Protecting bad teachers hurts some students more than others

16 May

On Monday 5/14/12, eight CA students, ages 7 to 15, filed a lawsuit against the state for effectively protecting bad teachers from getting fired. The suit, sponsored by the nonprofit education reform group Students Matter, challenges “teacher tenure, dismissal procedures and seniority-based layoffs– three longtime tenets of the teaching profession that have fallen under increasingly sharp criticism in recent years but are fiercely protected by unions” (http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_20628139/lawsuit-attacks-teacher-tenure-rules-alum-rock-los).

You can read the complete filing here: http://studentsmatter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/SM_Vergara-v.-California-COMPLAINT_5.14.12.pdf.

The student plaintiffs are all cited as being, through no fault of their own, “at substantial risk of being assigned to, a grossly ineffective teacher who impedes her equal access to the opportunity to receive a meaningful education.”

And, as the suit argues, all students are not at equal risk:

This problem affects California public school students statewide. In any given school year, any student might be arbitrarily assigned to a grossly ineffective teacher who should not be teaching. Studies show that students who are unfortunate enough to be assigned to two or more grossly ineffective teachers in a row are unlikely ever to catch up to their peers. But the problem is worse for students at schools that serve predominantly minority and economically disadvantaged populations because those schools have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers. In certain school districts, students of color are two to three times more likely to have bottom-quartile teachers than their white and Asian peers. Thus, the laws at issue perpetrate and widen the very achievement gap that education is supposed to eliminate [emphasis added].

While the language is a little muddled (“students of color” as used here excludes Asian-Americans, who are also not white–and therefore in some “not white or of color” category) I appreciate the suit’s clarity that the current policies regarding teacher retention are both a problem for all students, as well as a particular threat to black and Latino students whose families lack the socioeconomic means to provide alternatives to their local public schools.

Recognizing how race and class matter can only help us think critically about this lawsuit, our own perspectives and how to create equity in education.

Note: I invite you to do your due diligence about Students Matter and consider supporting their work: http://studentsmatter.org/.

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