The tenure and seniority system that has protected California public school teachers was struck down Tuesday in a court ruling that could ultimately change hiring and firing policies nationwide.

The 16 page court decision ends the process of laying off teachers based soley on when they were hired, strips them of extra job safe guards and eliminates the current tenure process, which guarantees job security to teachers 18 months after they start teaching.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu said that the laws governing job security were unconstitutional because they harmed low-income, minority students by allowing incompetent instructors to teach.

This California court decision sparked a nationwide mandate ruled by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to revise similar law ”laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students”.

The verdict represents a major loss for teacher unions and an undiluted victory by the attorneys and families that brought the landmark case on behalf of a well-funded Silicon Valley group.

“This is a sad day for public education,” said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.

No student should suffer from an  ineffective teacher, “but in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, Treu strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.”

The state’s case was handled by the attorney general’s office and joined by lawyers for the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

In his ruling, Treu reiterated the arguments of the attorneys and the top public officials responsible for California’s education laws.

Treu said that teacher performance should matter if layoffs became necessary. When a high-quality teacher who is less experienced is laid off instead of a lesser-quality teacher who is more experienced, there is a classroom disruption that impacts the students as well as the teachers.

It’s a “lose-lose situation” that “is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable,” Treu said.

The fair evaluation of teachers has been a topic of dispute for years. Treu believes that teachers can be fairly evaluated through statistical analysis of student test scores. He backed up his claim with a testimony quantifying how many months of learning a student can lose by simply having an ineffective teacher.

He also noted that an ineffective teacher costs a class $1.4 million in lifetime earnings.

Treu confirmed that one defense witness testified that 1% to 3% of teachers in California are ineffective, which means that there are 2,750 to 8,250 poor-performing teachers.

For Treu, this was evidence of a constitutional violation. He refused to accept that by making it easier to purge ineffective teachers, there would be negative consequences, such as detracting from recruiting and retaining top talent.

Theodore Boutrous, a partner at firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher agreed with Judge Treu’s legal analysis of the matter.

“Whatever happens, we can’t go backward,” co-counsel Marcellus McRae said. He went on to say that the days of defending the status quo were over and that it was time to re-create a new system that focuses on the student’s best interest.

This California case quickly set an example on school reform theories that raised the standards in multiple other states, making the students’ education the top priority.

Attorney Adam Clayton discusses this topic further:


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