Students and Families Challenge California’s Tenure Laws in Court
February 24, 2014
In mid-January, the California Superior Court in Los Angeles opened the case Vergara v. California, a lawsuit that argues that the state’s tenure policy impedes students’ abilities to achieve an adequate education. In what may become the most monumental decision in California education, students have filed suit against the state’s adherence to a broken tenure system.
Nine students filed the lawsuit, under the claim that “every child everywhere deserves great teachers,” a proposition they believe California does not uphold. According to the plaintiffs, 3 California laws lead to students receiving a mediocre education from teachers who are unqualified, yet immune to the threat of termination based on performance. The plaintiffs hope to convince the court to declare these laws unconstitutional, as they inhibit students’ abilities to receive the education the state says they deserve. The facets of tenure that Vergara v. California focuses on are:
The Permanent Employment Statute, through which administrations can grant teachers job security after only 18 months of teaching, hardly enough time to judge the capabilities of that teacher.
Dismissal Status, which, as it exists, is a costly and inefficient process that discourages schools from removing a teacher, despite his or her inefficacy — it is currently estimated to cost anywhere between $100,000 and $450,000 to remove a tenured teacher in California).
The “Last-In, First-Out” Layoff Statute, which pits young teachers against countless problems, such as a poor economy, that are solved by seniority. The result is that unproven teachers are laid off, while senior teachers remain protected, regardless of job performance.
Recently, as litigation has progressed, the court is nearing a decision, although the ruling is not yet predictable. Last week, the plaintiffs called their final witnesses to the stand. The result of the questioning and cross examination showed tremendous flaws in California’s teacher employment laws. The Vice President and Managing Director for State Policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality, Sandi Jacobs, rated California’s tenure policies as an overall D+ (although if California’s current removal process is any indication, a performance that poor will almost never lead to change).
Despite the well-established and well-documented failures of the state’s tenure laws, declaring the legislation unconstitutional is another question. Not only will it be difficult to show that the laws violate California’s constitution, but this state’s poor tenure laws do not stray far from the national norms. With a case so complex, it may very well be that the court will choose to follow the precedents set by dozens of other states with similar tenure policies.
Still, as the case draws to a close, students, parents, and teachers are all awaiting what could be one of the most monumental changes in educational policy in the state’s history. Regardless of the exact ruling, however, the decision will mark an historical moment for teachers and students across the state.
If you would like to read more on the case, click here.