The tenure laws in Tennessee are much different than the ones that were struck down in California Tuesday, a lawyer with the Tennessee Education Assocation said.
After reviewing a California judge’s ruling against the state’s teacher tenure laws, Tennessee Education Association’s general counsel Rick Colbert said the two states have little in common when it comes to granting and maintaining tenure status and that a similar ruling in Tennessee is unlikely.
“In California, I can understand why the plaintiffs found the tenure law was an impediment to receiving a quality teacher in the classroom,” Colbert said. “California’s process for granting tenure takes place after less than two years and the process of dismissing a teacher is entirely different from Tennessee’s.”
The preliminary ruling in the lawsuit Vergara v. California strikes down a slate of that state’s laws around teacher tenure and firing. The judge in the case, Rolf Treu, said data showing that poor and non-white students in California are more often taught by low-performing teachers convinced him that the laws violate the state’s constitution. The distribution of teacher quality “shocks the conscience,” Treu said in his ruling.
Colbert said the California tenure law requires that a teacher facing dismissal receives a “trial-like hearing” that involves a discovery period, more than one hearing officer and depositions. If a teacher prevails in the hearing, the school district must pay the teacher’s attorney’s fees.
In 2011, Tennessee legislators changed the state’s tenure law extending the probationary period from three to five years. In order to receive tenure, a teacher in the last two years of the probationary period must receive evaluation scores in the highest two categories. A teacher can also lose tenure status if he or she receives an evaluation score in the lowest two categories for two consecutive years.
The California lawsuit was brought by nine families with the support of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who began supporting education issues after he was unsettled by how difficult it was for his own children’s schools to fire teachers. Its backers include national critics of teachers unions, including Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst, a non-profit working to motivate teachers, parents, students and citizens to advocate for positive changes in education.
Critics of the court’s ruling say that tenure protects teachers from capricious administrators and helps make teaching an attractive profession. “Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching,” said Dennis van Roekel, president of the nation’s largest teachers union, said in response to the ruling.
The state of California and its teachers unions are gearing up to appeal, guaranteeing a long legal fight before the issue of teacher tenure in California is resolved. Still, their first-round success has Vergara supporters weighing whether to take on teacher tenure laws in other states.
“We monitor what happens in other states,” said Carolyn Crowder, executive director for Tennessee Education Association. “There’s a misconception that K-12 tenure is the same as on the college level. K-12 tenure provides due process for a teacher, they need due process. If people need to improve there needs to be a process in place to show they’ve had that opportunity. In tenure for a teacher in Tennessee means they aren’t on probation anymore. Every state is different and there have been a lot of changes across the country. We’re interested in making sure tenure policies are implemented fairly.”
Contact Tajuana Cheshier at firstname.lastname@example.org and (901) 730-4013. Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier, @chalkbeattn. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/