Teacher Tenure Stands in California, Thanks to CA Supreme Court

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Teachers’ unions in California scored a major victory on Monday after the California Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit that sought to invalidate public school tenure policies on the grounds that the system hurts minority children.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the decision not to hear an appeal in the Vergara vs. California case lets a reversal of a lower court ruling against the unions stand. However, critics of what has been referred to as “teacher tyranny” suggest the California Supreme Court’s decision might very well suggest a path forward to ridding the educational system of such “biased” tenure in the future.

Chief Justice Goodwin H. Liu’s admitted that “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.”

EdSource points out that the lawsuit spelled defeat for Students Matter, a nonprofit organization that sponsored the Vergara lawsuit,  and which argued that the laws harmed poor and minority students who were disproportionately saddled with the state’s worst-performing teachers.

According to UPI, David Welch, who founded and funds Students Matter, said that while he was “disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to not grant review, we are grateful to the courts for shining a much-needed spotlight on these shameful laws and the enormous harm they inflict on thousands of children every year.” He added: “But the fight is not over.”

Two years ago, the Vergara case looked rather more hopeful for school reformers, after L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that evidence of “the effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” EdSources notes that Treu added that the process “affects the stability of the learning process to the detriment of high-poverty and minority students,” and that bad teachers were disproportionately assigned to schools where California’s students in most need were located.

However, that ruling was overturned last year when a three-judge panel from the Second District Court of Appeals in L.A. disputed Treu’s ruling that statutes were to blame.

The Times notes that attorneys who were pursuing the case on behalf of nine students argued that making it easier to fire bad teachers would both improve academic performance and “narrow the achievement gap that often separates white, Asian and wealthier students from their lower-income, black and Latino peers.”

Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who testified on behalf of the Vergara plaintiffs, told the Times, “courts don’t make policy decisions except in extreme cases and California is an extreme case.” He added, “even in the worst case, the courts aren’t stepping up.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz