American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten sharply criticized U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week for his praise of a ruling by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge deeming certain job protections for teachers in California as unconstitutional.
The ruling represents a major loss for the unions and a groundbreaking win by attorneys who argued that state laws governing teacher layoffs, tenure and dismissals harm students by making them more likely to suffer from ineffective instruction.
"You added to the polarization," Weingarten wrote in a letter to Duncan. "And teachers across the country are wondering why the Secretary of Education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed."
Weingarten was referring to a statement Duncan released after the verdict. Duncan had said the decision gives California the opportunity to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects both the rights of teachers and students.
"The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students," his statement said. "Today's court decision is a mandate to fix these problems."
If the preliminary ruling becomes final and is upheld on appeal, the effect will be sweeping across California and possibly the nation.
Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled, in effect, that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss those who performed poorly in the classroom. He said the laws governing job security were unconstitutional because they harmed predominantly low-income, minority students by allowing incompetent instructors to remain on the job. If the ruling stands, California will have to craft new rules for hiring and firing teachers.
On Friday, Duncan continued to support the ruling on an appearance on CNN, in which he said he believes tenure and due process are necessary supports. But the inability to remove ineffective teachers does a disservice to students.
"The common goal is to increase public confidence in public education. We want great public schools we need great public schools teachers. We need families to want to go to public schools," Duncan said. "That's the common ground. There's one common enemy – that's academic failure.