Following the widely hailed victory over California’s egregious teacher tenure rules in court earlier this month, another group is bringing suit in New York to challenge similar rules. Called the Partnership for Educational Justice, it has enlisted pro bono efforts from Jay Lefkowitz, a skilled and capable litigator with previous victories against teacher unions under his belt.
The lawsuit will challenge laws similar to those which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled to be unconstitutional in California, namely, rules that permit tenure to be granted after just 16 months on the job, rules that make it nearly impossible to fire a teacher who has been granted tenure, and LIFO (last in, first out) rules that terminate teachers during layoffs who were newly hired even if they are competent.
Although the rules in New York aren’t exactly the same (tenure is allowed to be granted after three years, for example), the strategy that worked so well in California will be presented in New York: bringing cases of students who wanted to learn but couldn’t due to incompetent teachers. The Partnership and Lefkowitz had been working on the lawsuit long before the California case was decided.
Its case for reform can be found on its website, claiming,
Only about 3 in 10 students across [New York] scored “proficient” or better on annual reading and math tests.
In two of the state’s largest school districts, fewer than 1 in 10 students passed these tests.
Based on current trends, 1 out of every 4 students statewide — and many as half of all students in the state’s largest districts — won’t be able to graduate from high school on time [or be] prepared for college.
It decried rules that make it nearly impossible to fire a teacher once she has gained tenure, claiming that it can take up to 18 months and cost more than $250,000 to terminate a single poorly performing teacher and replace her with a competent one. It cites the experience in New York City where only 12 teachers out of 75,000 have been replaced over an entire decade: from 1997 to 2007. It said: "Teachers in New York City are more likely to die on the job than be replaced because of poor performance."
The lawsuit will go after the LIFO rules as well that currently make it illegal for school administrators to keep the best teachers during a period of downsizing, calling it a “quality-blind approach” to layoffs that ignores performance and only considers time on the job.
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