Monday, April 18, 2016

California Court of Appeal Deals Legal Assault on Teacher Tenure a Major Blow, Laying Bare Its Shallow Assumptions

Last week, the California Court of Appeals reversed the trial court that sent shockwaves through the nation when it ruled that California's tenure and seniority statutes were unconstitutional in 2014 in Vergara v. State. As detailed here, the plaintiffs' and trial court's reasoning were riddled with numerous problematic assumptions about the causes of ineffective teaching and the disproportionate number of uncertified and low quality teachers in predominantly poor and minority schools.  The Court of Appeals was nicer in its assessment, but reached the same conclusion.  It wrote:

Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.
 
With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court's job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.
 
In other words, the plaintiffs failed to establish causation.  Students may have low quality teachers, but tenure was not shown to be the cause.  The case will surely make it to the California Supreme Court soon, but in the interim, this decision may help better frame the legal analysis in Minnesota and New York, where trial courts are entertaining similar claims.
 
It is worth emphasizing that the Court of Appeal focused in on the fact that Vergara was a facial challenge to the California statutes, not an as-applied challenge.  This point demonstrates how silly the plaintiffs claim is.  Vergara's claims are the equivalent of saying that California's school funding statutes are unconstitutional without even bothering to track down how the money is spent and the effect it has on students.  If school funding litigation has to prove that money matters to individual schools, then surely tenure challenges must do the same.  The plaintiffs in Vergara, however, have never taken the facts of tenure and educational opportunity seriously.  If the did, they would have noticed what I pointed out last week: segregation and the structural inequalities that create teacher hiring and retention problems matter far far more.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2016/04/california-court-of-appeal-deals-legal-assault-on-teacher-tenure-a-major-blow-laying-bare-its-shallo.html

School Funding, Teachers | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment