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California tenure decision could spark conversation
THURSDAY, JULY 10, 2014 10:13 AM

In June 2014, the Superior Court of California ruled in favor of students in the Vergara v. California case. It was considered a landmark decision by many as it was the first time a major court made a ruling on state educational tenure laws. Prior to Vergara v. California, the state had a "last in, first out" policy in which new teachers were the first to be laid off. The court decided this and other tenure practices were unconstitutional because they didn't support quality education for all students. Specifically, the court felt minorities were left with poorly qualified educators. 

Finding ways to open the conversation
While the decision was a victory for some and a disappointment for others, many educators hope it will open doors of communication about tenure. In fact, a lot of people believe tenure laws are flawed and in need of revisiting. Some suggest schools need to offer better support for struggling educators, while others mean to call out teachers they feel aren't living up to high educational standards. No matter what people want out of new tenure policies, all agree that students have the right to a quality education

"I do hope this is an opportunity to start a dialogue outside the courtroom in part because teacher policy and employment protections, how to get high quality teachers into hard-to-staff classrooms and, importantly, how to close the teacher-quality gap - these are extremely complicated questions. It's going to take some really complex policy thinking and some conversations at the local level as well as the state level," Bill Koski, a professor at Stanford University's law school and graduate school of education, told NPR.

Measuring teacher ability
Standardized tests are one way states have to assess their teachers. Students take the annual exams and their scores are used in teacher evaluations. For example, if most of the kids in a teacher's class perform well on the test, the educator is likely to have a positive review. The opposite is also true. California is one of many states that is implementing new assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Students took the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exams in the spring, and the tests will be made a regular part of school practice starting in 2015. 

Alan Warhaftig, an English teacher at a magnet school in Los Angeles, explained to NPR that the assessment system does have some flaws. As he teaches accelerated students, his class is likely to perform well on tests whether or not he did a good job teaching them. By the same token, teachers who educate struggling students may have helped the kids make progress but not have the scores to reflect that fact.