NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Tenure: Unconstitutional?

June 13, 2014

A California state judge ruled on Tuesday that granting a teacher tenure after less than two years in a teaching position is unconstitutional under the state's constitution, Bloomberg reports.

California law gives public school teachers lifetime employment after a short period of classroom time and makes firing such teachers expensive and time-consuming. According to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, low-income and minority students are disproportionately stuck with the worst teachers, violating their right to equal education.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, said that the current public education system was failing students: "The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students."

The attorney for the students in the case noted that only 3 percent of public school teachers in California are ranked "highly effective," with 8,250 bad teachers educating 206,250 students every day. According to research, poor teacher performance has a quantifiable impact on those students, resulting in a loss of $11.6 billion in lifetime earnings.

California is one of only five states with tenure periods of two years or less, and it is one of 10 U.S. states that use seniority as the sole factor in determining whether a teacher will be laid off. California defended the constitutionality of the tenure statute, claiming that tenure helps to attract teachers to low-paying jobs and protects them when they teach controversial subjects.

The California Teachers Association criticized the ruling, saying that the case was part of an orchestrated effort to undermine labor unions. Smaller classrooms and more resources, the union said, would do more to improve education.

Source: Edvard Pettersson, "California Teacher Tenure Found to Violate Student Rights," Bloomberg, June 10, 2014.


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