California teacher tenure laws were struck down Tuesday by a judge who said that they violate students' right to a quality education.
It was an "historic day," John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, told The Washington Post
"We can rectify a catastrophe. We can and will and must assure that children have the most effective teachers in their classrooms every day. Not some children, not most children, not even nearly all children. But all children."
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Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled in favor the plaintiffs, a group of students backed by technology magnate David Welch, saying the tenure laws were so egregious "it shocks the conscience."
In the decision he wrote that the existing laws kept bad teachers from being fired, who are then typically assigned to the poorest and lowest-performing schools in their respective district. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and low achievement in those schools.
In the 16-page ruling for Vergara v. California, Treu wrote that, "Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students."
The ruling strikes down three laws in particular. One grants tenure to teachers after a mere two years on the job, one requires layoffs be made in accordance with seniority, and one calls for what Treu called "uber due process," a lengthy, bureaucracy-stricken process that makes it extremely difficult to fire ineffective teachers.
The Wall Street Journal reported
that over the past decade, a scant 91 teachers have been fired in California, "and only 19 for unsatisfactory performance." According to one state witness in the case, there are at the very least 2,750 grossly ineffective teachers.
This means that, "Fewer than 0.002 percent of California teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or poor performance in any given year compared to 1 percent of other California public employees and 8 percent of workers in the private economy."
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Michelle A. Rhee, the former Washington D.C. schools chancellor who got rid of tenure in 2009, backed the decision.
Both the plaintiffs and the defendants, California teachers' unions, agreed that the decision sets a precedent regarding tenure in other states.
"This is going to be the beginning of a series of these lawsuits that could fix many of the problems in education systems nationwide. We’re going to roll them out to other jurisdictions," said the plaintiffs' attorney Theodore Boutrous, who was joined by former U.S. solicitor general Ted Olson. The pair are fresh of their Supreme Court victory overturning California's Prop 8, which barred same-sex marriages.
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