Should California’s schools be able to fire ineffective teachers? This is the subject of Vergara v. California, which asks the court to declare unconstitutional several California laws that hinder schools’ ability to fire ineffective teachers. For example, one challenged law allows a school to tenure a teacher after only 18 months on the job. The plaintiffs argue that this time frame is too short to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. And if a school tries to fire a teacher, it will have to pay hundreds of thousands – and sometimes even millions – of dollars due to procedural hurdles.
The California Teachers Association (CTA) joined the lawsuit to fight for ineffective teachers. In a blog post, CTA disparaged the plaintiffs because they are represented by attorneys at “Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that counts Wal-Mart among its many corporate clients.” In addition to being an irrelevant ad hominem attack, the comment is hypocritical: Last summer, CTA celebrated when the same firm won a major Supreme Court victory.
CTA’s blog post also states that California’s schools face many problems, “including poverty, a lack of adequate funding and resources for education, and a lack of adequate support for teachers.” The post criticizes the plaintiffs for being “uninterested in these issues” and instead focusing their lawsuit on ineffective teachers. This criticism is misguided. The existence of other problems does not make ineffective teachers any less of a problem. Also, a lawsuit cannot be expected to try to solve every problem with the state’s schools. How could a lawsuit eradicate poverty, anyway?
The tenure system was “developed to protect teachers from politically motivated firing and retribution.” But tenure is unnecessary for K-12 teachers. Tenure is important at the university level because professors’ duties involve extensive research and writing on controversial subjects. K-12 teachers aren’t professors – they’re supposed to teach, not profess. Ending teacher tenure doesn’t mean schools will be able to fire teachers for their political views. As the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, the U.S. Constitution protects public teachers from being fired for speaking on matters of public concern.
This lawsuit is an important part of the effort to improve California’s failing school system. Quality education is an important civil rights issue and is essential to preserving freedom. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Because teachers unions “hold tremendous sway over lawmaking,” resorting to the courts is necessary to ensure that schools can replace ineffective teachers with effective ones.