Best Court Ruling Ever? Public School Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional!

I have never understood the idea of teacher tenure. At what other job does someone get to suddenly be free from the need to perform in order to keep one’s job? But at least with colleges and universities students usually have options. They can quit one school and go to another.

But that option is often not practical for families who have their kids in public school. This is especially true because the school is supposed to provide opportunities for all, including for students from poor families. In the public school system, parents have no real choice, usually, about which school their child attends.

A California judge has now ruled that the union rules that protect teachers and make hiring and firing depend solely on the basis of seniority and never on the basis of competence violate the California constitution because they prevent students from getting quality education!

Yes, the ruling will be appealed, but we must take a moment to bask in the triumph of reason. Here’s what I think is appropriate:

From the L. A. Times:

Teachers union officials denounced a ruling Tuesday by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge deeming job protections for teachers in California as unconstitutional as a misguided attack on teachers and students.

The ruling represents a major loss for the unions and a groundbreaking win by attorneys who argued that state laws governing teacher layoffs, tenure and dismissals harm students by making them more likely to suffer from grossly ineffective instruction.

If the preliminary ruling becomes final and is upheld, the effect will be sweeping across California and possibly the nation.

Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled, in effect, that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss those who performed poorly in the classroom. If the ruling stands, California will have to craft new rules for hiring and firing teachers.

What blows my mind about this ruling is that Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, did not jump to the defense of the teachers’ union.

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the decision gives California the opportunity to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects both the rights of teachers and students.

“The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems.”

Just so we understand the situation, the problem was not merely that it was hard to fire grossly incompetent teachers. Any school zone with an active parental involvement and perhaps  with many single-income families where one parent can be involved in the school would never put up with such a bad teacher. Thus, since they could not be fired, those teachers were sent to schools that were less likely to complain about them:

Thus, NBC Los Angeles reported on the decision of Judge Rolf Treu:

In the 16-page ruling, Treu said California laws on the hiring and firing of teachers have resulted in “a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.” He called the evidence in support of the plaintiffs’ claims “compelling” and agreed that a disproportionate share of underperforming teachers are in schools that have mostly minority and low-income students.

I am not sure what we dare hope to happen. The decision will be appealed. And I would prefer that the public simply abandon the public schools rather than fix them in this way. But this is still good news.