Courts Rule Teaching Tenure is Unconstitutional-Here’s the Real Deal Behind that Fight

Davey-D-brown-frameOn Tuesday a Superior Court here in the state of California issued a landmark ruling declaring teachers who receive tenure is unconstitutional. Immediately afterwards a number of folks jumped on social media and took to the airwaves declaring the ending of teaching tenure as a grand victory and now our children will be saved. A closer look at some of those prominent voices including the Black and Brown ones, showed that they were a small fraction of folks who had aligned themselves with big corporations and neo-liberal factions that want nothing more but to privatize public education.

This wasn’t about saving kids. This was about making money along with pushing a culture of conformity.  Here’s a few undisputable facts about teacher tenure and the court’s ruling along with an insightful interview from one of the nation’s leading educators  Dr Jeff Duncan-Andrade from SF State University.

First, let’s deal with understanding what Cali’s teaching tenure policy was about.  Tenure with teachers does not mean they can’t be fired. It means they can’t be fired at will..One of the main rights workers had eroded thanks to billions spent in corporate lobbying nationally and domestically was to remove worker protections and make it such that an employer can walk up and fire you at will.

Many have bemoaned this fact and have talked about having to go to work and be on eggshells because an unreasonable, tyrannical, over demanding boss can at any moment upend your world by bouncing you. Perhaps from a corporate POV being able to walk up and fire folks is a good thing. It means that when an employee starts to gain seniority which would allow certain types of benefits and pensions to kick in, the employer can simply fire them and replace them with someone younger and cheaper.

The tenure aspect of a teacher was something all of us should have which is ‘due process‘ when it comes to your employment. This means if you as a teacher speak out and politically align yourself with parents and students vs the administration which may have a politically agenda, you can’t be bounced out.

Banned BooksIf we have forward thinking teachers who find that its best to teach students about Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez , the I Hotel Strikes or engage them in discussions about current events and relate that to the curriculum, should they be bounced because some out of touch or biased administrator feels lessons on Malcolm or Chicano Culture are irrelevant? This is what went down in Tuscon, Arizona around its Chicano Studies program. Reactionary forces came in let teachers go, passed a law to shut down ethnic studies because some saw it threatening to the American way of life and banned a ton of books including Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere from being in the classroom..Is this what we are advocating?? Is this our solution?

The way this current fight around teacher tenure has been depicted in the news courtesy of those pushing for public education to be privatized, is to say there are old, white, insensitive, under performing teachers who been around for years, who got tenure and were dumped into inner city schools where they are culturally ill-equipped, uncaring and the main reason why we have in 50-60% drop out rates. Popular movies like ‘Waiting for Superman‘ further fueled that narrative as its school privatizers made the face of teacher’s unions become that above described ineffective teacher.

According to the lawsuit where they had ‘expert witnesses’ and bevy of studies to reference, under performing teachers make less than 3% of the total Cali teacher workforce.. In actual numbers, there are close to 300k active California public school teachers, out of that we are talking about 2k-8k at most who aren’t making the grade..This is for the entire state and when you add up the numbers there’s no way this handful of teachers has upended the largest public school system in the country. You can look at what the court was taking into consideration–>  HERE

What we need to be asking is what administrator decided to come along and place under performing teachers in inner city schools? This is akin to sending bad, brutalizing cops to inner city neighborhoods and then playing dumb when folks complain about rampant abuse.

Oakland Parents fighting to keep local schools from being privatized

Oakland Parents fighting to keep local schools from being closed and eventually privatized

We need to be asking how many of these teachers did they assign and what was the rationale? What administrator looked at school in deep East Oakland and said; “Golly gee this school is having challenges, why don’t I look at my list of teachers and send them all the bad ones“.. .If the percentage of bad teachers statewide is 1-3% then we need to ask who made the decision to fill a school up with  under performing teachers that far exceed that 1-3%?? Was it the principal? School chancellor? School board?? Who?

Whats been implied over the years is that the teacher’s union insisted that under performing teachers go to inner city schools and miseducate our kids? During our interview with Dr Andrade, he astutely noted, many teachers walk into schools that are purposely and severely under funded, over crowded and disproportionately impacted by a number of outside systemic problems that hinder learning. Teachers who speak out about that often find themselves under fire with some being labeled as under performing.

Dr Jeff Duncan Andrade

Dr Jeff Duncan Andrade

Andrade went on to talk about the high turn over rates in some of these schools where frustrated teachers simply leave resulting in many schools being unstable. He also raised the question as to where school districts will be getting all these ‘good teachers’ in particular teachers of color who are set and ready to flood these inner city schools and take them to the next level? He talked about current recruitment practice which he described as lacking and in many cases non existent.

Whats likely to happen is many of our schools will be flooded with teachers coming from outfits like Teach For America which has come under fire for sending college recruits, giving them 5 weeks of training and sending them to the most needy schools? Many have been accused of not being committed to these kids but instead using TFA as a stepping stone to jump start a career and to pay off student loans.  Is that the solution for our kids? If you don’t know about TFA read about them HERE and ask is this the solution folks are supporting?

The other question we should asking is who is David Welch, the billionaire venture capitalist with no background in education who funded the court fight to end teaching tenure? Who is aligned with? Last I checked he squarely in lock step with school privatizers. What’s his track record for work in our communities? With all his money how has he been investing? Is his involvement similar to the Koch Brothers donating money to the United Negro College Fund? Read about Welch HERE and ask is this who folks are supporting?

Yesterday on Hard Knock Radio – 94.1 at 4pm we discussed at length the ruling that took place.. We have as our guest long time Oakland based educator Jeff Duncan-Andrade whose been in the front line trenches for over 21 years who is also nationally recognized for his work in education.. Check him out HERE  and read about him HERE

check out our interview below..


  1. christal says:

    Thank you for your write-up on the Vegara case. I formerly worked in a high needs school district. When I was hired, I came to work an intern credential which afforded me the opportunity to become a fully credentialed teacher. However, surrounding districts that did not face the same need that my former district faced, would not even let me in the door without a full teaching credential. I also know that from conversations with district administrators and school site administrators they were often reluctant to let ineffective teachers go simply because they had no guarantee that a.) they would get anyone better or b.) that positions would be filled with short-term subs.

    This lawsuit does nothing for the kids except make scapegoats out of their teachers. Teachers who choose to teach in high need school districts long-term do it because they know they are truly making a difference in the lives of kids that they serve.Until we face the real issues that hinder our kids, like poverty, racism and the mass incarceration of minorities, very little will get better and this lawsuit, if upheld, will very likely make things worse. Simply put, very few will choose to teach in a school district like Oakland or Vallejo or parts of LA without some sort of job protection which is all due process, aka permanent status, really is all about.

  2. Eric Fuentes says:

    Our current system of schools is broken. Rather than continue down the path we are on, which clearly isn’t working, let’s try a new solution. Let’s hold our teachers accountable. If they are not making the grade, then we should have recourse to discipline or fire them. As an individual who was educated in the public school system, I had many lazy, incompetent, and embittered teachers who had other agendas besides teaching kids. I had one teacher go so far as to tell me that any conservative or right of center belief was wrong, and she would fail anybody who espoused any conservative views in her class. I expressed my concern to the principal and members of the school board, but got little support as this teacher was tenured. I was told that it would be difficult to discipline or fire her, as the union had a very strong support system in place, and concerns of parents and students were generally disregarded. I don’t know that teachers would be fired at will as easily as you claim. As in any job, there must be a valid reason for firing an employee. Or, as your article seems to suggest, we could continue to do nothing and hope that things will turn around (which is not likely) and watch as America’s educational system continues to decline and decline (which it has for some time now) which will directly cause us to become ill-equipped to face the future.

    • The danger with any/all complaints similar to yours is that the public will generalize and reach false conclusions about the entire teacher profession. Having a different political affinity does not make this teacher ineffective, but controversial. Teachers are supposed to be neutral on these matters as students are a captive audience. You could have asked for a transfer out of that class if you felt that teacher’s political agenda affected their teaching effectiveness. Claiming to be a victim of poor teacher pedagogy and practice, doesn’t make you an expert on what is wrong with public education. If we were to tie test scored to graduation, maybe students would actually try to do well on standardized test scores.

    • clyde hodge says:

      Dude, read the article again. You missed the point. By the way, they could be censured for trying to persuade kids to follow any political or religious doctrine, and the union would not be in the way: That is unethical and we members wouldn’t tolerate it. I think the administrator lied to you so he didn’t have to do the paper work.

    • While I am sorry that you had a bad experience with a teacher, I wonder why you feel that every Teacher in California should be “held accountable” and punished for your bad experience. Rather than blaming the teacher’s union-which is obligated represent teachers regardless of how they feel about them-I wonder why you aren’t more outraged at the Principal for not listening to you, or taking your concerns seriously, or bringing it up to the teacher so that the situation was resolved.

    • “As in any job, there must be a valid reason for firing an employee.”

      You must not have ever had a job.

      There NEVER needs to be a valid reason for firing an employee. There only needs to NOT be a discriminatory reason regarding a protected class status.

      Can’t fire someone because of race or religion. But you CAN fire them just because you feel like it.

      You work for David Welch?

    • Big Jeryl says:

      Mr. Fuentes, what you wrote here seems extremely articulate, observant and above all, intelligent. Well written, stellar punctuation and in an impecable style. You seem to have the knowledge and drive to write a passionate comment about a complexed problem… even giving what you believe are viable solutions. Seems the public school education served you well after all. Am i wrong?

      My wife is a teacher in the PSS and I taught for a while myself. Yes there are some terrible teachers in the public school system, but I think you’ve failed to see that as of late, LEADERSHIP is the cause of the problems in the school systems. That being said, it should be noted that the public schools are led by school boards… in most cases, none of whom are educators themselves. There is also a big problem with money: Too many people become administrators and politicians around public schools systems so that they can make more money, control the money or use racial bias to deny hated communities access to Public School resources. Dig deeper and I’m positive you’ll find that this is the case across the nation, not just in small isolated areas. So, please don’t attack teachers without first understanding that there is a serious problem with the system, and teachers are merely an affect of a bigger cause. Thanks my Brother.

  3. THANK YOU! Even many good teachers are afraid to implement student-relevant education because of threats by the administration.

  4. WoodRat says:

    Our current system of education is not broken. A large majority of our students graduate high school every year. Many of them continue on to college and graduate prepared for sucessful, professional careers. Others begin careers in the trades. These high school and college graduates go on to become productive members of society, raise children and provide for their families.

    Eric F. States he had many lazy, incompetent teachers during his education; however, I think Eric’s frustration is misplaced, it should not be focused on the bad teacher he is disappointed in — rather it should focused on the ineffective principal and school board members who dismissed his complaints and refused to address them. This is the actual problem. In his scenario.

    It is easy to blame all teachers for the acts of a small minority, only 1-3% of teachers, but it is a huge mistake to do so because it punishes the other 97-99% who are hard working, dedicated and effective teachers in our schools, and then fails to address or correct the actual problem.

  5. Because, Mr. Fuentes, as we all know, your anecdotal evidence is proof that millions of teachers are doing this every day. In real practice, this is not the case, especially in today’s classrooms. The level of accountability and professionalism has skyrocketed. The reality in schools is that as political winds change every 2-4 years, lack of tenure (not job protection, it requires DUE PROCESS) will upend and destabilize schools as each new regime brings in their own people. Not only that, older and more expensive teachers (read career teachers who act as mentors for the next generation) will be let go to hire more inexperienced teachers who need massive training and at least 3-5 years experience before they are a good stable teacher. So I ask you, when teachers like you describe are kept in place it is NOT the union who is at fault, it is a lazy and do-nothing administration that refuses to do their jobs. Who is holding them accountable? Teachers are let go every day, why did your parents not hold the school board and administrators accountable for their job performance?

  6. Totally misguided. It was proven in court using data on both sides of the argument that the current system of tenure/seniority disproportionately harms children of color. You can discount that with a bunch of pro-union fancy academic talk about “neoliberalism,” but putting the rights of middle-class teachers to have a job before the right of children to have teachers that can actually teach is ridiculous.

  7. Circhie says:

    “Our current system of schools is broken.” How do you know this to be true? Do you work in a school? I call BS on you! “Let’s hold our teachers accountable. If they are not making the grade, then we should have recourse to discipline or fire them.” Did you not understand? We do have recourse to discipline and fire them – again, do you work in a school and have any idea about any of this – or do you just spew sound bites from who knows where? I call BS on you! “I had many lazy, incompetent, and embittered teachers who had other agendas besides teaching kids.” I call BS on you! You have a grudge about a teacher who put your self-righteous, ill-informed attitude in its place and so you judge every other teacher by that one you did not like (or could not get your way with). In my fifty+ years in education (on one side of the desk and the other), I can count on one (with left-over digits) how many “lazy, incompetent, and embittered teachers” I experienced. You have drunk the kool-aid of corporate America. The decline in America’s schools is a myth – if you take poverty out of the equation. All our schools (with less then 10% poverty in their district) score at or above international scores. I suggest you go do your homework about what is and is not working in education. Any industry has room to improve – and our ed system does need some updates – but scaring our best and brightest away from teaching because they see the horror that is teaching is not he way to fix it.