Larry Sand in City Journal on the insanity of tenure as practiced in California
In California, a public school teacher can be fired at any time without cause during the first two years of employment. After that, however, about 98 percent of teachers manage to attain tenure—or, more accurately, "permanence." Principals make tenure decisions in March of a teacher's second year, which means they have to decide whether to offer such job security to employees with just 16 months on the job. A good case could be made that college and university professors need job protections—the academic freedom to conduct possibly controversial research and to teach without administrative meddling is vital. But can the same be said for elementary and high school teachers?
That question is at the heart of a lawsuit underway in Los Angeles, where a group of nine students is challenging the legality of California's permanence, seniority, and dismissal statutes. The trial in Vergara v. California concluded late last month; Superior Court judge Rolf Treu will issue a ruling by July 10. If the students prevail, several union-backed statutes will be eliminated from the education code and declared unconstitutional. It would then be up to each school district to come up with its own policies on tenure and seniority.
Protecting teachers from being fired because of race, political views, pregnancy, or personal appearance is justifiable. But after those basic protections were enshrined in law decades ago, labor leaders pushed legislators to expand rights and entitlements for public school teachers—at the expense of educating kids. In the last ten years, only 91 teachers out of about 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained permanence lost their jobs in California. Of those, only 19 (.0007 percent) have been dismissed for poor performance. Is it possible that Golden State teachers are that good? Such an astronomical permanence rate doesn't square with the performance of California's fourth- and eighth-graders, whose scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests persistently rank near the bottom.
That so many unworthy teachers remain on the job is a disgrace, and most teachers know it.