June 11th, 2014
09:46 AM ET

U.S. Schools Chief Calls California Ruling 'A Mandate' to Fix Tenure, Firing Laws

A California judge ruled as unconstitutional Tuesday the state's teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws, saying they keep bad teachers in the classroom and force out promising good ones.

Poor and minority students are especially hurt by the laws because "grossly ineffective teachers" more often work in their schools, Los Angeles County Judge Rolf M. Treu said.

The ruling was hailed by the nation's top education chief as bringing to California - and possibly the nation - an opportunity to build "a new framework for the teaching profession." The decision represented "a mandate" to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

The court ordered a stay of the decision, pending an appeal by the state and the teachers union, the plaintiffs said.

Reforming teacher tenure and firing laws is a hotly debated issue in American education, and the California case is being watched nationally, as evidenced by a statement from Duncan immediately after the court ruling.

Reformers say firing a bad teacher is almost impossible because of tenure laws and union protections, but teachers and their unions argue school boards and their firing criteria have unfair, overtly political standards.

Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, said he hoped the ruling will spark a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process "that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift."

At a minimum, Duncan said the court decision, if upheld, will bring to California "a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students' rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve."

"The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today's court decision is a mandate to fix these problems," Duncan said.

Teachers unions, however, criticized the ruling, with one leader stating the court decision was "anti-public education" and a "scapegoating" of teachers for public education's problems. They will appeal the ruling.

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  1. Physics is king

    The public cannot have it both ways: A group of people who will submit to being nuns and treated as at will employees.

    I recommend the following;

    Employment at will. Complete confidentiality of pay/ benefits/ and performance reviews. You cannot demand that public servants be treated as private sector employees. They are one or the other.

    In this case I think unions have done teachers a great disservice. They have turned them into indentured servants with arcane work rules and rigid contracts. The real game changer would be teachers having the freedom to decide where they work, for how much they work, what the work is, and a private life that involves no obligation to be any sort of role model.

    The word "teacher" is a pejorative. Teachers need to kill their union and get real power; and that is the power to CHOOSE. Once they have private sector autonomy the tables will turn. The public will clamor for the old days of teacher chattel.

    Teachers right now are chattel. Give them THE RIGHT to walk away from a job after 1 weeks notice would be a game changer. I guarantee you parents would shut the hell up.

    Unions and Rhee have stripped teachers of any autonomy. If teachers are allowed to be private sector employees the tide would change. If stuff sucks THEY LEAVE ans on short notice.

    June 11, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  2. Ron

    How many of the regular guys/gals out there have such a "job security" blanket in place? In the work place, if you do good, you still have a job. If you do bad, you are sent packing for obvious reasons. Why, you must ask, do only educators (schools, colleges) have this program in place? TO PROTECT THE BAD!!!!

    So, if the competency of the education system is in question, then those in the education system are to blame, This has been an ongoing issue. It hasn't just popped up. So, therefore, the education system has set a premise that they are incapable of monitoring themselves. If they were able to monitor themselves, there would not be any issues today. I rule guilty!

    June 11, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Reply
    • Physics is king

      Give teachers the full autonomy of private sector employees and the system would crumble. Teachers walking off a job after proper notice would cripple schools. Year contracts? Baloney!

      Just imagine the AP physics teacher walking out with 1 week notice after seeing her classroom filled with Vergara clones. The children lose and the teacher wins. The idea that teacher are obligated to engage in the self sacrifice of teaching to include possible death from a firearm school rampage is unethical. Teachers will no longer be role

      Imagine a school shooting and your child is in the wrong place and the private sector sees your child and says, "Nope. Me first." Then the door closes and locks.

      It is morally wrong to say a teacher cannot put themselves first in ALL situations. After all, they are private sector employees.

      June 11, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  3. Ron

    How many of the regular guys/gals out there have such a "job security" blanket in place? In the work place, if you do good, you still have a job. If you do bad, you are sent packing for obvious reasons. Why, you must ask, do only educators (schools, colleges) have this program in place? TO PROTECT THE BAD!!!!

    So, if the education system is in quaestion, then those,

    June 11, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  4. boss

    its shameful how much facts CNN hides in his stories.

    "The Judge accepted, for example, that teachers can be evaluated fairly through a statistical analysis based on student test scores, a point of dispute among some educators and experts."

    So this means that now Teachers/Schools would make it sure that weak students either do not make it to school or are expelled even on yellow flag just because this. Laws is not always about the fairness but is about its impact on society. This will result chaos.

    June 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  5. Vicki Gaw

    One of the main reasons tenure was originally enacted was to protect teachers from being fired soley for holding social, polical or religious views that did not mesh with those of the local school administration or school board. That day is long past. I had high school classmates who, after majoring in education, discovered they disliked the classroom but stayed in the field because of the job protection tenured offered coupled with early retirement options.

    Test scores alone are not adequate measures of a teacher's skill. Children who come to school hungry, live in chaotic households or are mentally ill need those issues addressed before any teacher can be expected to reach them.

    June 11, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  6. JDunn

    A teacher complaining because they have to work harder with some students should get the same sympathy that a salesman gets who complains that some of his clients are harder to sell to than others. That’s their job! And, like a good salesmen, the better you work, the greater your value and the more pay you should earn.
    Of course a good teacher can motivate kids with inattentive parents! We all remember examples of good teachers doing that very thing when we went to school. It's the teacher's job to motivate, and discipline, their students. It is the administration's job to support the teacher in this. If a student is determined to be incorrigible, the administration should suspend or expel the student and force the parents to find another school or the state steps in.
    I have never heard of a teacher's strike over this issue, but if teachers start losing their jobs because their students aren't progressing, teachers and administrators will start demanding the authority necessary to be able to do their jobs effectively. Start holding teachers accountable for performance the way we are in the private sector, and they will begin to focus on what is necessary for their students to learn.

    June 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • Physics is king

      The last thing I wanted for my child's teacher was some salesman of third rate furniture. I expected my children to be taught by relaxed, competent, friendly teachers. If I wanted some run of the mill salesman I would have sent my children to Rent to Own. As for the discipline of the private sector, I guess you would appreciate the voice jail of your wireless service provider when you want to talk to someone at your charter school about your child not getting an A in remedial arithmetic. What you are demanding is not what I paid for when I sent my children to an expensive elite private school. The other parents I know at that schoolwould also not be impressed by the salesman analogy.
      Go right ahead and shove your salesman teacher tole model saint idea down the throats of a bunch of poor people. They do not know any better. Meet the new boss, just like the old boss.

      June 17, 2014 at 12:32 am | Reply
  7. Regis

    How does removing tenure remedy the problem of black and Hispanic students having disproportionately inferior teachers? Generally, poor-performing schools have inferior administrators as well as teachers. Principals who are bad managers can make effective teaching difficult, and now we're removing incentives for good teachers to work at schools who need them most. This is not smart policy.

    June 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  8. Students First

    Teachers need to lead. In order to do that they have to be capable of leading. We need higher standards for teachers and students. Giving them a pass to remain in place even after they have shown they are horrible at their jobs is not a place to begin. Getting rid of tenure gets rid of the complacency that some faculty have with their positions. The parents hold a lot of responsibility but teachers have to hold themselves to the standard that parents can look to as a guide for their kids education.

    June 11, 2014 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • physicsisking

      Folks like you, make the elite folks ilke me, think the only solution is mandatory birth control.

      I have seen my share of humans that should not have been allowed to procreate or be born.

      I have to add you to that list.

      Right now in this country we are drowning in opinions and experts. We desperately need honest, smart people educated in physics and math. And they need to be left alone. And that means the political class, the rich, and folks like you, need to be swept out of the way.

      Your demand that others lead perfect lives is enough to make me want to throw up. You need to cool it on the Calvinism.

      I encourage teachers NOT to lead or be role models. I encourage them to be HUMANS.

      June 12, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Reply
    • Physics is king

      What would someone who works for students first know about leadership? Honestly, did you read ever book on Amazon about leadership from the "I wanna be a better salesman" or did you delve into stony Robbins and fire walking or best of all did you watch ten minutes of Ted Talks? What do you young Ivey punks know about anything except women 's medieval armor? You can sell your baloney to the poor. They have been thoroughly trained to not say a word but your sales pitch will not work around smarter folks.
      You all remind me of the payday loan places. You will tip off the poor the way the teacher unions did. Meet the new boss charter networks, just like the old boss teacher unions.

      June 17, 2014 at 12:39 am | Reply
  9. robt55

    Wow – a total incompetent who is responsible for educating the young minds of future leaders of our country can actually be fired – that is ridiculous.

    June 11, 2014 at 10:31 am | Reply
  10. Students First

    Unions say teachers are scapegoats for education. How about the teachers take responsibility for for being the educators? Unions used to be for the people. Now they are just another politcal manipulator.

    June 11, 2014 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • TeamCNNCNN

      Interesting comment, Students First. Many are debating the merits of having teacher tenure, as well as the power the unions have in education.

      What is your solution for getting the best teachers in education and removing those who are a detriment to our children's education?

      Thanks for being a part of our #NewDay!
      Lola / TeamCNN

      June 11, 2014 at 10:29 am | Reply
      • us10610

        The solution is the same that it is in any private sector job. Although I understand there are different dynamics that affect each student, classroom, school,....there needs to be a matrix that can measure the performance of the employee. (If you can't measure it, you can't manage it) If the employee is not performing then you follow the guidelines established in the policy, be it training, transferred or terminated. A job should be something that you earn and keep based on your merit not just awarded based on the term of their employment. If government programs weren't financed by tax dollars and had to complete with private companies, they would have been bankrupt and out of business years ago.

        June 11, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
    • cliffndort

      I wholeheartedly support our teachers, to a point. Those who go to college and want to become a teacher because they want to make a difference in a child's life – show the child what is out there in the world, encourage them to learn not just the three R's, but, science, history, art, music anything and everything, knowing that they will not earn high salaries. They expand the child's horizons and this is what they became a teacher for.

      What I do disagree with in Tenure. Too many new teachers get their degree and join the union, knowing that if they work a few years, they gain tenure, then cannot be let go, whether they are good teachers or not so good.

      I would prefer teachers who deeply care about and enjoy educating our children, rather than teachers who pretty much work for the union and their tenure.

      June 11, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Reply
      • physicsisking

        I love teachers, and I support them…..but they have to be perfect and lead and motivate and inspire and be jesus christ.

        The lamest argument smart folks could want to hear.

        June 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm |
    • physicsisking

      More Calvinism from Students First. What a bunch of kooks.

      There is no compelling reason, according to Ayn Rand, that ANYONE should lay down their lives for someone else. And that means there is NO compelling reason for them to be role models or lead or motivate or inspire.

      If you demand that and you are so doggone concerned about it, THEY DO IT YOURSELF.

      Stop screaming that others need to do it. It makes you a contemptible victim.

      June 12, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • physicsisking

      More tough talk from the Calvinists at Students First. Of course, they will never answer the question of who holds them accountable. Pretty much they can spew anything they like, cite any paid for study they like, and get away with it.

      Honestly, there are some folks out there who are smart, who are well educated in REAL fields of study such as physics and mathematics, and who did not go to the Ivey's to study women's medieval armor.

      Ayn Rand put it best and her comments were NOT limited to only certain groups of people: Self sacrifice is not a rational human impulse.

      Yep. Even the military thinks it is irrational unless done IN THE LINE OF DUTY and for the RIGHT REASONS.

      But Students First want this from everyone else: Inspire others, lead others, love others, and be a role model. Oh Jesus, how Calvinist!

      I dare Students First to live their credo. Get out of your offices and off the web and get into classrooms and live the talk. I dare you to put your names in the paper with your test scores. I dare you to inspire every day, engage every day, and behave as a perfect positive role model EVERY DAY.

      The gauntlet has been thrown down. One year is NOT good enough. Do it for ten, and then you earn the stripes to condemn others. Until then, you are nothing but cowards and posers.

      As my fellow retired navy buddies say, "Put some skin in the game."

      Come on. Either man up, or sit down and shut up.

      June 12, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Reply

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