New York AG to Combine Teacher Tenure, Seniority Lawsuits

Two recent lawsuits may be consolidated if New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s motion is accepted.  He claims that the state’s tenure and seniority laws conflict with students’ rights to a sound, basic education, writes Leslie Brody of The Wall Street Journal.

Since the two cases involve the same legal and factual issues, it would save judicial resources to merge them, says the attorney general.  The New York City Parents Union filed the first suit in Staten Island on July 3, and the Partnership for Educational Justice filed the second suit in Albany on July 28.  The United Federation of Teachers has attempted to mediate, saying that tenure is simply a way to guarantee due process that prevents members from being fired without cause.

The lawsuit, Davids vs. State of New York, et al. has the stated purpose to convince New York state, the New York state Board of Regents, the state Education Department, New York City, and the city’s Department of Education “to protect our children’s rights and to fulfill their Constitutional mandate to offer all children the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”

Diane C. Lore, of Advance Digital, writes that the suits are modeled after the successful California Vergara case, and the purpose of the action is to get rid of certain statutes that “prevent removal of ineffective teachers” and “require layoffs of more effective teachers”.  Students Matter, which sponsored the successful Vergara lawsuit, announced this month that it would support the New York plaintiffs.

Tech magnate David Welch, founder of Students Matter, has committed to funding the lawsuit and supplying legal expertise.  Ben Chapman and Stephen Rex Brown, writers for the New York Daily News, report that teachers’ unions say that the money devoted to the legal challenge could be better spent.

CNN anchor Campbell Brown has created the Partnership for Educational Justice, which last month helped seven public school parents file a lawsuit against New York state’s teacher tenure law according to CBS News.  Brown and attorney David Boies, chairman of Brown’s organization, are teaming up to fight against teacher tenure as it currently exists.  Critics are accusing the two high-profile activists of attacking teachers’ unions.

“It is an attack on certain aspects that are hurting students,” Boies said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” “I believe in unions, but it doesn’t mean unions are always right.”

“This is not an attack on teachers,” Boies said, stressing that the case would not strip teachers of due process rights. “This is something that I think will, for the vast majority of teachers, make it a more professional occupation.”

Boies continued by adding that education is a basic civil right.  We are no  longer segregating based on race, he says, but now we are segregating our children based on economics, and it has the same disastrous results as racial segregation had.

Critics have said that it is school budget cuts and inadequate funding that are the real villains  causing inequality in education.  Boies agrees, but counters that the issue of hiring, retaining and paying the best teachers is the key to quality education.

In an article for the Huffington Post, Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor, Urban Teacher Education at Michigan State University, and Alan A. Aja, Assistant Professor and Deputy Chair in the Department of Puerto Rican & Latin Studies at Brooklyn College (City University of New York), write in The Blog section of the paper, that Campbell Brown’s narrative relies on “misinformation, hyperbole, and exception fallacy“.  The writers say that a rational point of view would contend that “bad apples” do not necessarily represent the entire “bunch”.

Brown’s claim is that the least effective teachers are centralized in the most disadvantaged schools.  Dunn and Aja believe that as teacher educators they should fact-check and contextualize Brown’s message, since the stakes are so high for public schools across the country.

They say there is no research that shows that teacher tenure laws result in lower rates of achievement for students.  This is the entire argument behind the lawsuit.  In the lawsuit, the idea that teachers are receiving high ratings, but a low percentage of students are performing at grade-level is a one of the lawsuit’s major components.  The writers say, however, that many things determine student success, such as parents’ education level and income, wealth inequality, school resources, to name but a few.