State Supreme Court upholds California teacher tenure law


By DanMcMenamin | Bay City News Service

The California Supreme Court on Monday, Aug. 22, upheld the state's laws on public-school teacher tenure after a lower court found them to be unconstitutional.

The state's high court denied a petition for review of a three-judge Court of Appeal panel's decision in April to overturn the 2014 ruling by a trial judge in Los Angeles that the laws on teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority were unconstitutional.

The five laws challenged in the case were a statute that gives teachers permanent tenure after two years, three laws that provide procedural protections to teachers whom school districts are seeking to dismiss for incompetence, and one law requiring layoffs to be in the order of least seniority.

The appeals court had said attorneys for the nine students who challenged the laws hadn't proved that the laws themselves, as opposed to other factors, caused any particular group of students to receive incompetent teachers or violated the constitutional right to equal treatment.

The appeals court's ruling said ultimately it was school district administrators, not the statutes, that determined where teachers were assigned.

The ruling overturned a decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rold Treu, who wrote that the laws had a "real and appreciable impact on students' right to an equal education" and disproportionately affected low-income and minority students.

The nine students' lawsuit, Vergara v. State of California was filed against state officials in 2012. It was sponsored by the Menlo Park-based group Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.

The group wrote on Twitter following the state Supreme Court decision: "The issues at the heart of #Vergara are not going away. #CASupremeCourt's decision falls short of the change CA students & teachers deserve."

The Burlingame-based California Teachers Association and Burbank-based California Federation of Teachers were allowed to join the case as parties defending the laws, which the unions said encourage veteran teachers to stay in the profession and young people to join it.

Two state Supreme Court judges wrote dissenting statements against the seven-judge court's decision to deny the petition for review.

"There is considerable evidence in the record to support the trial court's conclusion that the hiring and retention of a substantial number of grossly ineffective teachers in California public schools have an appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to education," Justice Goodwin Liu wrote.

"We owe the plaintiffs in this case, as well as schoolchildren throughout California, our transparent and reasoned judgment on whether the challenged statutes deprive a significant subset of students of their fundamental right to education and violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws," Liu wrote.

Related content:

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47 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:16 am

This is a real blow to public school students in California. While there are plenty of really great teachers in the state, there is no way to rid the system of the bad and under performing. The Teachers Union wins again, students lose and the first thing the union does after the decision is come out with a statement blaming under funding as the cause of our failed state school system. As usual, they want more money thrown at them so they can find creative ways to waste it without being held accountable for performance results.

37 people like this
Posted by Horrible
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:42 am

Teachers' unions are horrible. They are all about more money, job security, and less accountability for teachers. Students are the very last thing the unions care about. And may be not even the last thing.

Teachers' unions suck.

22 people like this
Posted by Former teacher weighing in.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 23, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Former teacher weighing in. is a registered user.

It takes a new teacher about two-plus years to get his/her lesson plans developed and to get in tot he swing of teaching. Two years is too short. A more nuanced decision was needed.

Tenured and seniority teachers get too much protection. It's not a question of whether or not to protect (We understand the politics and job insecurity associated with pubic agencies.), but how much protection and what kind is useful? At what point are we protecting really bad teachers and damaging the learning environment that good teachers, children, and our society want and need?

12 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Marie is a registered user.

The answer is to ask our legislators in Sacramento to modify the law on tenure to allow schools 3-4 years to make a determination and to change the laws to make it easier to fire poor performing teachers. It is unrealistic to expect all social changes from the judiciary.

28 people like this
Posted by Bad News
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Bad News is a registered user.

This is awful. When my son was at Paly, there was an obviously burned out English teacher whose actions generated many, many complaints.

The counsellors, deans, principal, even the superintendent admitted there was absolutely nothing to be done about this teacher because she was tenured. Other teachers commiserated with students and parents, fully aware of how bad and unkind she was.

Students and staff had to tolerate this teacher until she finally retired recently!

15 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm

@Marie....Wishful thinking, but the democrat controlled legislature is in the pocket of the Teachers Union. They spend millions every election cycle to keep the progressives in office. You'll never see reform as long as Sacramento stays the way it is.

27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Something has to be done about the rotten teachers. Sometimes a teacher is rotten from the beginning and obviously won't get tenure. Sometimes a teacher is borderline and still gets tenure. More often as an individual teacher ages their ability to perform at a satisfactory level changes. For many teachers they have to do a lot more preparation and administrative type work as well as classroom teaching, and these added responsibilities as well as their aging process as well as their family situations often mean a previously good teacher is no longer performing well.

We have had experience with several teachers in all of these categories. If a teacher is no longer able to perform well, something should be done to get them out of the classroom where they are preventing many children from learning. I just can't understand why the powers that be can't see this and won't acknowledge it.

Older drivers have to be retested. Various other professions have to have their abilities or licenses updated every so number of years. Why can't teachers have to do the same?

4 people like this
Posted by Rabble Rabble
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2016 at 8:57 am

But what if everything you thought you knew about teachers unions was wrong? Because, you know, actual data as opposed to a lot of pontificating....

Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Unrabble babble
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2016 at 2:54 pm

What is everything you thought you knew about teachers unions was right? Because, you know, the paper is written by a tenured educator and you can find a paper to support, you know, any garbage theory...

5 people like this
Posted by Rabble Rabble
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2016 at 7:47 pm

@Unrabble babble: Nice ad hominem attack. There is real data here, over 50 pages of it, very well researched and supported. Hardly what you could call a "garbage theory", unless you have nothing else to add to the conversation.

3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:05 pm

"Hardly what you could call a "garbage theory", unless you have nothing else to add to the conversation."

Look, he/she don't cotton to that point of view. Therefore it cannot be valid, so why waste time learning about it. Done!

5 people like this
Posted by Not worth the sacrifice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:40 pm

I didn't cotton to it neither.
... and what does ad hominem mean ?

Reminds me of the time my son got caught smoking dope.
He said he'd "done research on the internet" and provided all kinds of links to "papers" by "authoritative sources" that proved that Pot was good for you. Is it ?

9 people like this
Posted by BrokenSystem
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 25, 2016 at 4:30 am

Rabble babble, bibble dribble: okay, your 50 page paper tested something semi obvious and largely irrelevant: YES, union protections cause schools to select better candidates during the probationary period ONLY.

It is not surprising - if you're making a long term decision, many schools will put more effort up front in the decision.

That's all it concludes. Not much.

Does it mean those teachers are managed after probation? NO.

Does it mean their performance stays high long term? NO

Does it mean students have better outcomes? NO

In fact the paper is so narrowly defined that it is hard to claim much other than unions cost more, and protections increase the decision attention at the end of tenure.

But tenure in CA is so short that there is little or no data to actually make it upon. Ten years into a bad teacher still leaves districts with a problem. And those problems are borne on the backs of children. It is cruel.

There is a knock-on effect of tenure: districts invest little in the training and development of skilled management. Why bother - there is little to manage once you take employees out of the scope of management. With little to do other than manage facilities and student issues, principals and above grow no skills on coaching, improving, and leaning on staff to up their game.

In private industry a first level manager and second level director do this aggressively. Best practices are aggressively pursued and the quality of work is maintained regardless what worker is assigned. Quality goes UP over time, not down. Issues with performance are addresses sooner than never, accountability is higher.

Training is higher quality and organizations are experimented until something optimal is found. These help support individual shortcomings. A team is assembled and managed where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Workers move to their area of competence and others team members cover with complementary skills and interests.

Best practices and methodology are experimented carefully, refined quickly, and promoted broadly. Customer feedback is pursued and acted upon, (not shunned and ignored)

Good management creates a much better environment for success.

And none of that happens in a school.

Because tenure allows workers to ignore their boss, resist change, resist best practices, ignore accountability for poor behavior and bad outcomes.

A five minute conversation with a principal and a private sector manager shows that the principal does none of these most basic management tasks - rather the precanned litany of excuses comes out. Usually well rehearsed. It is doubtful they even have a vague grasp of these skills and understand the need for the role that they do not fulfill. Teaching could be so much better, but isn't.

There is simply no management of schools.

Because they are unmanageable.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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