Someone Is Suing the Schools over Teacher Tenure

Posted on 28 January 2014

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By Duane Campbell

Linda Deutsch of The Associated Press reported on January 26 in the Sacramento Bee that nine public school students are suing the state over laws on teacher tenure and seniority, which really means that the usual anti-union corporate machine has launched a new front in the war on teachers.

These students (or their parents) want to invalidate a series of current laws which protect teachers from political interference. Their campaign foci just happen to coincide with campaigns of a variety of the usual corporate suspects: Michellle Rhee, the Waltons, Students First, Democrats for Educational Reform, and other well financed political action committees.

As we learned in the campaign against bi-lingual education, Proposition 227 in 1996, parent and student front groups can provide an effective campaign strategy. It will be difficult to get past the framing of the AP article to address real issues.

For example, one of the parents is listed as saying that her child did not learn to read until third grade. This is something we would all be concerned about, but it is not clearly connected to teacher tenure and seniority.

More likely, the child was disadvantaged by California’s over crowded classrooms, and the budget cuts of the recent economic crisis. Or it may have been that the child did not respond well to the tightly organized scripted reading lessons now required in most classrooms. Reading resource teachers prepared to assist children falling behind were eliminated from most California classrooms in a long series of budget cuts.

The AP article says that parents argue that school failure was created because teachers can’t be fired - they are protected by tenure. Not true. Teachers can be dismissed for cause after being given due process hearings. It does require administrative time to document and to act upon unprofessional behavior. In many districts (not all) the administrators do not have the time and the resources to evaluate teachers and to document failure. Or they chose to use their limited time and resources on other issues, such as heating classrooms, repairing broken windows, and breaking up gang fights.

There are real problems in schools and they should be addressed. There are many available ways to improve schools and student achievement. Among them are:

  • Adequately fund the schools.
  • Reduce class sizes.
  • Provide reading specialists, counselors, librarians.
  • Fund district programs to supplement district actions against poor quality teaching.
  • End the defacto segregation of our schools by economic class.

These, and other school improvement strategies are available. An assault on teacher tenure is instead a divisive attack on teacher integrity and professionalism.

Why do you suppose these parents recruited their children to use the process least likely to succeed in improving school experiences?

This article was originally published at Choosing Democracy.