California teachers case

Three days ago a California court ruled that California laws addressing tenure for teachers is unconstitutional. We disagree in part.

Laws regarding tenure may be overturned and may be ruled unconstitutional. But for the most part, tenure is not a matter of statute but of contract. Already the ruling by Judge Rolf Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court has generated big ideas from those groups who want to break teachers’ unions, and one can surely expect cases like the California instance to be brought in many states. It’s not a development I welcome at all.

Before i discuss my own opinion, I invite you to read Judge Treu’s. Follow the link below :

Judge Treu is correct that California has handled teacher tenure in a discriminatory way. I applaud him for seeking to undo the harm caused. But the problem, as I see it, is not tenure. the problem is its misapplication. Granted, that tenure by state statute opens the door to misapplication, where tenure by contract negotiation does not.

In Massachusetts, teacher tenure is a contractual covenant. Both the MTA and BTU unions have such a covenant in their collective bargain agreements. as such, the provision is a fairly dealt deal and appropriately implemented. Tenure by contract does not require the imposition of bad teachers on students in the classroom. In boston the contract includes a provision — which Superintendent McDonough is now using — that enables principals hiring autonomy and to slot replaced teachers into other school jobs. this isn’t ideal — it would be more effective simply to terminate incompetent teachers, by buying out their tenure if need be — but it’s not scandalous. Covenants bargained for cannot be pushed aside.

Every time a teacher union contract comes up for negotiation, because the public is the payer, the public gets to opine on what should or cannot be in the new contract. it’s a kind of referendum, that legitimizes the agreement eventually agreed to. call it democracy in action — a good thing.

Tenure by state statute seems less democratic and much harder to administer. Still, there are answers even to tenure by law that fall short of declaring them unconstitutional. The law can be spelled out in state regulations issued thereunder that authorize (1) buyouts of tenured employees not performing to standard (2) a longer period before tenure is granted — in California the period is two years, much too brief (3) a board of monitors to oversee teacher assignment, so that poor and minority school districts do not become dumping grounds for poor teachers.

Life is complex. No part of it more so than public education, an institution vast and heterodox to the max. But : you want to have public education, you learn to live with heterodoxy. it’s not beyond our pay grade.

That California has failed, Judge Treu makes clear. His remedy however seems more like a hasty rant than a wise ruling.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere