MTA statement on California tenure ruling

A Superior Court judge in California struck down the state’s teacher tenure law on June 10, ruling that the law deprived students of their right to a quality education. The ruling was issued in Vergara v. California, a case backed by Silicon Valley multimillionaire David Welch. The judge also found against California’s system under which seniority plays a key role in transfer and layoff decisions.

The NEA and the California Teachers Association blasted the decision, and the union is appealing the case. Anti-union interests are expected to fight the appeal and to bring similar cases in other states. The judge’s ruling covers only the state of California.

The following statement was issued on June 11 by MTA President Paul Toner:

We strongly disagree with the California ruling and support the union there in appealing it. In Massachusetts, we have a system of evaluation and due process that supports both the interests of students and rights of teachers. And it works. We are one of the most highly unionized states in the country, and our students are first in the nation and among the top-performing students in the world.

In their first three years, teachers in Massachusetts must be evaluated frequently and can be dismissed for any reason. If they receive positive evaluations, they attain Professional Teacher Status in their fourth year. This gives them due process rights – not a job for life. They continue to be evaluated thoroughly. If they are struggling, they must be given guidance on how to improve. If they fail to improve, there is a speedy process for dismissing them.

In Massachusetts, school districts and local unions bargain over how to make layoff decisions, but performance is the primary factor, and seniority can only be used as a tie-breaker.

Students benefit when their teachers are treated fairly. Under the Massachusetts system, teachers can speak out about what their students need without fearing retaliation. Administrators are now held accountable for actually doing evaluations and for providing teachers with the professional development and support they need.

We emphatically disagree with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s ill-advised embrace of this court decision, which ultimately could wipe out due process rights for California teachers. We hope he will reconsider. The secretary’s views on this issue are sure to alienate teachers across the country at a time when he should be trying to foster collaboration and mutual respect among teachers, parents, administrators and community leaders.

We agree with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s statement that anti-union corporate interests are behind this lawsuit. He is right when he says: “Stripping teachers of their rights to due process won’t help learning. But it will make it more difficult to attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession.”