A national movement to prove that job protections for teachers prevent students from learning is getting ready to target New York state.
Six students and families, with the pro-bono help of a powerful New York City law firm and new advocacy group headed by former CNN journalist Campbell Brown, announced on Tuesday that they would file a lawsuit challenging state laws that critics say make it next to impossible to fire ineffective teachers. The process, they say, violate a student’s constitutional right to a sound and basic education.
The group said their lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, will be filed in the coming weeks.
The plans come two weeks after a judge in California 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 Vergara suit hinged on the idea that poor students were more frequently taught by “low-performing” teachers, designated by value-added formulas that took student performance into account. But litigation in New York would have to contend with a different set of laws.
Here’s how the advocates describe their cause in their release:
Families are suing the State of New York, claiming that the institutionalized retention of ineffective teachers deprives each child of their right to a sound basic education as guaranteed under the New York State Constitution. There are three basic claims: 1. Similar to the recent ground-breaking Vergara ruling in California, the lawsuit will specifically challenge the Last In, First Out mandate in New York, stating that the policy of forcing school districts to base layoffs on seniority – not a teacher’s performance in the classroom – violates the state constitution by denying students access to effective teachers. 2. Also similar to Vergara, the lawsuit will claim that New York’s Tenure Statute forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent lifetime employment after three years – an arbitrary time period that does not provide administrators enough time to determine a teachers’ effectiveness. Also similar to Vergara, the suit claims that the complicated disciplinary statutes make it nearly impossible to fire or discipline ineffective teachers – creating a burdensome, costly, and lengthy process that rarely removes ineffective teachers. 3. Also similar to Vergara, the suit claims that the complicated disciplinary statutes make it nearly impossible to fire or discipline ineffective teachers – creating a burdensome, costly, and lengthy process that rarely removes ineffective teachers.
That reasoning has come under fire from teachers unions and others, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also note that tenure protects teachers from capricious administrators and say tenure helps make teaching an attractive profession.
In New York City, the percentage of eligible teachers who received tenure has declined in recent years, as the Bloomberg administration delayed many teachers’ tenure decisions in an effort to make the protection less automatic.
“The tenure system, done right, is a valuable piece of the way we educate because what it’s going to allow us to do is get quality teachers, get them to stay in our school system,” de Blasio said earlier this month.
There is also no guarantee that the Vergara ruling will stand, as the state of California and its teachers unions are gearing up to appeal.