California’s Tenure Law and Classroom Discipline

Beatriz Vegara was 15 when she said that one of her teachers fell asleep during class. Another of her teachers told Latino students that they would end up cleaning houses for a living.

Brandon Debose, Jr. said that his 10th grade geometry teacher had spent 10 minutes of class taking roll, didn’t explain the work, and expected students to learn math on their own.

In each of these classes, one can only imagine the discipline problems that existed.

Rather than just complain, these students did something about it. Backed by an advocacy group, they sued the California school system and testified about their experiences.

Judge Rolf Treu who heard the case ruled that the California teacher tenure system is grossly unfair. He concluded that many teachers in classrooms, often in low income and minority communities, rob children of opportunities for an equal education. One reason for this is that many new teachers do not know how to have good classroom management and discipline students in a productive manner.

This case could spark improvements in education nationwide by exposing how ludicrously difficult it is to remove bad teachers—especially those who have poor teaching and disciplinary skills.

A California teacher can gain what amounts to lifetime job protection in less than two years. When a reduction in staff is necessary for financial reasons, the newest teachers are the first to go—even if they are the most effective teachers on the staff.

The case is on appeal, but the traditional idea that seniority rules may become a tradition of the past.