first they came for the K-12 teachers

Judge Rolf Treu has ruled that teachers’ tenure violates California students’ constitutional right to an education.

The California Constitution, which I am now reading for the first time, has an entire section on education (also, an entire section on water), it specifically mandates state funding for the University of California, and it states, right at the beginning, a fundamental right to privacy. (Using the word “privacy,” which does not occur in the US constitution.) Yay California Constitution!

Back to Judge Treu, he has found that the right to an education implies a right to good teachers, and that tenure causes students to have bad teachers. Hence tenure is unconstitutional. Also the bad teachers disproportionally end up in districts with poor and minority students, so tenure is unconstitutional also on equal protection grounds. I am now looking forward to conservative California judges striking down other laws and regulations that affect the educational opportunities of poor and minority students, including prop 209.


7 thoughts on “first they came for the K-12 teachers

  1. Hi Luca. I love your blog but I’m afraid I must disagree with you on this point. I applaud Judge Treu’s ruling. We here in Waterloo sorely need the ability to fire bad elementary school teachers, tenure be damned. My own elementary school education suffered at least in part at the hands of unfirable bad teachers, and I shudder to think of my children enduring that experience. I don’t see how the ability to fire bad teachers could possibly hurt the educational opportunities of poor and minority students. Besides, I suspect that a disproportionately high fraction of university faculty choose to send their own children to private school—an implicit indictment of tenured public school teachers by tenured university faculty.

  2. I happen to agree with the outcome of the ruling. However, I think the ruling itself is wrong. It simply isn’t a constitutional issue; it’s a political issue.

    I think constitutional courts should return verdicts of the form “this is not a constitutional issue” more often, rather than meddling in politics like Judge Treu has done (using a very tenuous argument).

  3. Because the whole point of labeling teachers “bad” is to get rid of the teachers with seniority that cost the district more money. Actually, experienced teachers in general get better outcomes from students. Every starting teacher I know is a mass of jangled nerves as they fail to establish control over their classrooms while desperately trying to develop teaching materials and establish a routine. It really takes years before you
    get the hang of it, and a good fraction burn out quickly. While there are a few bad apple teachers who have become cynical, the caricature of the uncaring careerist teacher with tenure is largely a myth, just as the lazy tenured professor is largely a myth (although I am sure you can find a few poster children for revoking tenure on any campus…)

    Teaching is a very difficult job, and one that is not high prestige or pay. We will not be able to attract any qualified teachers if we in addition make them political footballs that get the blame for every problem our children have. Children have a wide variety of needs and learning styles, so no teacher can please everyone, so identifying “bad” teachers is also difficult. Many times, I have found the teacher that I thought was a bane on my childhood was someone else’s inspiration, or vice versa.

    Russell Impagliazzo

  4. Aren’t judges the equivalent of “tenured”? Isn’t it consititutionnal to have rights to fair judgement?

    Isn’t “tenure” for judges anticonstitutionnal?

  5. “In Soviet Russia, kids teach their teacher”.

    I must say, here (in Soviet Russia 🙂 ) professors lost any possibility to get tenure several years ago. By a federal law. Nobody noticed this, because salaries were low and teaching load was high (as one of my colleagues said, “as long as I earn ***** rubles, I consider my position as permanent”).

    Then (a year ago) they came for researchers (this is somehow different from professors as we still have our system of Russian Academy of Sciences institutes), who, surprisingly enough, defended their right to have a permanent job. (But lost Russian Academy of Sciences though.)

    Just random thoughts. I do not know how it goes for school teachers here.

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