Teacher Employee Rights and Student Equal Protection Rights Collide: California Teacher Tenure Laws Ruled Unconstitutional

At one point quoting Brown v. Board of Education, a California state court judge found that California's teacher tenure rules violated the state constitutional right to education and the equal protection rights of minority and/or poor students.

"LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education, a decision that hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case that overturns several California laws that govern the way teachers are hired and fired.

'Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,”'Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in the ruling. 'The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”'

The ruling, which declared the laws governing how teachers are hired and fired in California to be unconstitutional, is likely to set off a slew of legal fights here and in other states, where many education reform advocates are eager to change similar laws. 


The plaintiffs argued that California’s current laws made it impossible to get rid of low-performing and incompetent teachers, who were disproportionately assigned to schools filled with poor students. The result, they insisted, amounted to a violation of students’ constitutional rights to an education."  (link)

The decision cites a study that calculates the cost of a single year of teaching by a "grossly ineffective" teacher was $1.4 million in students' lifetime earnings per classroom.  Another cited study calculates there are between 2,750 and 8,250 "grossly ineffective"  teachers in California classrooms.

Importantly, many other states, including New York, also have a state constitutional right to education that will likely provide a basis for similar challenges to teacher tenure rules.

Brown v. Board of Education - Why We Need to Keep Pushing Forward

The 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education is an important reminder to advocates for civil rights, in all contexts, to remember why it is we do the work we do.

Taking even a quick look back at some of the clips over the weekend was, for me, nothing short of inspirational.  That racial justice advocates could believe in their mission and win during a time of deep-seated racial discrimination and violence is nothing short of a miracle.

So that hopefully you could get the same feeling, I decided I had to find and post a video that at least begins to remind us of this most basic fight for equality in America.

Here is a slightly dated but still inspirational PBS video of that victory.


This weekend I basked in the glow of this video, and a few others, secretly congratulating myself for being an, albeit tiny, modern part of this oldest of struggles for equality in America.

And then the New York Civil Liberties Union was a complete killjoy - I received the below  email from them Sunday.

Well - back to work folks...

NY Has the Most Segregated Schools in America


Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, ending legal segregation in public schools.

But equal education for all New York children remains a dream deferred.

New York has the most segregated schools of any state in the country–with the worst segregation upstate. Some schools have been called "apartheid schools" because racial isolation is so extreme.

It's time to reaffirm our commitment to Brown. Tell New York's policy makers that you want real solutions that fix school segregation in New York.

Racial isolation is harmful to children. On top of that, children in mostly black and Latino schools have shockingly fewer resources such as certified teachers, computers, libraries, art classes and textbooks. Unsurprisingly, they receive lower scores on standardized tests from grade school to high school and are far less likely to graduate.

Honor this proud moment in our country's history by telling New York's political leaders it's time to fulfill Brown's 60-year-old promise of equal education.

Thank you for helping New York keep its promise of equal education for all children, regardless of the color of their skin. Please forward this message to your friends.



Donna Lieberman
Executive Director
New York Civil Liberties Union


Eric Holder: Subtle Racism is the Greatest Threat to Racial Equality

Earlier today, Attorney General Eric Holder cited subtle forms of discrimination as the greatest danger to racial equality today:

"Speaking during the commencement ceremony at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Holder referred obliquely to a series of racially charged episodes that have “received substantial media coverage” in recent weeks — an apparent reference to the controversial comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy. But Holder also said that the “outlandish statements that capture national attention” obscure a more troubling reality.

These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done,” he said.

“The greatest threats,” he said, “are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.” (link)

The Attorney General backs me up on the importance of confronting non-explicit racism:

"Holder spoke broadly about the struggle for racial equality and what he suggested was the failure of some to fully grasp the degree to which minority groups can be marginalized. He took direct aim at the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, who famously wrote in a 2007 opinion that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

“This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb that it doesn’t need to be actively confronted,” Holder countered. “In its most obvious forms, it might be. But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute. And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”  (link)

Today's speech was given on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Civil Rights rights desegregation decision.

The full transcript of the speech is available here.