Published January 26, 2014
Amidst ongoing national debate, nine public school students in California are suing the state over its laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and other protections they say keep bad educators in the classroom.
The Los Angeles Times reports the lawsuit – filed on behalf of the students and their families by a group called Students Matter – argues such laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because they lead to a “gross disparity,” in the quality of education received by all students.
"It is virtually impossible to get (bad teachers) out of the system," said Theodore J. Boutrous, who is joined on the plaintiffs’ legal team by Theodore B. Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general who argued Bush v. Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2000 presidential election.
Meanwhile, both teachers unions and the state are gearing up to meet the legal challenge, head-on.
"If you give teachers resources and appropriate class sizes, principals and superintendents that support them — they will be successful in increasing student achievement," Jim Finberg, an attorney representing the California Teachers Association, told the Times.
"California teachers care deeply about students and welcome a policy debate on how best to improve California schools. But that debate should be in the Legislature, not in a courtroom."
And the California Department of Education reportedly added in a statement: “There is nothing in the law that prevents districts from making sure unqualified or unsuitable teachers don't become permanent, just as there is nothing that prevents them from removing teachers from the classroom when necessary. In fact, as the evidence will show, it's quite the opposite."
The non-jury trial -- scheduled to begin Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court and expected to continue into March -- is the latest in a growing list of nationwide challenges to union-backed protections for teachers.
According to a 2012 analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, no state in 2009 required student performance to be central to whether a teacher is awarded tenure; while at least eight states now do.
And policies and legislation recently enacted in Florida, Rhode Island, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Indiana and Michigan – among others – address, in some way, the issue at stake in California.
"The job of the court is to make sure the laws don't hurt kids," added Marcellus McRae, another attorney for the plaintiffs, according to the Times.