Judge says effect of bad teachers ‘shocks the conscience’

Attorney Glenn Rothner speaks during a news conference outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles after a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violate the state's constitution.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu tentatively ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violated students’ rights to equal educational opportunity. Treu struck down state laws that grant teachers tenure after two years, require seniority-based layoffs and govern the process to dismiss teachers. He ruled that those laws disproportionately harmed poor and minority students.

Here are excerpts of the ruling:

On the effect of incompetent teachers:

“All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience. All sides also agree that grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school. Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”


Treu cited evidence that L.A. Unified students taught by the bottom 5% of teachers lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year compared with students who have average teachers.

On the permanent employment (tenure) law:

“This court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current Permanent Employment Statute.”

Treu noted that California was one of only five states that gave teachers tenure after two years or less. He said that wasn’t enough time for an informed decision to be made about tenure.

On the teacher dismissal laws:

“There is no question that teachers should be afforded reasonable due process when their dismissals are sought. However, based on the evidence before this court, it finds the current system … to be so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”


Treu cited evidence that it could take two to nearly 10 years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 to conclude a teacher dismissal case. Grossly ineffective teachers are being left in the classroom because school districts don’t want to go through that time and expense, he said in his ruling.

He added that state laws give teachers “uber due process” and that non-teacher school employees have their discipline cases resolved with less time and expense.

On the seniority-based layoff law:

“No matter how gifted the junior teacher, and no matter how grossly ineffective the senior teacher, the junior gifted one, who all parties agree is creating a positive atmosphere for his/her students, is separated from them and a senior grossly ineffective one who all parties agree is harming the students entrusted to him/her is left in place. The result is classroom disruption on two fronts, a lose-lose situation.”

Treu said that California is one of only 10 states with seniority-based teacher layoff laws.

On the effect of the challenged laws on poor and minority students:


“The evidence was also clear that the churning (aka “Dance of the Lemons”) of teachers caused by the lack of effective dismissal statutes and [seniority-based layoffs] affect high-poverty and minority students disproportionately. This in turn, greatly affects the stability of the learning process to the detriment of such students.”

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe