An education advocacy group on Thursday threw down the first challenge to New York’s teacher tenure laws in the wake of a landmark court decision in California last month finding such laws there unconstitutional.
A lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court on Staten Island argues that the tenure laws violate the State Constitution’s guarantee of a “sound basic education” by making it difficult to fire bad teachers and by protecting the most veteran teachers in the event of layoffs, regardless of their quality. The suit, filed against city and state education officials, names as plaintiffs 11 public school students whose parents belong to a group known as the New York City Parents Union.
Mona Davids, the president of the New York City Parents Union, said the suit was modeled on the Vergara case, in which Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the California Constitution and violated their civil rights. He also ruled that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first, as in periods of economic downturn, were harmful.
The Times article raises some reasons why the tenure suit may not work the way it did in California:
Already, the California Federation of Teachers has vowed to appeal the decision in the case, Vergara v. California. And union leaders, legal analysts and others said it would be difficult to gain any traction on the issue in New York’s judiciary.Daly does think challenges to seniority have a better shot here in NY State than a tenure challenge.
“It is basically unprecedented for a court to get into the weeds of a controversial education policy matter like this,” said Michael A. Rebell, an education lawyer and professor at Teachers College at Columbia University. “Even if a court agrees there is a problem, they are more likely to defer to the legislative branch, which, in New York, has been trying to deal with these complex tenure issues and knows more about the workings of these policies.”
In New York, teachers can earn tenure after a three-year probationary period, which city school officials can extend for another year, and often do. That represents one big difference with California, where teachers can win tenure after 18 months, and even before being certified.
Once granted, tenure in New York does not afford any advantages in pay or job assignments. Its most important benefit, in the eyes of teachers’ unions, is protection against indiscriminate, unjustified or politically tinged hiring and firing.
“Tenure doesn’t protect bad teachers,” said Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the statewide union, adding that its lawyers are “already gearing up” to defend tenure in court. “It allows good ones to fight for what students need.”
State education officials say that a new teacher evaluation law, which assigns teachers one of four grades each year, will make it easier to fire teachers who repeatedly get poor marks, although very few did so in the first year that the law was in effect.
“With that evaluation system, the teachers who get promoted, the teachers who stay, would be the teachers who are high performing,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said when asked last month about the Vergara case.
Timothy Daly, the president of the New Teacher Project, which has advocated changes in the way teachers are hired and fired, agreed that the new evaluation system could help remove bad teachers in New York, in contrast with California, which he said had “a very outmoded system for evaluating teachers.”
I wrote something similar a few weeks back, when a story surfaced saying reformers were going to go after teacher tenure, seniority rules and pay scales:
New York laws are different - it takes longer to get tenure, in NYC many teachers never get tenure at all and some have to wait well over the mandated three years to get it.
In addition, the APPR teacher evaluation system allows districts to fire teachers who come up "ineffective" two years in a row.
The argument that was used in California - "grossly ineffective" teachers cannot be fired without a long cumbersome process - doesn't hold water here.
So the deformers are looking to broaden the case, adding seniority rules around layoffs and performance pay to the mix.
They may be able to craft an argument around seniority, but I have a difficult time seeing them craft one around performance pay.
I'd like to see the judge in New York who agrees that students' civil rights have been violated because their teachers are ineligible for merit pay.
Often these deformers exist in a deform echo chamber where they say stuff that makes sense to everybody in their little circle, but once they get outside that circle, people look at them like they're crazy.
Arguing that students' civil rights have been violated because their teachers aren't eligible for merit pay is one of those cases.
I maintain the same thinking on this issue today - I think APPR and the longer probationary period before tenure put a severe crimp in any tenure challenge mounted in the NY courts.
The performance pay challenge is insane - "Judge, children are having their civil rights trampled upon because their teachers are not eligible for performance pay."
Yeah, good luck with that challenge.
Seniority rules will be the challenge that we'll have to watch going forward.
One of things we're starting to see, however, is that deformers are looking like they're going to throw as many challenges against the courthouse wall to see if any stick.
I'm not a lawyer, but my sense is, the wider you make the cases, the more likely they are to get tossed.
So it will be interesting to see how this all ends up.
One thing I do know - none of this has anything to do with the quality of education children get.
If they wanted to fix that, they'd lower class sizes, stop the Endless Testing regime, and cease handing out Common Core homework that makes both children and parents cry.