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Doug Lasken


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Doug Lasken

Neel Kashkari, GOP candidate for California governor against incumbent Jerry Brown, faces an uphill climb with the media. His day-to-day comments and speeches are not reported, so that when important state issues come up, like the ruling in Vergara V. State of California concerning teacher tenure and seniority, the vast majority of the electorate does not know where Kashkari stands. He should pay particular attention to being heard when arguing teacher tenure and seniority because Brown is beholden to the teachers unions on these subjects and is not in a position to sound convincing.

Vergara was brought by a group called Students Matter (which plans campaigns in a number of states against teacher tenure and seniority rules) on behalf of nine students from five school districts, charging that five statutes in the California Education Code regarding tenure, seniority and dismissal procedures violate the equal protection clause of the state’s Constitution, resulting in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining employment. Moreover the suit claims that these ineffective teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools serving predominately low-income and minority students (I’d like to add, from my own observations, that low-income students are not the only ones who suffer from tenure protection of incompetent and/or malicious teachers. Middle class and affluent areas are no more able to combat union rules than schools in low-income areas).

In what has been called an “earthquake” in the education world, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled for the plaintiffs, so, theoretically, there are now no valid state guidelines for tenure and seniority. This requires the State Legislature to develop and pass new guidelines, but in practical terms, since an appeal is expected, the ruling is stayed pending the appellate review, which could go all the way to the State Supreme Court and take years.

That’s no reason for Kashkari to wait. He should make his support of the Vergara decision known right now, and he should demand a response from Brown, who, as noted, is walking a tightrope between teachers unions and Democratic voters who believe it’s time for revisions in teacher tenure and seniority. If Brown accepts Kashkari’s offer for ten televised debates, one session should be devoted to education, giving Kashkari an opportunity to really contrast Republican honesty with Democratic skullduggery. No kidding, huh? A combination of the tenure and seniority issues and Common Core could score big with both Democratic and Republican voters (for that and other suggestions see Flashreport, “Kashkaris’ challenge”)

Here’s a tip for the tenure debate: Brown will extol the virtues of teacher tenure, how it offers basic protections from arbitrary abuse of power against people who have made a personal investment in education and labor. It’s a red herring and there’s no need to debate it, because teacher tenure is a good idea. It sure helped me to have tenure status when I criticized “bilingual education” at a time when no upwardly mobile employee at Los Angeles Unified could do so with impunity. However, and this is the point Vergara makes, two years is too short a time to establish tenure (California is one of only five states that grant tenure in two years or less; forty-one states require three or more years and four states have no tenure). When I achieved tenure after two years I had barely begun to learn anything about teaching. Five years would be more realistic in assessing long-term teaching ability and commitment.

The media love stories about unions and union control, so I’d advise Kashkari to do something dramatic that would get a few of the press out, like announce that he’s unveiling his education platform with a challenge to Brown about teachers unions. That could generate a few articles. The main thing is to demonstrate to as many voters as possible that regarding teacher tenure and seniority, the Republican candidate sounds reasonable and straightforward, the Democratic candidate does not.

Doug Lasken is a retired LA Unified teacher, recently returned to coach debate, a freelancer and education consultant. Read his blog at and write him at