Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Teacher Tenure Ruling: Not as Earthshaking as It Seems?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Teacher Tenure Ruling: Not as Earthshaking as It Seems?

Article excerpt

Many educators are calling Tuesday's court decision - striking down five, key teacher protections as unconstitutional - a historic turning point that will vastly improve American education.

Teachers unions say the decision will result in a revolving door of teachers that will irreparably harm schools, and promise a years long legal fight.

In between, however, a number of experts suggest that the ruling is not as dire or as earthshaking as it is being portrayed. The ruling, which would strike down teacher tenure, for one, would give schools more flexibility in times of layoffs. But the deeper problem is not getting rid of bad teachers, but finding ways to recruit and support the best teachers, some say.

"Both sides are overstating the implications for the positive and the negative," says Gary Painter, an education policy expert at the University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate in Los Angeles. "Getting rid of tenure doesn't get rid of the other protections that teachers have."

The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, was filed by students who claimed that they were being deprived of a good education. They said the state's teacher tenure system, which allows two years for evaluation before a teacher is hired permanently, does not provide sufficient time to weigh a teacher's effectiveness. Many students testified that they had horrible teachers that made them not want to attend class.

Getting rid of the law as it stands now will help, says Professor Painter. During the layoffs of the late 1990s, "a whole bunch of younger teachers, many whom Hispanics and African-Americans really liked, were let go, and older teachers, some who had lost their enthusiasm for the field, were brought in to replace them."

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified during the trial that it can take more than two years on average to fire an incompetent tenured teacher and sometimes as long as 10. The cost of doing so, he said, can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.

But teachers unions suggest that that narrative is misleading. "Something else overlooked in all the claims about how hard it is to get rid of teachers: Most teachers who are asked to leave do so," says Fred Glass, a spokesman for the California Federation of Teachers. …

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