Teachers play an important role in shaping our children's futures. Every student deserves the highest quality education, but unfortunately our public education system doesn't always put students first or treat them equally.
Both in California, and nationally, our education systems have been declining. California is consistently ranked at the bottom in per pupil spending when adjusted for regional costs. Out of the top 35 industrialized nations in the world, the United States ranks 21st in reading, 21st in science and 26th in math. How are we going to stay competitive in a global economy over the long term with that reality?
Studies show excellent teachers increase earning capacity for their students individually (and not coincidentally ineffective teachers negatively impact earning capacity) but when multiplied by the number of students educated over the course of even one good teacher's career, that increased capacity can contribute millions to our state's economy. It is important to keep our education standards high – for our students, their teachers, and in order to stay competitive as a country.
California has taken some important steps to increase graduation rates and help students develop the skills they need to advance in their careers. Improving the funding formulas for lower performing schools and reevaluating the statewide curriculum are productive first steps toward improving education, but one of the most important things we can do for our students is improve how we deal with teachers.
The first thing we need to do is value them more. We should pay teachers more and not have benefits and tenure be the main appeal of the job. Next, we should invest more in teacher development. Education is only as good as the teacher providing the student the opportunity to learn. Finally, we should be able to fire bad teachers, not just in cases of egregious acts like sexual assault, but also those that are incompetent in the classroom. Current teacher dismissal statutes require a nearly infinite number of steps to dismiss an ineffective teacher. This does no good for students, especially disadvantaged and minority students, as those schools tend to be unfairly supplied with weak teachers.
In Sacramento, we have been working to reach a compromise on dismissal legislation with the teachers unions. Thankfully, a compromise was found with AB 215 by Assemblywoman Buchanan (D-Alamo). This bill speeds up the dismissal process for egregious teacher misconduct cases and also makes it easier for schools to remove ineffective teachers by streamlining the appeal process for dismissal for poor performance. The Governor recently signed this into law and it will go into effect on January 1, 2015.
One of the biggest complaints students and families have is not being able to do anything about poorly performing and incompetent teachers. Students have limited representation and if a student complains about a bad teacher, there is sadly not much the school can do.
This past year, nine public school students took their futures into their own hands by challenging teacher tenure in the courts in the case of Vergara v. California. They argued that they were denied their constitutional right to equal protection under the law and thereby their right to a quality education because of incompetent teachers that could not be fired due to teacher tenure.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled the teacher tenure provision in the California Education Code is unconstitutional and stated the evidence proved that poor and minority students suffer the most from ineffective teachers in California schools, hindering their ability to succeed.
The evidence in Vergara v. California demonstrated that permanent employment is granted too soon after being hired resulting in ineffective teachers being granted lifetime job protections; it is too difficult and costly to dismiss a teacher forcing districts to be stuck with bad teachers; and the “last in, first out” layoff model forces districts to fire top teachers and retain ineffective ones.
This ruling was monumental for students and is a positive first step towards reforming our education system. Teachers are truly valuable to our children's future and it's important that we continue to inspire and reward good teachers while being able to hold them to high standards.
Education is a top priority of mine and I will continue to work with my colleagues to provide the highest quality of education for our students and to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.