California Tenure Ruling Will Improve Education

classroom_2Last week’s court decision striking down the teacher tenure law in California public schools, and aspects of the law making it almost impossible to fire tenured teachers, is good news for everyone worried about America’s future.

The decision, finding these provisions unconstitutional and discriminatory against low-income and minority students, was even applauded by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

With the success of this lawsuit, similar efforts can be anticipated around the country.

Everyone — except the teachers unions — seems to grasp that public education in America, particularly in low-income communities, suffers because of lack of competition.

The lawsuit, filed by nine California public school students, was backed by a non-profit organization, Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.

Under existing law, teachers in California public schools are tenured within two years.

According to testimony of Los Angeles School Superintendent John Deasy, it takes two years on average, and sometimes as long as 10 years, to fire a teacher with tenure, with costs running as high as $450,000.

The overall high school graduation rate in the Los Angeles Unified School District is 67.9 percent, compared to over 80 percent nationwide. Latinos in the LA system have a graduation rate of 67.2 percent and blacks 63.7 percent.

The reaction from the California teachers unions was predictably self serving and disingenuous.

California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt called the case “an anti-teacher campaign funded by wealthy individuals trying to twist education policy with their wallets. … Promoted by a law firm best known for protecting corporations against environmental and worker rights litigation.”

Not quite.

One of the lead attorneys for the law firm representing the students, Ted Olson of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, was also lead co-counsel in the lawsuit in California challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which defined marriage in California’s state constitution as one man and one woman. The California Teachers Association poured one million dollars into the battle fighting Proposition 8.

Regarding “wealthy individuals trying to twist education policy”, what exactly does the teachers union president think that Mr. Welch cares about beyond what the name of his organization says — Students Matter?

The high-tech culture of Silicon Valley is about competition and innovation. It’s why high-tech entrepreneurs have understood the perversity that America’s school system — where our nation’s future is formed — lacks these very characteristics that make America great.

In a 1995 interview, as part of a Smithsonian Institution project, Apple Computer co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, called the public school system a “monopoly” and said this is why “they don’t have to care.”

“What happens,” Jobs continued, “when a monopoly gets control, which is what happened [in education] in our country, is that the service level almost always goes down.”

Several years ago, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, spoke to the Foundation for Excellence in Education and recalled Steve Jobs’ commentary about education.

Murdoch observed, “We must approach education like the way Steve Jobs approached every industry he touched. To be willing to blow up what doesn’t work or gets in the way. And to make our bet that if we engage a child’s imagination, there’s no limit to what he or she can learn.”

This is exactly what the teachers unions and the education monopoly don’t want.

It’s no accident that in 1954, 34.8 percent of America’s wage and salary workers belonged to unions, and today, in the private sector, it is down to 6.7 percent.

Unfortunately, America’s children and parents remain captive to unions.

But now this great court decision in California will help change this. Teachers, like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, will only be protected by the quality of work they deliver. Otherwise, they will be gone.

Of course, teacher tenure in public schools is not the only problem. We need school choice. But this is a good start.

Photo credit: Bart Everson (Creative Commons) – Some Rights Reserved

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