Teacher Tenure on Trial

(Guest post by James Shuls)

What would it look like if Hollywood put teacher tenure on trial on the silver screen? I imagine the closing arguments would look something like this, although probably condensed to 3 minutes. This is video of the closing argument of Marcellus McRae, lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California. It is just shy of an hour, but is well worth a watch.

I’ve taken the liberty to pull out some of my favorite quotes.

McRae notes that the teacher credentialing period can actually be longer than the period provided to determine tenure decisions. He says:

“Teachers can actually receive notice that they are being reelected for a tenure teaching position and then subsequently fail to successfully complete the induction program necessary to obtain a clear credential. That’s like telling somebody, we’re going to go ahead and let you get out on the highway and endanger everybody else’ lives for two months and then we’re going to tell you that you failed your driver’s test.”

He goes on to refute the idea that principals can gather enough information in the 16 month period allowed to make tenure decisions.

“There’s not enough time. There’s not enough data. There’s not enough processing time to get an informed view about who can achieve learning gains. So, that you’re deluding yourself if you think you actually have visibility into whether or not this is an informed decision. What you’re doing with your drive by observations in the classroom, what you’re doing in this 16 month, unduly compressed period is making tenure decisions based on impressionism rather than realism. And that is not good enough for the children in the state of California.

How long does it take to remove a tenured teacher who is grossly ineffective? Too long.

“LAUSD has never completed a performance based teacher dismissal hearing in less than two years. Your honor, think about that. We have litigated this case, and we have brought it from the filing of the complaint trough demurs, through discovery, through summary judgment in less time than it takes to dismiss a teacher for unsatisfactory performance in California. That is insane.

But there are ways of getting around tenure laws, there is a ‘workaround.’

“How many times does someone devise a workaround for something that isn’t broken? You can’t make sense out of nonsense.”

He points out the insanity of the “Last In, First Out” (LIFO) layoff policies, which resulted in a teacher of the year being laid off.

“What kind of system do we have, where your prize, your reward, for being teacher of the year is to receive a layoff notice?”

The defendants argued that LIFO was good because it was objective. He points out how the absurdity of this claim.

“…touting something as objective as if that’s virtuous, well height is objective. I mean, alphabetical order is objective. You could have a layoff system based on who can dunk a basketball. I don’t think we want that either, just because its objective doesn’t mean that it has any merit to it and it points out that it is an absurd untenable argument.”

But, but, tenure just gives teachers due process.

“This is not an effort to attack due process. What the teachers under the dismissal code have is not due process. They have excessive, bloated, unnecessary statutory protections. What California state employees have, including teachers, like classified employees, that’s due process.”

And last, but not least:

We have Serrano which acknowledges that funding is an essential component to educational equality. We have the Buck case that acknowledges that time in school is an essential component to educational equality. Let’s place Vergara in that same vain and acknowledge the obvious, that teachers are an essential component to educational equality.


James Shuls is the Director of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute. Follow on Twitter @shulsie

2 Responses to Teacher Tenure on Trial

  1. […] I posted a series of quotes from Marcellus McRae’s closing argument in Vergara v. California to Jay P. Greene’s Blog. Yesterday, the court handed down its decision and it appears that McRae was right, “You can’t […]

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