Former CNN journalist Campbell Brown created her own news story yesterday by filing suit on behalf of seven New York families challenging teacher tenure laws in the state. The complaint, filed in Albany County Supreme Court, claims teacher tenure laws impede a school district’s ability to hire and fire teachers based on teacher quality and student need. This violates New York’s Constitution, which guarantees all students a sound education.
The plaintiffs are five families with children in New York City Schools and two Rochester families. Brown’s education reform organization, Partnership for Educational Justice, says the suit is necessary because New York schools are failing, and districts need more control over their ability to dismiss ineffective teachers. Under current law, teachers with three years of service are eligible for tenure. Once tenured, a teacher may not be dismissed without cause. The process of firing a teacher can take as long as 18 months and can cost as much as $250,000, the Partnership claims.
“In any big fight like this, where you’re trying to change the world, there’s always going to be people, like these people, who are storming the steps of the Capitol. Then behind them you’re gonna have people who are holding the coats of the people who are storming the steps … I am just proud to be holding your coats today.” — Campbell Brown, standing with families who are suing New York State.
This is the second lawsuit filed in New York challenging teacher tenure. On July 3, New York City Parents Union filed a similar suit in Staten Island Supreme Court. The Parents Union issued a press statement Sunday announcing they intend to keep their suit separate from the Partnership for Educational Justice suit. Last month, a California Supreme Court judge ruled that California’s tenure laws were in violation of the state’s Constitution. California grants tenure after only two years of service, and its process for dismissing a teacher is onerous. New York has recently streamlined the process so that disciplinary cases are resolved within five months.
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) President Karen Magee responded to the suit with a press statement calling the action politically motivated. She expresses confidence that the court would reject the complaints as being without merit. Magee says that tenure laws allow teachers to advocate for students without fear of repercussions to their careers. The ability to fire teachers at-will, Magee states, cannot solve the problems faced by schools in high-poverty communities. “Tenure protects all teachers from nepotism, favoritism, discrimination, patronage and other forms of arbitrary dismissal,” Magee writes.
Magee also says it is important to retain seniority rights. In New York, when a school is reducing the size of its faculty, teachers with the least amount of service are let go first. This provision prevents schools from terminating veteran teachers who often are the fiercest student advocates and who are at the top of the pay scale. Magee characterizes Campbell Brown as a “wealthy elitist” who stands to gain financially by weakening teacher unions to facilitate the privatization of schools. Brown is on the Board of the Success Academy Charter Schools, a private organization.