The phrase “public school teacher” conjures myriad conflicting images and memories, depending on our personal experiences.
We may remember fondly a teacher who inspired us to reach for our goals. Or, we may roll our eyes, thinking of overpaid, underworked public employees who view themselves as untouchable. For this subset, the general complaint is that teachers purchase their jobs, figuratively anyway, after a relatively short probationary period, and they can’t be displaced once they earn tenure.
In June, however, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s teacher-tenure system in a decision that has been widely hailed and criticized.
In Vergara v. State of California, Treu ruled that California laws that protect tenured teachers from dismissal deny students equal protection of the law under the constitution of California. The plaintiffs in the case were a group of California students; the defendants included the state of California and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
According to Treu, several California statutes significantly inhibit the ability of California school departments to dismiss ineffective teachers. The judge found that high-poverty, minority students disproportionately experience this backlog of bad teachers.
The challenged laws “impose real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education” and they violate the state’s constitutional obligation to provide “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education,” the judge decided.
Prior to Treu’s ruling, California’s Permanent Employment Statute required school administrators to decide on tenure for a new teacher after just 18 months – by March 15 of the teacher’s second year. Treu found this time period insufficient to determine whether a newly minted teacher has what it takes to be proficient.