David Sciarra (right) and Billy Easton at a press
conference in March presenting findings from a
statewide fact-finding tour to document education
inequity in New York public schools.
Following on the heels of the Vergara ruling in California, a new lawsuit in New York is challenging the state's teacher tenure laws, alleging that tenure is the main cause of pervasive achievement gaps in the state's public schools. But as advocates and organizers have been quick to point out, the case is simply the latest, divisive attack on teachers and a distraction from the real inequities that are holding public schools back.
Writing in the Times Union, Billy Easton, Executive Director of Alliance for Quality Education, and David Sciarra, Executive Direction of Education Law Center, explain what the case gets right––and what it gets totally wrong:
This lawsuit gets one thing right: Children in high poverty, urban and rural school districts across the state are indeed being deprived their constitutional right to a sound basic education. What it gets completely wrong is why: the state's continuing failure to fairly fund high need schools so they can recruit, support and retain effective teachers and deliver rich instruction in math, science, world languages, the arts and other core subjects under optimal working conditions.
In 2007, the New York Supreme Court ruled in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that the state was underfunding its schools, leaving low-income districts unable to provide things like reasonable class size, support services, highly qualified teachers, books, computers and adequate facilities. In response the Legislature designed the Foundation Aid Formula, which it so far has failed to adhere to. The state funding shortfall is upwards of $5.7 billion, which has led districts to cut teachers and expand class sizes.
"Of course, the lawsuit challenging the process by which teachers get tenure and are laid off doesn't mention the unprecedented loss of teachers and essential resources in Utica, Poughkeepsie, Jamestown or dozens of other struggling communities across the state. Nor does it even acknowledge the state's stubborn resistance to fair school funding as the cause.
Let's face reality. Even if teacher tenure and work rules are tweaked, as the Legislature recently did, it will do nothing to ensure New York's most vulnerable children are served by an effective workforce of teachers and support staff, at levels sufficient to deliver a sound basic education."
Read Easton and Sciarra's full op-ed here.