Teacher Tenure Laws Struck Down in California

By:  Bob Adelmann
Teacher Tenure Laws Struck Down in California

The one thing the California teachers’ unions wanted to avoid was a full-on public trial which would expose the dark underbelly of the system that for years has protected incompetent teachers with tenure.

The ruling on Tuesday in Vergara v. State of California by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu is their worst nightmare come true: All of the egregious laws protecting incompetents were thrown out

As the evidence in the four-week trial began to mount up, so did the judge’s indignation. At issue were five rules affecting how school administrators managed their teachers: the “permanent employment” statute, three dismissal statutes and the “LIFO” rule ("last in, first out," i.e., the last ones hired were the first ones fired in the event of layoffs). 

The permanent employment statute requires school superintendents to grant or withhold tenure within two years of employment. Treu pointed out, however, that “the California ‘two year’ statute is a misnomer to begin with.” In fact, superintendents have less than 16 months to make that determination and with 275,000 teachers in the system, it’s often easier to grant tenure than to take the time to determine whether tenure should be granted. Wrote the judge:

The Permanent Employment Statute does not provide nearly enough time for an informed decision to be made regarding ... tenure....

As a result, teachers are being [granted tenure] who would not have been had more time been provided for the process....

This court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current Permanent Employment Statute....

[This Court] finds the Permanent Employment statute unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California.  

The judge was equally harsh in his ruling on the dismissal statutes which effectively make it practically impossible for a school superintendent to fire an incompetent teacher once they have been granted tenure. Wrote Treu:

The evidence this Court heard was that it could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more to bring these cases to conclusion under the Dismissal Statutes....

Given these facts, grossly ineffective teachers are being left in the classroom because school officials do not wish to go through the time and expense to investigate and prosecute these cases.

After hearing arguments from the defendants (the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers) that striking down this statute would impair the right to due process of both teachers and the school officials, Treu responded:

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