Public school students with highly ineffective teachers are impaired for life, a lawyer leading a challenge to California’s tenure laws told a state judge as a two-month trial concludes.
"Education is the gateway to success," Ted Boutrous Jr. said in his closing statement Thursday in Los Angeles, asking Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu to strike down five state laws in what the attorney has described as the broadest legal challenge ever undertaken to laws that protect teachers from being fired after a probation period when they are first hired.
A group of students backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch's nonprofit organization are seeking to void such laws, claiming the statutes give job security to inept teachers and violate children's constitutional right to receive a basic education, especially in poor and minority schools. Welch is the president and co-founder of Sunnyvale, California-based Infinera, a maker of optical networking gear.
Using an expert's estimate that about 3 percent of public school teachers in California are "highly ineffective," Boutrous said that adds up to 8,250 bad teachers in the state teaching 206,250 students every day. The estimated loss in lifetime earnings for those students because of their poor education is $11.6 billion, the lawyer said.
Saying that most teachers in California are hardworking and deserve better pay and benefits, Boutrous argued that California laws are irrational and arduous when it comes to firing bad teachers. At the same time, school administrators have no trouble identifying which teachers perform well and which don't, according to lawyers for the students.
"It's not rocket science," Boutrous said.
Lawyers for the teachers' union and the state of California will give their closing statements later. Treu will decide the outcome without a jury.
Welch's group, Students Matter, sponsored the 2012 lawsuit by parents on behalf of nine students who were as young as seven years old at the time of the filing and enrolled in public schools in Los Angeles, Oakland and other California districts. Los Angeles is home to the biggest public school district in the U.S. after New York City.
Welch, who said in a newspaper commentary last year that "impact litigation" will be a more effective way than politics to bring about change, has joined other business leaders in a nationwide fight with teachers' unions over how to better educate students and prepare them for employment.
Billionaires including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, homebuilding and insurance entrepreneur Eli Broad, and the Walton family that founded Wal-Mart Stores have been pushing for public schools to be run more like businesses. Charter schools, independent of local school districts and typically free of unionized teachers, have been one of their favorite causes.
The students are represented by Boutrous and his firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Boutrous helped Wal-Mart win a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred a nationwide sex- discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 1 million female workers.
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