The recent California court ruling striking down teacher tenure and other state laws offering job security to educators is a good thing for education.
But specifically, it is a terrific thing for public school children.
In Vergara v. California, the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles struck down as unconstitutional five harmful provisions of the California Education Code. The provisions in question govern teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoffs. The court ruled that they impose substantial harm on California’s students by forcing administrators to terminate passionate, inspiring teachers in order to keep longer-tenure but ineffective teachers in the classroom, a process known as LIFO, or, “last in, first out”.
LIFO is a bad deal. Why should longevity in a job be the ultimate consideration for continued employment over more desirable traits like ability and achievement? The hard truth is that some people may have 20 years in a job, but it is really just one year twenty times, meaning that they have not grown or improved.
I came to education after 32 years earning a living doing what I now teach Mass Communication majors. I learned early in my career that, in the business world, getting results is the only thing that matters to continued employment. As one of my best bosses/mentors once told me, “Les, go make something happen!”
I got the message, and I did just that. I got results, and as a result, I was never fired or layed off. I consistently overachieved on my objectives and was rewarded accordingly with more generous bonuses, promotions, and more interesting and challenging assignments.
But wait — do not think that I had a easy little career with loving and fair employers who just let me fly. No way. I earned what I got from extremely hard work, very long hours, and constant professional development to improve my skills and abilities. And I did all this since 1977 as a paraplegic and wheelchair user. With that extra challenge, I often had to work twice as hard as the able-bodied just to prove I was half as good. But as Faulkner said, I did not merely survive, I prevailed.
And I never had protection like guaranteed employment/tenure. Am I brilliant? Not even close. I just worked really hard and never quit trying. With tenure, you can quit trying with no penalty. That is why I find tenure a bit insulting to anyone confident and competent enough to meet workplace challenges head on. And if I can do it, anyone can.
With the Vergara v. California ruling, I believe that there will be a growing movement across the country to end tenure and other seniority rules that make it hard to terminate bad teachers. Good teachers are priceless and should be encouraged, supported, rewarded, and celebrated. If teachers are not willing or capable of meeting job challenges, then their bosses must do as one of my more colorful bosses used to say of terminating bad employees: “Let’s help them be successful elsewhere.”