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California Public School Students Sue State Over Tenure and Other Teacher Protections

Tenure is a longstanding practice in educational institutions that originally meant to protect teachers from unnecessary dismissal because of ideology, nationality, or gender. Today, many believe that tenure is trick played on universities and school districts by teachers’ unions in order to make it impossible to fire substandard educators. Recently, North Carolina joined other states such as Florida, Indiana, Colorado, and others to address problems with tenure through legislation.  

The subject of tenure is a cornerstone in a legal challenge against the state of California, brought forward by nine public school students who claim tenure and other protections serve only to keep bad teachers in the classroom. “The school system knowingly puts kids in classrooms with teachers who are grossly substandard,” an attorney for the plaintiffs said, according to The Associated Press.

Both teachers unions and the California Department of Education refute these claims, of course. The teachers unions suggest that changing to a merit system unfairly targets older teachers and consider proposed systems to evaluate performance dodgy at best. The California Department of Education said that nothing in the law as it is written allows for substandard educators to continue in their positions.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that tenure is awarded too easily, sometimes “just for showing up for work” for two school years. The problem at the heart of this kind of education reform is how exactly a teachers’ performance is calculated. If it is done solely on exam scores, you have educators who are forced to “teach the test.” Other, less-quantifiable evaluations also have the potential for abuse and could lead to good teachers being fired over petty intra-school politics.

Another protection being challenged is the “last hired, first fired” rule, which can often lead to the kind of discriminatory practices against the young that the unions fear will happen to the older teachers if the lawsuit is successful. 


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