The education system in California is being challenged by nine students who say teachers’ tenure violates their rights under the state constitution. The case brought forward by the students, and backed by Students Matter, a research/advocacy group dedicated to the improvement of California’s education system, could radically affect the way education is conducted in the state. Observers say that if the plaintiffs win, the ripple effect could be felt across the country.
The suit comes after the plaintiffs claimed that their right to equal opportunity to access quality education as outlined in California’s state constitution is being directly threatened by ineffective teachers who are protected under tenure.
In a press release, Students Matter said, “Ineffective teachers are entrenched in California’s public school system,” and that the current system only perpetuates bad teachers in already troubled school districts.
The 18-month “trial” period for teachers before they are eligible to receive tenure is far too short, the plaintiffs argue, and is nowhere near the amount of time necessary to assess a teacher’s performance.
Under the current system, when teachers are laid off, those with the least seniority are let go first, instead of those who have poor performance records, a troubling side effect of a bad law, says Students Matter. Because of this, students in California are being compelled to challenge teachers’ tenure.
The California Teachers Association (CTA), a teacher’s union, has come to the defense’s side. CTA Spokesman Frank Wells said in a statement that the 18-month “trial” period is enough time to evaluate a teacher’s competency, and if somehow that isn’t accomplished, more resources may need to be allocated to school officials.
Larry Sand, a retired California teacher of 24 years and president of California Teachers Empowerment Network (CTEN), says that principals under the current law have their hands tied when dealing with ineffective or bad teachers. Sand says,”They know a bad teacher when they see one, and they know a good teacher when they see one, and they’re hamstrung by the rules.”
The battle over how to properly assess teachers is an issue states have been battling with for decades. While some people advocate rating systems based on children’s test scores and improvements in various fields such as reading, math and science, others say that such a system will only drag the teacher’s focus away from educating children, and instead on the security of their jobs.
Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, says it is imperative to place highly effective teachers in the classroom and weed out the ineffective teachers if parents want to improve their children’s critical thinking skills. “Research has shown that inside the school building, nothing matters more than the quality of the teachers,” said Jacobs.
In 2011, a quarter of students in California didn’t graduate high school, with the largest percentage being Hispanic and African American students.
Contrary to the claims by plaintiffs, U.S. News & World Report reported that California has some of the best high schools in the country, with 27.8 percent of them earning “gold and silver” medals awarded in the rankings.
Still, the plaintiffs in the case argue that while California may have some of the best schools, it also has some of the worst schools, and that California students in those areas are having their right to a quality education challenged by teachers’ tenure.
By John Amaruso