffective at teaching.

In a 16-page ruling, in the case of Vergara v. California, Treu struck down three state laws as unconstitutional. The laws grant tenure to teachers after two years, require layoffs by seniority, and call for a complex and lengthy process before a teacher can be fired.

David F. Welch, founder of an optical telecommunications manufacturing firm, charged that job protections allow the state’s worst educators to continue teaching and that those ineffective teachers are concentrated in high-poverty, minority schools, amounting to a civil rights violation.

And the court agreed.

The ruling was a setback for the labor unions, which represent about 400,000 educators in California and whose core mission is to protect teachers’ jobs.

Which is fine, so long as you understand that is their core mission.

In states such as California, there are so many legal and procedural hurdles before a tenured teacher can be fired, they say, that it’s difficult to shed even the worst teachers.

Sounds familiar.

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19 Responses to “US teacher tenure ruled unconstitutional”

  1. mikenmild (10,600 comments) says:

    But do you have any actual evidence that there is difficulty in removing ineffective teachers here?

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  2. nickb (3,658 comments) says:

    it is near impossible here to sack a teacher purely because they are ineffective at teaching.

    It is near impossible to sack any employee purely because they are ineffective at their job. 6 years of National government and the large skew in employment relations rights towards employees still exists.

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  3. slightlyrighty (2,496 comments) says:

    There are places in the US where tenured teachers go to sit and do nothing while they collect a salary, having been sent there because they are useless at teaching, or have been accused of misconduct.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/2009/06/23/700-nyc-teachers-are-paid-to-do-nothing/

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  4. Bob R (1,332 comments) says:

    ***David F. Welch, founder of an optical telecommunications manufacturing firm, charged that job protections allow the state’s worst educators to continue teaching and that those ineffective teachers are concentrated in high-poverty, minority schools, amounting to a civil rights violation.***

    Haha, maybe Mr Welch can go and teach in those schools? No teacher in their right mind would teach at an inner city school in the US.

    http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/i-have-ptsd-from-teaching-at-an-inner-city-school

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  5. Graeme Edgeler (3,262 comments) says:

    US teacher tenure ruled unconstitutional

    California teach tenure rules unconstitutional meaning in violation of the California State Constitution, I assume (not the US Constitution)?

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  6. kowtow (7,581 comments) says:

    Interesting dilemma .

    A choice between protecting union rights or perceived wrongs to “the poor”.Either way the system is complelty fucked up.And so is having the courts involved in social activism.

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  7. Bill Courtney (139 comments) says:

    DPF: “but it is near impossible here to sack a teacher purely because they are ineffective at teaching.”

    Rubbish statement and completely devoid of any substantive proof.

    What in practice happens is that many teachers who enter into the various Competency Processes, set out clearly in the respective collective agreements, resign or “retire” before the process reaches its natural conclusion. In this case, the BoT must report that fact to the NZ Teachers Council, under the mandatory reporting requirements in Schedule 6 (I think) of the Education Act.

    But there are no stats kept that I know of that reveal how many teachers leave the profession through that route very year. I wish the NZTC did collect these stats and publish them so that completely uninformed commentators such as David Farrar did not make such silly statements.

    The following link on the PPTA site gives an insight into the Competency process:
    http://ppta.org.nz/index.php/resources/publication-list/1039-teacher-competence-review?showall=1

    As for the Vergara decision, I am reading several of the breaking blog stories on it now and may comment later. But it is the height of foolishness to believe that all the incompetent teachers somehow gather in the poor neighbourhood schools. In practice, these are the toughest places to teach. Do you really think that anyone who was really incompetent would try and hide there? Seriously??

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  8. Allyson (41 comments) says:

    How many teachers in NZ have been replaced because they are not very good at teaching?

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  9. Rightandleft (627 comments) says:

    Teachers in the US are unusual in the level of protection they have for their jobs. Most American workers live in a fire at will environment well beyond the first 90 days, generally in perpetuity. In NZ it is much harder to fire employees in pretty much any industry and teachers don’t have an especially high level of protection compared to other public servants like nurses or police. A teacher can be put on competence for a single complaint or even just having the principal walk past their room and think it seems their class is out of control. And the unions certainly don’t fight tooth and nail to save every incompetent teacher, they simply don’t have the resources to waste on that. But of course they provide representation, advice and support to teachers in strife. They are paying members and there is a demand in the market for such a service, which the union is filling. Nothing wrong with that.

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  10. tas (589 comments) says:

    I agree with the outcome. However, this is an issue for the executive/legislative branch of government, not the judicial branch.

    It’s laughable frankly that the court ruled that the constitution dictates the employment arrangements for teachers. I’d like to see constitutional courts deliver verdicts of the form “this is not a constitutional issue” more often, rather than getting mixed into contemporary politics.

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  11. davidp (3,540 comments) says:

    Bill Courtney>But it is the height of foolishness to believe that all the incompetent teachers somehow gather in the poor neighbourhood schools. In practice, these are the toughest places to teach. Do you really think that anyone who was really incompetent would try and hide there? Seriously??

    My understanding of the US system is that schools have an allocation of teachers in each seniority grade. The best schools attract the best teachers in each grade, because they’d rather teach in a good school rather than a difficult or bad school. The bad schools end up having to take what is left. The obvious way to fix this problem would be to allow bad schools to pay more to attract the best teachers, and for governments to allow for this in their budgets. But they can’t… seniority, unions, and salary grades take care of that.

    >Seriously??

    Are you seriously suggesting that if a great teacher had a choice of working at a good school or a dump of an inner-city school for the same union-mandated salary, then they’d actually pick the bad school?

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  12. Rightandleft (627 comments) says:

    davidp,

    Actually yes, I do know excellent teachers who actively choose to teach in the toughest, poorest schools. You talk about salary sweeteners and in fact we do use those in NZ for hard to staff areas of the country and subjects. But the kind of person who becomes an excellent teacher is very often motivated by something other than the money. They are often looking to ‘make a difference’ or face a challenge. Now some of them get to those schools and realise the challenge is more than they could handle and quickly move on. But others choose to stay and see it as more fulfilling than teaching in a high decile school. I haven’t personally taught in a low-decile school but the people I know who work in those schools are the most dedicated teachers I’ve met.

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  13. georgebolwing (602 comments) says:

    I’m waiting for Red to tel us that this is a Marxist/progressive conspiracy, but from a quick look at the decision, the California Constitution requires (a) equal protection of laws and (b) the state to promote learning and (c) the state to provide a free school in every district. Given this, and the US federal supreme court ruling in Brown v. the Board of education that “separate but equal” is unconstitutional, it wasn’t going to take long for someone to ask the courts to rule that the state has a duty to provide the same quality of education everywhere. It was also probably not going to be hard to show that schools in poor/black areas where more likely to have less effective management than school in rich white areas, if only because rich white folks are less tolerant of poor management than poor black folks.

    Putting this all together, striking down laws that allow schools in poor black areas to continue to be badly managed isn’t surprising.

    I also can’t resist pointing out that this is what happens when you have a written bill of rights and court that think liberty is important.

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  14. David Farrar (1,853 comments) says:

    I have spoken to many board of trustee members and employment lawyers. They all say that sacking a teacher for poor performance just does not happen as you can’t do it.

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  15. bondi (4 comments) says:

    @DPF. Board members aren’t supposed to be able to fire teachers directly, they manage the principal. I can imagine some board members ruing that :) What were these legal impediments your lawyer friends identified?

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  16. kiwigunner (213 comments) says:

    This is utter bullshit. The procedure for dealing with teachers who aren’t up to scratch is quite clear and simple. There are requirements to provide advice and guidance initially (which seems fair to me) but if this does not lead to improvements then the door is easily opened. It is true that sometimes principals and boards struggle wit this role (sacking anyone is tough in any job) but it happens often enough. Twice in the last seven years at my small school. Truth is everyone else on the staff is happy when the strugglers go – teaching is a full on job and covering for others adds to this. And though it seems not many of the posters here would believe it almost all teachers want what is best for the children in front of them and their parents and the communities that they work for. Not to mention that having poor performing teachers on the staff is time consuming and stressful work.

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  17. cha (3,779 comments) says:

    They all say

    Yay, anecdata….

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  18. Anthony (766 comments) says:

    There are plenty of examples of some schools doing really well in low socioeconomic areas when they have good teachers as yes some teachers do like the challenge. The trouble is that these are exceptions which shows that plenty of poor to mediocre teachers do end up in low socioeconomic areas.

    Anyone who’s been thru the state school system or had kids go thru it knows there are plenty of good teachers but also plenty of useless ones who might have their heart in the right place but just don’t have what it takes – or are just aren’t that bright. These sorts of teachers who are not totally incompetent but not very good can hang around forever and a day! All teachers should be on probation for the first year and then on three or five year contracts.

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  19. mikenmild (10,600 comments) says:

    An article pointing out problems with the court decision:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2014/06/judge_strikes_down_california_s_teacher_tenure_laws_a_made_up_statistic.html

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