For an education system, it is tragic when the interests of teachers and students are at odds. Even more so when these differences cannot be resolved through negotiations and courts must get involved to break up a standstill that hurts students. Sometimes there is no other choice.
That is what happened in California, where it became necessary for a judge to declare that a series of protections that teachers have, like seniority, the dismissal process and job guarantees, are detrimental to minority students in the poorest schools. Judge Rolf M. Treu’s recent ruling in Vergara v. California will undoubtedly be appealed by teachers’ unions.
Parents and administrators are really frustrated about some benefits obtained years ago, which make it excessively expensive to dismiss incompetent teachers. K-12 teachers obtain tenurea lifetime job protectionin 18 months, compared to colleges, where this process takes seven long years. Also, in the case of layoffs, they are decided based on the teachers with the most seniority instead of the most capable ones.
It is unfortunate that turning to the courts is the only way to achieve change in schools. Attempts to resolve the issue legislatively in Sacramento buckled under the pressure of the teachers’ unions, which are not willing to give up final control over the dismissal process.
Let’s be clear: the large majority of teachers are fully committed to their students and to teaching them. That is not the case for their union representatives, whose main job, naturally, is to defend the employment of their unionized members.
There is no doubt that the decision in Vergara is a victory for parents, who are frustrated with a system that is detrimental for their children. It is a triumph for students, because it established that in school, it is more important for children to learn than for incompetent teachers to be at the helm of the classroom.