Based on their court filings and arguments, one cannot escape the lugubrious conclusion that teacher unions defend the indefensible: retention of incompetent teachers; that is, indifference to the best interests of the children.
Item: The Colorado Education Association last week lost a lawsuit in Denver District Court in which it argued that the Colorado legislature cannot change the supposed Constitutional right of a teacher not to be fired.
Now, check this item: The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers lost a lawsuit this week in which they argued the opposite: “Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their professional rights hurts our students and our schools.”
So which is it? Does the state legislative process have, or not have, the authority to make laws governing the dismissal of teachers? Teachers unions want it both ways. One cannot escape the conclusion that teachers unions will argue the issue in any way that’s convenient to their agenda, namely: Incompetent teachers cannot be dismissed. They can only be reassigned.
Item: In California, in the last ten years only 91 teachers in California have been dismissed, and only 19 for unsatisfactory performance, out of a current, yearly census of 280,000 teachers — that is, 0.002% a year, compared to 1% of other California public employees and 8% of workers in the private economy — according to the Wall St. Journal.
Ironically, the Colorado teachers union argues that to deny a teacher a right to a lifetime contract is to deny them their Constitutional rights; yet, it is precisely the failure of the policies of the California teachers unions that denied students their equal rights under the Constitution. Lest that sound far-fetched, here’s the clear-cut Constitutional issue:
The unwillingness of teachers unions to dismiss incompetent teachers means that they must be placed somewhere, and the only schools that will take them are the worst ones. The students in those schools are wholly or preponderantly students from the lower socio-economic strata. Translation: Poor kids get bad teachers and a bad education. Education is not equal. If you live in a good neighborhood, you receive a better education than if you live in a bad neighborhood.
No less than Brown v. the Board of Education was cited by the California judge in striking down the state’s tenure law. That famous Supreme Court decision ruled against “separate but equal” schools in the racial sense. The California court’s message is clear: Separate but equal schools in the teacher-quality sense also violate civil rights under the US Constitution. Unequal — i.e., worse — education, perpetuated by teacher-union policies that preserve the employment of bad teachers, is a civil rights issue of our time. After all, one-eighth of the nation’s students are in the California public school system.
Note the fallacy of the word “tenure” in the public school context. “Tenure” is more widely known as a term that applies to university professors. To receive tenure, a university instructor typically needs to teach for four to ten years and also needs to publish original research, favorably evaluated by peers. Though that sense of tenure is not perfect, it nonetheless bears no relationship to the typical qualifications for tenure in the public school system. There, tenure simply means teaching for a few years (in California, two years or less); it is not based on the rigorous process in the university context.
One may recall the movies that depict rooms full of tenured public school teachers who are not allowed to teach but are paid. One can read the arguments in the Colorado case in which, supposedly, the dismissal of incompetent teachers violates their contract rights and property rights. One can read the arguments in the California case in which a teacher’s seniority in and of itself is a legitimate factor in determining whether the teacher may be laid off.
True enough, tenure protects young teachers from being dismissed at a whim. This legitimate concern has been abused in the extreme. It has become inpossible to dismiss bad teachers — that is, to make room for good ones — due to tenure. The California court, in doing away with tenure, did the nation a big favor, no doubt triggering a national debate and, we hope, a long overdue — and bipartisan — course correction in public education. No less than Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the California decision.
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