Bad Tenured Teachers in California Beware as Unions Lose Court Case


We’ve all had good teachers and bad teachers and have wondered how bad teachers continue to hold their jobs. It’s called tenure. Once they reach tenure, it becomes extremely difficult to terminate them.

In April, I reported on a lawsuit filed by nine public school students that challenged the legality of several California laws that protect tenured teachers. Their challenges were against:

  • Permanent Employment Statute: The permanent employment law forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after only 18 months—before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term.
  • Dismissal StatutesThe process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. In the past 10 years in the entire state of California, only 91 teachers have been dismissed, and the vast majority of those dismissals were for egregious conduct. Only 19 dismissals were based, in whole or in part, on unsatisfactory performance.
  • “Last-In, First-Out” Layoff StatuteThe LIFO law reduces teachers to faceless seniority numbers. The LIFO law forces administrators to let go of passionate and motivating newer teachers and keep ineffective teachers instead, just because they have seniority.

Naturally, the teachers unions in California mounted a staunch defense of the tenure laws. They spent thousands of dollars fighting the lawsuit.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled this week that five California laws dealing with the hiring and firing of teachers are unconstitutional. In his decision, Treu wrote:

“This statute contains no exception or waiver based on teacher effectiveness. The last-hired is the statutorily-mandated first-fired on when lay-offs occur. No matter how gifted the junior teacher, and no matter how grossly ineffective the senior teacher, the junior gifted one, who all parties agree is creating a positive atmosphere for his/her students, is separated from them and a senior grossly ineffective one who all parties agree is harming the students entrusted to her/him is left in place. The result is classroom disruption on two fronts, a lose-lose situation. Contrast this to the junior/efficient teacher remaining and a senior/incompetent teacher being removed, a win-win situation, and the point is clear.”

“Distilled to its basics, the State Defenders’/Intervenors’ position requires them to defend the proposition that the stats has a compelling interest in the de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones. The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.” (Pp 13-14)

The ruling by Judge Treu is a huge blow to the powerful teachers unions and a huge victory for students throughout the state of California. Hopefully, similar lawsuits will be filed in every state and tenured teachers will no longer be allowed to sit back and coast on their tenured behinds. They will now be forced to meet a standard or kiss their job goodbye.

This will also encourage younger teachers to work harder to be good and effective teachers so that when the next round of layoffs come, they’ll have a fighting chance to keep their jobs and make a difference in students’ lives.

I’ve long been an advocate of a performance based merit system for teachers which would weed out the poor and ineffective ones and keep the good ones that are making a difference, regardless of seniority or tenure.

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