The landmark court decision striking down state teacher tenure laws was not anti-union or anti-teacher, but “pro student,” the attorney who led the legal team representing the student plaintiffs told the California Chamber Board of Directors last week.
Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., lead co-counsel for the nine California public school student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, briefed the CalChamber Board at its September 5 quarterly meeting.
Boutrous pointed out that the California Constitution “protects the fundamental right of students to a quality education.”
Teacher tenure laws, including the statute requiring layoff decisions to be made on the basis of seniority, are violating students’ right to equality of education, Boutrous said.
Referring to the tenure laws, he said, “No organization in the world would ever apply these principles because they are nonsensical and absurd.”
Key evidence cited by the judge in the Vergara decision was a study by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty, who made use of a New York data base of 2 million students, along with tax records of students and parents (anonymous) and 18 million test results.
The study found that a year in a classroom with one grossly ineffective teacher cost students in that class $1.4 million in lifetime earnings.
Chetty testified in court that having a highly effective teacher significantly improves children’s outcomes.
Among the personal stories revealed in court testimony was the case of a Sacramento teacher, who was named teacher of the year in Sacramento County, but received a layoff notice eight months later because of her junior teacher status.
A Sacramento school superintendent told of how a teacher who impressed him so much he was happy to enroll his son in her first grade class was laid off, and he had no choice but to approve the layoff because of the tenure rules. “A system that treats its best teachers this way…is broken,” he told the court.
Harm to Students
Looking at the effects of the teacher tenure law, Boutrous said, it was clear that kids are getting unequal education.
Students in minority and low-income school districts were disproportionately affected, as those districts were more likely to have grossly ineffective teachers in the classroom and less senior teachers who would be the first to be laid off when a district encountered budget difficulties.
In his June 10 ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu agreed with the student plaintiffs that five provisions of the state Education Code relating to tenure and dismissal of public school teachers are unconstitutional. The impact of grossly ineffective teachers on students “shocks the conscience,” he wrote.
The ruling was finalized on August 28. The next day, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed the appeal of the decision for Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
Information about the case, including videos of testimony and updates on related news, appears on the website for Students Matter, the nonprofit organization that assisted with the lawsuit, studentsmatter.org.