California judge strikes down teacher protections in landmark case

BY Kyla Calvert  June 10, 2014 at 1:39 PM EDT

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down multiple California laws providing job protections for the state’s public school teachers, calling them unconstitutional, reports KPCC in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit was filed in 2012 by Student Matters, a group representing nine California students. They argued the state’s laws — granting teachers tenure after two years on the job, governing teacher dismissals and requiring teacher layoffs be based on seniority — codify inequality in the state’s public schools. The plaintiffs called witnesses who testified these laws mean predominantly low-income, black and Latino students are most roiled by budget cuts and most likely to be staffed with ineffective teachers.

California and the state’s two teachers unions argued that factors outside of a classroom teacher’s control, including years of dramatic state funding cuts, concentrated poverty, racial segregation, inadequate housing and limited access to healthcare, are to blame for most of the so-called achievement gap between high- and low-performing schools. Witnesses also argued that administrators have sufficient leeway to dismiss ineffective teachers.

NewsHour Weekend examined the issues at play in the two month-long trial in March. Each side called students, teachers, school district administrators and education researchers to testify.

California and the teachers unions are expected to appeal the ruling. National education advocacy groups like the National Center for Teacher Quality, StudentsFirst and the Education Trust backed the Students Matter case.

Laws to modify or end teacher tenure have passed in at least 18 states in recent years. Students Matter is considering similar lawsuits in more than half a dozen other states, according to Politico .

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.