California decision a game-changer


No matter how you look at it, yesterday’s decision by a California Superior Court Judge was a serious blow to teachers, their unions, and their anti-reform allies. In Vergara v. State of California, Justice Rolf Treu ruled in favor of nine parents, saying that the current set of laws that protect teachers discriminates against low-income and minority students. 

The ruling called some of the main tenants of teacher contracts unconstitutional. Nearly automatic tenure, seniority, and multiple appeals before a teacher can be fired have allowed ineffective teachers to remain in the system to the detriment of the students, the judge said.

While the decision wasn’t good for California’s teachers, what does it mean for teachers and their unions in the rest of the country? What will the decision mean for students?

The California ruling was immediately applauded by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The latter is widely viewed as a likely Republican candidate for president in 2016, and he’s a huge supporter of charter schools.

As expected, teachers unions have vowed to appeal the judge’s decision. But some introspective on the part of union leaders would be well-served. For more than a decade, the public has heard of case after case where ineffective teachers languish in mostly urban school districts. In California, supporters of the ruling argued that litigation had to be used to correct that refused to correct itself.

But teachers groups argue that they are overwhelmed by the social ills impacting poor and minority students and their families. Teachers, they say, are being unfairly blamed for decades of bad public policies that have left many of the country’s urban school districts highly segregated and underfunded.

The California ruling, should it stand, will give school administrators the ability to hire and retain whom they believe are the best teachers. It could also be a boost for charter school and pro-school choice advocates, by validating the staffing approach they’ve already been using.

But it will likely be another decade before we know what’s best for students. And it will be interesting to see what has happened to the profession and the country’s once revered traditional public schools.