Arguments began in Los Angeles on Monday in a lawsuit that, on the surface, appears to have little to do with teacher unionism but only with a disagreement over some hiring and firing rules in California. The plaintiffs in the case complain that tenure is granted prematurely, that firing incompetent teachers takes too long and costs too much, and that when there’s a downsizing move, the newest teachers get the ax. In fact, the lawsuit initially was aimed at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and only when the teachers’ unions realized what was really at stake did they ask to join the lawsuit as defendants.
The plaintiffs in the case, Vergara v. California, are a group of nine students aged 9 to 17 and their parents, who call themselves Students Matter and who are backed and funded by the group's founder, David Welch. Welch is a successful engineer and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, making fiber optic network equipment, and he has children in the public schools. When he discovered that bad teachers were being given tenure, which made it then nearly impossible to fire them, he got interested. When he discovered that during periods of downsizing teachers were let go through “reverse seniority” — “last in, first out” — instead of capability, he got incensed. When he learned that such union rules were destroying California’s once highly regarded public schools, he got out his checkbook.
When it comes to educating the leaders and innovators of tomorrow … California ranks behind almost every other state in the union. At the fourth grade level, California is 46th in the nation in reading and 45th in math, based on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. At the eighth grade level, the situation is even worse, with California ranking 48th in both subjects.
The state that once was known for having the best public education system in the country is now failing its children. And the sad irony is that California is imposing this tragedy on itself by failing to employ the strategies that have made it so successful.
Instead of demanding results and rewarding achievement, California’s education system is tethered to a handful of statutes that refuse to distinguish between good teachers and bad. These laws encourage the retention of seriously underperforming teachers, require schools to tolerate failure among their teaching ranks, and devalue talented teachers.
Put simply, these laws are destroying California’s public education system, demoralizing the teaching profession, and robbing California’s children of their future.
There are five laws in Welch’s crosshairs.
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