Substantially all knowledgeable public education reformers will tell you that the sine qua non of the mission to deliver a quality K-12 education for every child is an effective teacher in every classroom. These same people, if they are honest, will also tell you that this won’t happen until we break the mold that has governed teacher preparation, professional development, and human resource management for the past century.
Recently, there has been a major breakthrough. Last month, a California judge in Vergara v. State of California ruled that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under the state Constitution and violate their civil rights. To quote Judge Rolf M. Treu: “Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience”. Pretty strong words. There is, of course, a long way to go with the appeal process, but this is a landmark that will almost certainly spread throughout the country.
If upheld, this decision will strike at the heart of the union protection racket for ineffective educators and begin to roll back the long standing laws and personnel rules in which this protection has been embedded, none more entrenched than in California.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, as a result of this decision, educators and policymakers around the country could sit down and work through common sense reform of these antiquated rules that have so damaged our most disadvantaged kids? But, of course, here I am being naive, for I am well aware that this segment of the education establishment is the most provincial and insular of the entire food chain, not at all welcoming of transparency, criticism, or independent evaluation, and I still have the scars as evidence from my five years as a member of the Texas State Board for Educator Certification.
So the fight will no doubt have to be won in the courts and it is a fight well worth having and long overdue. And it is encouraging that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Democrats for Education Reform have enthusiastically endorsed the court decision. This is a good start.
For more on the Texas Institute for Education Reform’s recommendations on developing effective teachers in Texas, see our policy paper, Effective Educators for Texas, at www.texaseducationreform.org.