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California Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional
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California Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional

Higher Ed

California Teacher Tenure Ruled Unconstitutional
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Teacher tenure laws and seniority policies undermine the rights of students in California to get a good education - that was the ruling today from a Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles, and it was a big blow for public school teachers and their unions. The judge ruled that policies for how teachers are hired and dismissed are unconstitutional. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: The plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argue that the tenure system for public school teachers in California verges on the absurd. In his closing argument a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Marcellus McRae, noted that some were granted tenure before they even complete their two-year teacher credential program.

MARCELLUS MCRAE: That's like telling somebody we're going to go ahead and let you get out on the highway and endanger everybody else's lives for about two months, and then we're going to tell you that you failed your driver's test. What kind of sense does that make? It makes no sense.

WESTERVELT: McRae and other lawyers argued successfully that the dysfunction in California's tenure and dismissal system is so bad it undermines student achievement and educational equity, and therefore, violates the state constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Today, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed. He wrote that the plaintiffs show that the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education. And he added, they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.

He said the evidence shocks the conscience, noting one study which showed that one year and one class with a grossly ineffective teacher cost students nearly one and a half million dollars in lifetime earnings. If the state loses on appeal, it would be up to the California Legislature to replace the overturn statutes.

The nonprofit group that brought the case, Students Matter, was founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and charter school advocate David Welch. Today, Welch challenged the defendants to join together to offer real solutions for our education system. But the California Teachers Association and its parent union, the NEA, called the ruling deeply flawed. They vowed to appeal. Frank Wells is with the CTA.

FRANK WELLS: It's a strongly worded ruling, but it's not supported by a strong body of evidence. This is another example of the blame teachers first approach to solving complex education problems.

WESTERVELT: The unions argue the lawsuit unfairly blames teachers for education inequities resulting from poverty, economic inequality and racial segregation. The group, Students Matter, meantime says it will look to file similar lawsuits in other states.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, San Francisco.

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