Friday, February 7, 2014

Using Students' Education Rights to Fire Teachers?

I am a little behind the times on this one, but a group of nine students, represented by Ted Olsen, are challenging the constitutionality of California statutes that grant teachers permanent employment status after 18 months of service, that create several procedural hurdles to dismissing ineffective teachers, and that elevate seniority above teaching effectiveness in layoff decisions. Their theory is that, per school finance precedent, education is a fundamental right in California and students are guaranteed equal educational opportunity, but statutes that keep ineffective teachers in place violates that right by subjecting students to subpar educational opportunity.

Given the malleability of the concepts of education as a fundamental right or a constitutional right to adequate education, there are few inequities or impediments that are beyond constitutional challenge.  I myself have made arguments leveraging that precedent beyond just money (student assignments, school discipline, and the like).  This suit, however, goes a bit further in that it assumes the problem is the teachers rather than a system that is incapable of attracting, retaining, training, or developing effective teachers.  Their facts just as easily lend themselves to a claim on behalf of the districts with ineffective teacher against the state, charging that they lack the resources to hire teachers that are already effective or improve the ones who are not yet effective.  This lawsuit assumes that these are inherently bad teachers and that there are others waiting in the wing to take their place. I am not sure either assumption is true.  With that said, I am generally sympathetic to the notion that schools and the state should be more interventionist in controlling the placement, hiring and retention of teachers.  I am just not sure that this lawsuit is the best way to get us there.

For more details on the lawsuit from the plaintiffs' perspective, see here.  For the complaint, see here.

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