Protecting Teachers and Students in California

A ruling handed down by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu this week is notable for several reasons. Treu ruled that teacher tenure laws as well as “last in, first out” rules that govern layoffs violated the California constitution, which (like the constitutions of all 50 states) guarantees the right to an education.

Judge Treu wrote that “All sides … agree that competent teachers are a critical … component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience. There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

While teacher tenure laws are meant to give teachers job stability and long-term security, Treu found that they are unfair both to students and competent teachers. The time period used (often as short as 18 months) is too short to evaluate a teacher’s competence. Students may thus get stuck with an incompetent teacher who is tenured, and conversely, teachers may fail to gain tenure because they could not be fairly evaluated. Treu likewise wrote that the logic behind “last in, first out” was “unfathomable, and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.”

The ruling was praised by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said that there needs to be a “collaborative process” to address each party’s concerns, and called for that process to take place across the country as well.

The organization behind the suit, “Students Matter,” has said that they intend to sue in other states as well.

The ruling is a breath of fresh air and can ultimately shift the paradigm of education and how we see it in this country. Teachers must have rights, and the best and most effective among them should be rewarded and encouraged to continue in their capacity as educators. Teacher tenure is supposed to reward good teachers, and layoff rules are supposed to protect teachers who might be closer to the end of their careers.

But not at the students’ expense.