July 17 2014
Vicki E. Alger
A bedrock teacher union policy, teacher tenure, is being challenged from coast to coast.
Last month Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu handed down a landmark decision in Vergara v. California. A group of student plaintiffs supported by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur argued that state tenure laws violated the State Constitution, kept bad teachers on the job, and deprived them of a quality education.
New York may be the next state to dump teacher tenure. According to the New York Times:
A lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court on Staten Island argues that the tenure laws violate the State Constitution’s guarantee of a “sound basic education” by making it difficult to fire bad teachers and by protecting the most veteran teachers in the event of layoffs, regardless of their quality. The suit, filed against city and state education officials, names as plaintiffs 11 public school students whose parents belong to a group known as the New York City Parents Union. …
Challenges to teacher tenure laws are moving to the courts since efforts in state legislatures have repeatedly been turned back. Critics of the existing rules say tenure essentially guarantees teachers a job for life. According to the New York suit, only 12 teachers in New York City were fired for poor performance from 1997 to 2007 because of a legally guaranteed hearing process that frequently consumes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. …
In New York, teachers can earn tenure after a three-year probationary period, which city school officials can extend for another year, and often do. That represents one big difference with California, where teachers can win tenure after 18 months, and even before being certified.
Every teacher has a right to fair employment and termination practices. But those rights do not have to come at the expense of students who deserve top quality teachers.