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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Will California ruling on teacher seniority have an impact here?

Attorney Glenn Rothner speaks during a press conference after an L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violate the state's constitution. Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times.

Attorney Glenn Rothner speaks during a press conference after an L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violate the state’s constitution. Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times.

Some in this state have been closely watching the landmark California case in which a judge ruled on Tuesday in favor of nine students who challenged state laws governing the hiring and firing of California’s teachers.

The Los Angeles Superior Court judge struck down a number of those laws, agreeing they violated the students’ constitution rights because they helped incompetent teachers keep their jobs.

The group that helped bring the case to court, Students Matter, was quoted in The New York Times on Tuesday saying it is open to funding similar lawsuits.

At least one group says there may be interest here.

“People who are concerned about educational inequity in this state want to examine all the options around how we address inequity,” said Dave Powell, executive director of the Washington chapter of Stand for Children, an advocacy group.

“The court system is one viable way to do that. The California case puts momentum behind that idea.”

That said, it’s early yet. The California case almost certainly will be appealed, and the laws here in Washington are different from the ones struck down in California.

In California, for example, state law requires that school districts lay off teachers based on seniority. That’s not the case here, although many teacher contracts have that provision. (By the 2015-16 school year, however, state law requies districts to use teacher evaluations as a factor in any personnel decisions, including layoffs.)

Washington state also doesn’t grant many job protections to teachers until they’ve been on the job for three years.  In California, teachers effectively have been granted tenure after about 18 months.

Despite such differences, some say that some Washington students, just like some in California, are shortchanged by hiring and firing practices that aren’t based on teacher effectiveness.

In the Seattle area, for example, low-income schools tend to have the least experienced teachers, said Frank Ordway of the League of Education Voters, which he said “breeds inequality in educational results for those kids.”

But Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association — this state’s largest teachers union —  called the California case an attack on teachers that makes them “a scapegoat for larger issues facing schools – such as the lack of adequate funding.”

If a similar case did ever end up in court here, one Washington man probably would return to the witness stand.

In January, Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data & Research at the University of Washington – Bothell, testified for the plaintiffs in the California case.  Goldhaber talked about a  2010 study he co-authored about what happened when roughly 2,000 Washington teachers were laid off in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

He looked at who was laid off, compared with who might have been laid off if districts looked at teacher effectiveness, using what’s called a “value-added” measure. He said there wasn’t much overlap between the two groups, and he concluded that seniority-based layoffs aren’t in the best interest of students because many effective teachers lose their jobs.

He testified that his findings were applicable in California because seniority also determines layoffs in that state.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Center for Education Data & Research, Dan Goldhaber, Dave Powell

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