California Ruling Could Affect Teacher Hiring Nationwide08:37

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A landmark court ruling in California could affect the way teachers across the country are hired and fired.

A Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday struck down several tenure, layoff and dismissal laws as unconstitutional, saying they unfairly deprive students of their right to an education.

The laws protect job security by basing layoffs on teacher seniority and grant long term job security after 18 months of teaching. The ruling will not go into effect until the appeals process runs its course.

Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti is joined by Jim Finberg, a lawyer representing California teacher unions, and Russlynn Ali, an advisory board member of Students Matter, to discuss the ruling.

Interview Highlights: Russlyn Ali and Jim Finberg

Ali on why her organization backed the lawsuit

"We worked with this organization because of their intent and the novel nature of this case. Historically, we've had cases that say that time matters, how long we teach kids, that money matters. But for the first time, we're acknowledging the power of a teacher in front of the classroom, and we're acknowledging the inequities that exist and persist today, where, far too often, students that are in schools serving mostly African-American and Latino students, mostly low-income students, also have more than their fair share of our most under-qualified instructors. And there has been little that superintendents and principals or the public can do about it, because of the constraints of these laws."

Ali on criticism from teachers and unions

"This has never been about anti-teacher and anti-union. To the contrary, this is about pro-teacher, pro-public education, but acknowledging that where we have laws and regulations that hurt kids, that violate their constitutional rights, those laws must be rewritten."

Finberg on why tenure for teachers is important

"Without having the job security that you would not be dismissed unless there was good cause, teachers, who are well-educated and have options, might not go into the teaching profession, so having tenure and the assurance that one won't be dismissed, except with good cause, helps good, qualified teachers in our schools."

Finberg on the need for good teachers in under-performing schools

"There is an achievement gap, but it is not caused by these statutes. The way to address high-poverty, high-minority schools is to put the strongest teachers and principals in those schools. the studies by Prof. Susan Moore Johnson at Harvard, Prof. Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford, show that when teachers have good working conditions, they do their best work and students thrive."


  • James M. Finberg, partner at Altshuler Berzon LLP, who is representing California teacher unions.
  • Russlynn Ali, advisory board member of Students Matter, which represented the plaintiffs. She is also former assistant secretary at U.S. Department of Education under President Obama.

This segment aired on June 11, 2014.

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