Vergara Victory Spurs NY Families to Challenge Teacher Tenure

Following the lead of the Los Angeles lawsuit aimed at ending teacher tenure, seven families in the state of New York are filing to do the same thing, write Ben Chapman and Stephen Rex Brown of the New York Daily News.

Five of the families live in some of the most impoverished communities in New York City, and claim that their children have experienced inadequate teaching from teachers who were in the classroom simply because they had tenure.  This violates their children’s constitutional rights, they say.

The lawsuit will be filed in Albany, NY, and is being backed by journalist and education activist Campbell Brown.  Her newly found reform group, Partnership for Educational Justice, (PEJ) believes that the current tenure, seniority, and dismissal regulations make it nearly impossible to fire inadequate teachers.  The group is also against the last in-first out layoff policy.

“There’s no reason why my kids should not be reading on grade level. The law should be changed,” said Nina Doster, 33, of South Ozone Park, Queens. The mother of five is a plaintiff in the suit and also a paid organizer for the StudentsFirstNY advocacy group.

“Every child should be subject to the best education and teaching in every classroom,” she said.

The lawsuit explains that:

• One child was criticized by her teacher publicly and was so anxious that she regressed academically.

• Another said that his teacher told him that she was “too busy” to help him learn how to read.

• A kindergartner said that her teacher slept in a rocking chair during class, and gave her good grades even though she could not read.

“My daughter wasn’t learning to read,” said Angeles Barragan, 48, whose daughter may have to attend second grade for a third time. “I went to observe the class and I saw that the teacher was just sitting in a rocking chair and the parent volunteers were the ones who were doing the teaching.”

The other two families in the suit are from Rochester.  Another legal challenge to teacher tenure was brought by the New York City Parents Union.  It is possible, at some point, that the two will be combined.  No teachers are actually named in the suit because the it is arguing that tenure laws lead to bad teachers, which can be supported by some research.  David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, says:

Brown “has to prove inequity, inadequacy and causation — that the different legal constellation in New York causes the learning issues that we see throughout the state.”

Brown says she is impressed with the bravery of the plaintiffs, and adds that her group  may file more lawsuits against teacher tenure in other states, according to Eliza Shapiro writing for website Capital New York.

Critics of the tenure rules usually make one of the following arguments:

• Teachers receive tenure too quickly.

• The “last in – first out” policy sometimes dismisses teachers who may be more effective in the classroom than tenured teachers.

• Tenure makes firing teachers who are low-performing way too complex and difficult.

Many people, including Dennis Van Roekel, the outgoing president of the National Education Association teachers’ union, says anti-tenure advocates are just going after the unions.  But, even the unions are for streamlining dismissal processes.  Ken Welner of the National Education Policy Center says the silver lining to the suits may be that focus is being put on the plight of the nation’s highest-poverty schools which could result in many unjust policies being exposed.

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) said:.

“There will be no equality in education until we transition to a system that prioritizes academic achievement for children over job security for adults. Teachers have a tremendous impact on the lives of students, particularly the most disadvantaged. When ineffective teachers are allowed to remain in the classroom because of union protections and antiquated laws, it is not only a disservice to students but also to the many wonderful teachers dedicated to excellence in education.”