Teacher tenure case heads to court

Amber Buhagiar, Editor-in-Chief & Entertainment Editor

In recent months, the Los Angeles Superior Court case Vergara v. California has made public the reality that often occurs in classrooms. Nine children between the ages seven to 17 are suing the state in order to improve the school system. Their problem? Teacher tenure.

Teacher tenure was created to protect teachers from being fired from unfair discrimination of religion, political ideas, and other non-work related factors. In 1921,  California became the first state to give teachers permanent positions after two years on the job. Although the policy has provided teachers a right to due process, it has become problematic for students with incompetent teachers.

“I agree and disagree,” graphic design teacher Joyce Dedini said. “Getting tenure insures you have a job with security, but there are some who can take it to an extreme and become lax at teaching.”

A recent article in “The Wall Street Journal” states that there are 275,000 teachers in the state of California. Of these 275,000, two teachers on average are fired for poor performance each year. In the same article, Harvard economist Raj Chetty “found that students taught by a single highly ineffective teacher experience a nearly three percent reduction in expected lifetime earnings”— laying off one of these teachers would “increase the total lifetime earnings of a single classroom of Los Angeles students by approximately 2.1 million.”

The lawsuit is aimed at eliminating state laws regarding tenure, dismissal and layoff procedures for teachers. The “permanent employment” law says that after 18 months of teaching, a school district will commit to keeping a teacher until retirement. The “last-in, first out,” or LIFO law, says that the non-tenured teachers will be laid off first.

Dedini says that a fair compromise would be to extend the process to the fifth year of teaching instead of the second year. Dedini also says that dismissal should not be based on test performance, but rather teacher performance.

“When I taught low level math classes, there were many low-level performing students in my classes —therefore, their test scores were low on the state test,” Dedini said. “If my performance is based on how the students do, all teachers will be in jeopardy no matter how good they are.”

English teacher Kristen Graham says that teachers should be dismissed based on teaching abilities, but acknowedges the value of tenure.

“If a teacher is being targeted under false pretenses, it does protect them,” Graham said. “I was targeted by an unfair administrator in past years, and if it had not been for the tenure policy, it could have compromised my job.”

Principal Bill Atterberry is on the fence concerning the teacher tenure policy.

“I really don’t think it’s an issue if administrators are doing their job,” Atterberry said. “The problem is that we don’t have administrators who are performing consistently across the industry.”

Atterberry also says that the system allows for the removal of ineffective teachers.

“In the education code, you can move teachers in and out of the current system,” Atterberry said. However, such action is costly and timely. According to an article on “KCRA.com,” dismissal of one Lincoln Unified tenured teacher cost nearly $300,000.

Senior Stefanie Toro says that the appropriate gauge for judgement in assessing a teacher’s competence should be based on test scores.

“Obviously, teachers who teach well will have good test scores,” Toro said. “The teacher tenure policy should be removed from the education system. In past years, I couldn’t understand how some of my teachers still had their jobs because of how poorly they taught.”

However, Atterberry said that he doesn’t believe testing data clearly indicates whether a teacher is qualified. Therefore, a different criteria needs to be established in order to evaluate teachers that is equitable. For the teachers who are not performing up to par, Atterberry said that coaching should be offered to them.

“I’ve worked with teachers who were lousy but responded to coaching,” Atterberry said, noting that improvement is key.

“On the other hand, I came from private industry,” Atterberry said. “My compensation and continued employment was based upon performance. Therefore, everyone would work to become better. Bottom line: I don’t think anyone should be given a job for life.”

The case is expected to continue through March and school districts will be eagerly waiting the outcome.