Stripping Teacher Protections Doesn’t Help Children

Your Take: A recent legal decision striking down teacher tenure in California wrongly identifies educators as the problems facing public schools and quietly furthers the marginalization of students of color, says a coalition of civil rights organizations. 

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Fifth-grade teacher Gaby Ibarra of the ABC Unified School District speaks at a demonstration in March 2014 about education issues. 

Courtesy of AFL-CIO

The AFL-CIO, along with the undersigned civil rights organizations, believes that every child has the right to a high-quality education. Last week the Los Angeles County Court invoked that right, under California’s Constitution, but its decision in Vergara v. California identifies classroom teachers as the one and only problem facing public schools.

The ruling unfortunately targets all educators, including the vast majority of dedicated, effective teachers who have relied on the statutory protections it struck down, without addressing the larger, systemic problems plaguing the state’s public schools. These include widespread racial segregation, concentrated poverty, discriminatory discipline practices and inadequate resources.

This decision has widespread civil rights implications. It quietly but clearly further marginalizes students of color by blithely papering over the real source of their educational struggles. It is true that some teachers aren’t living up to their duty as educators. But every day, many students and teachers enter schools that are horribly equipped, dangerous, grossly underfunded and beset by racial discrimination both subtle and overt. Stripping all teachers of their rights will not solve these massive structural problems in public education.

The AFL-CIO and its partners in civil rights advocacy worry that the decision will backfire by demoralizing the vast majority of teachers who are effective and committed to children. California children will not benefit if these teachers become discouraged and leave the profession. Furthermore, creating job insecurity in the field of teaching will not help to attract the best teachers.

Our children deserve—indeed, are entitled to—every chance to succeed. Blaming and punishing all of their teachers is not the answer. We want all students to learn; we need them to learn, especially the young people who are most vulnerable: children of color, those living in poverty, English-language learners, migrant students and students with disabilities. Let’s move forward together to focus relentlessly on their futures.

The AFL-CIO is joined by the undersigned civil rights organizations in its concerns about the implications of the decision and its insistence that we put our children’s educational needs first:

Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation, representing 12.5 million workers. Follow the AFL-CIO on Twitter.

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