In a ruling that sent shock waves through education circles nationwide, a California judge ruled Tuesday in favor of nine students who sought to overturn that state's teacher tenure laws, arguing that the laws robbed them of their right to a quality education under the California constitution.
The students' attorneys had argued that by imposing a "last hired, first fired" standard, California statutes were imposing demonstrably inferior, older teachers on vulnerable students, while removing from the classroom dynamic younger teachers who could transform schools and students' lives.
The Deseret News touched on the case earlier this month. "In the crosshairs is a statute that grants permanent employment status after 18 months to teachers before administrators can assure their effectiveness," the article noted. "Another creates byzantine procedures to dismiss incompetent teachers, and a third requires districts to lay off newer teachers first, even if they are proven performers."
Before the decision, Campbell Brown at the Daily Beast had called the case "the most important court case you've never heard of." Now that the judge has ruled, the case's obscurity is fading fast.
"Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students," the judge found, according to the Huffington Post.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed the ruling, signaling his long-standing split from teachers' unions. Duncan has also been a vocal advocate of charter schools, for related reasons.
If upheld on appeal, Duncan told CNN, it could signal "a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students' rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve."
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, called the ruling "deeply flawed" and said NEA would support a California Teachers Association appeal, USA Today reported.
"Today's ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching," said Van Roekel, a former math teacher in Arizona.
"This is a sad day for public education," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, according to the USA Today report. "While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing. For example, the judge believes that due process is essential but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation."