Wow: California judge strikes down tenure for public-school teachers as violating students’ right to quality education

posted at 4:01 pm on June 10, 2014 by Allahpundit

I’m too much of a pessimist to believe this’ll stand on appeal and too much of a conservative not to be uneasy about constitutionalizing a new element of public policy, but let’s toast to the idea that the welfare of public-school students is more important than job security for public-school teachers.

They’ve been waiting for Superman, and now here he is. Momentous:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education, a decision that hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case that overturns several California laws that govern the way teachers are hired and fired.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”…

The plaintiffs argued that California’s current laws made it impossible to get rid of low-performing and incompetent teachers, who were disproportionately assigned to schools filled with poor students. The result, they insisted, amounted to a violation of students’ constitutional rights to an education.

Campbell Brown wrote a piece for the Daily Beast a few weeks ago that summarizes the case. Nine public-school students sued the state for sticking them with crappy teachers, who, under California law, are eligible for lifetime tenure after just 18 months in the classroom. Once they’ve got tenure, it’s next to impossible to get rid of them — firing them for cause is a long, laborious process, and the longer they’re on the job, the harder it is to lay them off even for budgetary reasons. You know how this story goes. Question for the court: Whose rights trump? The teachers’ rights not to be fired without due process, as due process is defined under the tenure law, or the students’ rights to an education of the same basic quality as all public-school students are supposed to have? (The poorest schools, which tend to have more minority students, also tend to get the worst teachers.) Just to sweeten the pot, the students presented economic evidence that bad teachers can cost them tens of thousands of dollars — potentially more than a million per classroom — in future income by setting back their education.

Held: The students come first. The opinion’s just 16 pages, in case you’re eager to skim, but here’s a key bit from the end:

rt

The right to an equal education stems from California’s state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution, in case you’re wondering whether this decision might make its way up the food chain to the Supremes. The logic is easily replicable, though, by other state courts: So long as your state charter has a right to equal protection, which they all do, and some language suggesting a right to an education, union-drafted statutory bars to dismissing incompetent public-school teachers are in jeopardy. The peril lurking here is that the more you make education policy a creature of constitutional rules rather than statutory ones, the more you shift control over schools (and their budgets) to courts rather than the legislature. E.g., why couldn’t a left-leaning judge seize on this as precedent for requiring equal funding of all schools in California, irrespective of need, in the name of equal protection? On the other hand, the whole point of this decision is to make ossified law like the tenure rules more flexible for administrators, which is basically the opposite of how constitutional rulings tend to work. Instead of freezing a law in place, it’s melting the ice, a la a bankruptcy ruling that liquidates toxic contracts.

A lefty pal flags another part of the opinion:

Right, that’s part of it. Minority students are being burdened with the worst teachers; distribute them more equitably throughout the system and teacher quality will improve in the worst schools even if no one gets fired. But … why distribute them at all? Can them straightaway and bring in better teachers and the system as a whole will improve. Equality is good, more quality is even better.


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Stick with it, then, but I don’t think either of us would suggest police and teachers are viewed and handled the same as non-police or non-teachers in the same system.
 
Caste.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 2:09 PM

Sorry. Left out the quote.
 

simply because you are in the teacher caste?

Your choice of terminology is not the fault of the Internet. You either erred in your choice of words (i.e. “caste”), or you were dishonest in stating that your intent was not to blame or accuse. That term (i.e. “caste”) is incredibly insulting, considering its etymology (as a descriptor of a rigid, hierarchical system
 
Thinking people hopefully recognize that.
 
xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 2:00 PM

 
Stick with it, then, but I don’t think either of us would suggest police and teachers are viewed and handled the same as non-police or non-teachers in the same system.
 
Caste.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 2:11 PM

caste: a division of society based upon differences of wealth, rank, or occupation
 
Right-to-work Mississippi probably agrees, btw
 

State budget: Pay raise included for teachers, others
 
JACKSON – Teachers will get a $1,500 pay raise during the 2014-15 school year and the lower-paid state employees will get a $1,000 salary increase under the budget deal reached between House and Senate budget negotiators…
 
The House and Senate have committed to a multiyear pay raise for teachers. The budget deal includes funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The size of any pay raise past the upcoming fiscal year is still to be negotiated by House and Senate leaders.
 
Frierson said the pay raise for state employees will be designated for those earning less than $30,000 who have not had an increase in four years.
 
http://djournal.com/news/state-budget-pay-raise-included-teachers-others/

 
No word about the raises for non-teachers who make over $30K/year. I’m thinking that would have an influence on retirement payouts, btw.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 2:19 PM

Stick with it, then, but I don’t think either of us would suggest police and teachers are viewed and handled the same as non-police or non-teachers in the same system.

Caste.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 2:11 PM

I’ve already suggested it, because it is indeed the case in my state, though certainly not in every state as they are all different. Thank you, however, for dispensing with the illusion that you’re “not blaming or accusing.” Honesty makes genuine dialogue possible (or in this case, the lack of any pretense upon your part at any attempt at it), as is clear from what follows:

caste: a division of society based upon differences of wealth, rank, or occupation

Ah, the work of the scoundrel…to leave out words and phrases which would otherwise either diminish your ability to defend yourself or lessen your attack upon others. From the full definition at your link, with bolded portions for clarity as to the meaning of caste:

: one of the classes into which the Hindu people of India were traditionally divided

: a division of society based upon differences of wealth, rank, or occupation
Full Definition of CASTE

1
: one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes
2
a : a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race
b : the position conferred by caste standing : prestige
3
: a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion
4
: a specialized form (as the worker of an ant or bee) of a polymorphic social insect that carries out a particular function in the colony

In EVERY definition of caste, excepting of course that involving “polymorphic social insects,” which I hope you would admit teachers are not, you cannot have a “caste” without hereditary social positioning. What you may be searching for is a term such as “union” or, if one goes back to Medieval days, “guild,” in which members of a profession band together in defense of their own interests and, unfortunately in the case of teachers’ unions, often against those of others (such as taxpayers, students, etc.).

Teaching is hardly a “caste” (an insulting way to refer to the profession, and inaccurate) any more than soldiers whose parents were soldiers (or police whose parents were police) are members of a caste.

Good day.

xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 2:38 PM

Ah, the work of the scoundrel…to leave out words and phrases which would otherwise either diminish your ability to defend yourself or lessen your attack upon others. From the full definition at your link, with bolded portions for clarity as to the meaning of caste:
 
xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 2:38 PM

 
Do you react that way to other analogies, or is it just this one and this topic? I bet you’re hell on wheels when someone… ah, crap. Not actual crap, but an expression of… well, not a facial expression, but the way… not… Nevermind.
 
Regardless, I certainly appreciate the ad hominem, but the actual topic is still not debatable. North Carolina agrees:
 

Provides an average 5 percent pay raise to teachers and a flat $1,000 salary increase to state employees.
 
http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/06/10/overview-of-nc-house-budget-proposal/#sthash.NNP7Nu30.dpuf

 
Caste. Sorry you don’t like the word being used to make a comparison.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 3:06 PM

Teachers rated as “effective” or “highly effective” will be eligible for raises between $2,500 and $3,500, but won’t receive them until July 2014 under the budget plan agreed to by lawmakers Sunday night.
 
http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/index.cfm?tid=34

 

With Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, state employees will get a $1,400 or $1,000 annual raise — depending on how much they make now.
 
http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/index.cfm?tid=34

 
Piece of cake.
 
(I’m not suggesting any of us cut a literal cake.)

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Regardless, I certainly appreciate the ad hominem

I can tell you do, since you began tossing ad hominems about while disingenuously claiming you were not. Because Internet. Because whatevs. Because what difference at this point does it make?

Caste. Sorry you don’t like the word being used to make a comparison.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 3:06 PM

The word is fine when used properly. Your uneducated, ill-considered, incorrect use of it, in order to tar all teachers as somehow privileged members of a career which in fact differs tremendously across the nation in terms of the parameters of the profession, however, is not. Keep flailing! We’ll call that “caste” too, broadening its reach from noun to verb! After all, in your lexicon it has a highly malleable meaning!

Teachers rated as “effective” or “highly effective” will be eligible for raises

LOL. You use an example where a small portion of a group of people in the profession are going to be treated differently from others within the same profession while claiming they are all part of the same privileged “caste” of people. Fail.

Use your own dictionary. Try again:

: one of the classes into which the Hindu people of India were traditionally divided

: a division of society based upon differences of wealth, rank, or occupation
Full Definition of CASTE

1
: one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes
2
a : a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race
b : the position conferred by caste standing : prestige
3
: a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion
4
: a specialized form (as the worker of an ant or bee) of a polymorphic social insect that carries out a particular function in the colony

You cannot have a caste without hereditary hierarchical structures. However, I’ll be sure to let my parents know that I’m now a member of a caste. Because you. Because Internet. Because, lol!

xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 3:42 PM

Yikes. Did anyone else get thrown that badly by the word/concept in that context (and with links)?
 
Show of hands?

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Irony alert: Yikes. Did anyone else notice the rhetorical fallacy in that post?

Here is an abbreviated list. Great site, OWL. Ad populum: Appeal to the crowd.

That follows hard on the heels of your use of:

* Faulty analogy. Fail.
* Appeal to authority. Fail. I pointed out how your own link disproved your use of the word.

Carry on then! Because Internet!

xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 4:10 PM

Backing away slowly…

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Seriously, though, I gave links to support my statement, and, while I’m not sorry I know about the topic, I’m sorry the topic is uncomfortable. I was not attacking you personally, and it’s regrettable that the thread turned into a response to what was perceived as such.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 4:17 PM

Seriously, though, I gave links to support my statement

Your links to multiple states differing approaches to the profession of teaching merely proves that this supposed “caste” of yours is in fact anything but a monolithic, hereditary, privileged group.

Your link to the definition of the term clearly shows that a “caste” must incorporate hereditary aspects to be considered such, which is ridiculous on its face as regards teaching in America.

Your appeals to authority, to the crowd, and your faulty analogy are prime examples of disingenuous and fallacious disputation.

I was not attacking you personally

Of course not. You were merely attacking teachers as a whole as members of a hereditary, monolithic,privileged “caste” while simultaneously denying you were casting aspersions upon them, all the while ironically providing proof that teachers are in fact treated quite differently depending upon the state within which they reside, a reality only a lunatic could deny, and I assume you are not a lunatic.

Additional facts pertinent to this discussion of “caste” would include the fact that on the order of 50% of new teachers (again, depending upon the state) quit the career permanently within three years, which gives the lie to your assertion that teachers somehow are privileged “caste” members. A member of a caste cannot by definition leave their caste, because they are born into it, absent leaving the society within which it functions, nor would they leave a privileged position in such massive numbers. They might quit in droves, however, if their profession offered (again, depending upon the state, and even the district and/or particular school) poor pay, poor treatment, unsafe working conditions (on the order of approximately 6% of teachers were the victim of assault at the hands of students in the latest reported year for such stats. The reverse is NOT true) and continual blame from every sector of society for the failure of families to actually create the conditions conducive to success for children.

Glad we understand each other!

xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 4:43 PM

hear, i’ll midspell “teachurs receive prefernchul treatment over other state imployees, hear are sum links” so you can keep winning, okay? I quit. I lose. your the winner.

rogerb on June 11, 2014 at 4:44 PM

That’s the reason nearly 50% of us quit within a few years of beginning our career, after all; the preferential treatment we receive! Thankfully I was born into it.

Because CASTE!

xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 4:55 PM

Nobody is reading this thread any more, but here’s a link which echoes and supports my first point in this thread:

Atlantic: For poor/lousy schools, hiring is as big a challenge as firing.

But here’s where Judge Reulf’s theory is faulty: Getting rid of these bad laws may do little to systemically raise student achievement. For high-poverty schools, hiring is at least as big of a challenge as firing, and the Vergara decision does nothing to make it easier for the most struggling schools to attract or retain the best teacher candidates.

From 2009 to 2011, the federal government offered 1,500 effective teachers in 10 major cities—including Los Angeles—a $20,000 bonus to transfer to an open job at a higher poverty school with lower test scores. In the world of public education, $20,000 is a major financial incentive. All these teachers were already employed by urban districts with diverse student populations; they weren’t scared of working with poor, non-white children. Yet less than a quarter of the eligible teachers chose to apply for the bonuses. Most did not want to teach in the schools that were the most deeply segregated by race and class and faced major pressure to raise test scores.

Principals have known about this problem for ages. In Chicago, economist Brian Jacob found that when the city’s school district made it easier for principals to fire teachers, nearly 40 percent of principals, including many at the worst performing, poorest schools, fired no teachers at all. Why? For one thing, firing a coworker is unpleasant. It takes more than a policy change to overturn the culture of public education, which values collegiality and continuous improvement over swift accountability. That culture is not a wholly bad thing—with so many teachers avoiding the poorest schools, principals have little choice but to work with their existing staffs to help them get better at their jobs.

The lesson here is that California’s tenure policies may be insensible, but they aren’t the only, or even the primary, driver of the teacher-quality gap between the state’s middle-class and low-income schools. The larger problem is that too few of the best teachers are willing to work long-term in the country’s most racially isolated and poorest neighborhoods. There are lots of reasons why, ranging from plain old racism and classism to the higher principal turnover that turns poor schools into chaotic workplaces that mature teachers avoid. The schools with the most poverty are also more likely to focus on standardized test prep, which teachers dislike. Plus, teachers tend to live in middle-class neighborhoods and may not want a long commute.

Educational equality is about more than teacher-seniority rules: It is about making the schools that serve poor children more attractive places for the smartest, most ambitious people to spend their careers. To do that, those schools need excellent, stable principals who inspire confidence in great teachers. They need rich curricula that stimulate both adults and children. And ideally, their student bodies should be more socioeconomically integrated so schools are less overwhelmed by the social challenges of poverty. Of course, all that is a tall policy order; much more difficult, it turns out, than overturning tenure laws.

The decision does not solve the problem.

xNavigator on June 11, 2014 at 9:05 PM

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