A year-long political and legal war over California's public school system entered into a new phase this week in a Los Angeles courtroom. The battle is between the education establishment and civil rights advocates.
The civil rights advocates, who are backed by reform groups and wealthy individuals, say that a structural change is needed. The reformers contend that flexibility would allow school officials to avoid spending extra money on targeted students.
The reform group Students Matter was founded by Silicon Valley tycoon David Welch. The group was in court to argue that tenure and other teacher protection laws violate students' rights by denying them competent instruction.
Theodore Boutrous Jr., a Students Matter Attorney, acknowledges that they do not have all the answers, and stresses that they are not asking the court to create an evaluation system nor are they attempting to "scapegoat teachers for racism and poverty." He stated that current laws "create a vicious cycle to harm students every day."
The opening witness for the plaintiffs was John Deasy, who is the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District. He said that the state's current short probationary period for new teachers is not long enough to judge their ability before they are granted tenure.
Deputy Attorney General Nimrod Elias said that the laws being challenged maintain a "professional, stable workforce" and "eliminating due process and job security could bring about unintended consequences when California is embarking on innovative efforts."
One of the laws that is being challenged is how the district is allowed to dismiss a poor or abusive teacher. The legislature took up the issue after Deasy's district paid off a teacher who had been accused of sexually abusing a young child instead of going through the dismissal process.
Reformers have responded by proposing a dismissal ballot that, if passed, would open up another front in California's school war.