John A. Tures: A bogus case against 'tenure' for teachers

June 20, 2014 

The Vergara v. California case, in which a judge ruled against teacher tenure, is thought to be the biggest case from the Golden State since the O.J. Simpson trial.

It's also a bogus case.

•Most of the plaintiffs didn't attend a public school covered by teacher tenure.

Two of the plaintiffs attend a charter school. Two others (including the Beatriz Vergara lead plaintiff who testified) attend a special "pilot school," where the teachers don't have tenure.

• The plaintiffs couldn't demonstrate teacher incompetence.

The lawsuit claimed that three teachers were incompetent. I researched them and found that one of them, Christine McLaughlin, was actually named Pasadena's 2013 teacher of the year. The others have not only received no other complaints, but have been lauded for their dedication to the students. The students claimed McLaughlin didn't assign them any homework or classwork. McLaughlin brought in the assignments given to class. The plaintiffs (funded by the group "Students Matter") offered no counterattack to that evidence.

• The plaintiffs contradicted themselves regarding teacher incompetence.

When confronted with the evidence that so-called incompetent teacher McLaughlin was named the best teacher, Students Matter claimed she had received four LIFO (Last In First Out) layoff notices over the past seven years and used that as evidence … that she was a good teacher yet got layoff notices. Wait, wasn't this the person they named in the lawsuit as a bad teacher? Of course, she wasn't laid off, but you can't have it both ways.

• No, teacher tenure does not mean "teacher for life."

All teacher tenure means is that you have a right to a hearing. You get due process before you get dismissed. Students Matter claimed only a few tenured teachers were fired. The defense pointed out that many resign before they get fired, so the plaintiff statistics are misleading.

• No, teachers are not holding onto jobs for life.

If anything, the defendants revealed that the system is far different from the media caricature of teachers holding onto jobs forever. An Oakland Education Association representative revealed that the turnover rate is 76 percent over five years in her area. If the pay is astronomically high, and the job security is really so great, why would anyone leave such a job?

You are free, of course, to believe whatever you want about teacher tenure. I probably won't change your mind on the matter. And maybe there will be a future case where an actual public school student attending a school actually covered by teacher tenure brings actual evidence of teacher incompetence. Then we can have a real fact-based debate on teacher tenure, instead of this bogus California case.

John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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