California schools: Searching for top teachers

OPINION: California’s public schools used to be the nation’s gold standard damer i norge. But today, the Golden State’s 4th graders rank 46th in reading, while our 8th graders rank 47th in math.

When you see figures like this, it’s clear that our students are unprepared to meet the demands of both college and the 21st century workforce.

California is home to some of the world’s most innovative and creative companies. Every day, they are shaping the global economy. They are seeking a skilled workforce that has a strong knowledge-base, keen analytical skills, and proficiency in math and science.

But the failure of many of our schools to teach students basic reading, analytical and mathematical skills denies them the solid foundation they will need to succeed and prosper in this new economy.

One of the key things we can do to help turn our schools around is to get a great teacher into every single one of our public school classrooms. Study after study has shown that if a good teacher is standing at the front of the class, students learn more. A great teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success, and one that our education policy can address.

This is especially important in schools in poor and minority communities where the need is greatest.

Unfortunately, our current system grants permanent employment status to teachers after two years and makes firing ineffective and even abusive teachers a time-consuming and costly process. The status quo guarantees bad teachers can stay put.

To be sure, there are many great teachers in California that are working hard and going above and beyond what is expected of them to help our students succeed. They deserve to be recognized for their outstanding performance. But their reputation should not be dragged down by a system that keeps in place those teachers who are failing to make the grade.

Every day the status quo is in place is another day that our state fails to adequately prepare students to be successful employees, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Our children deserve better.

Fortunately, a legal case is making its way through the California courts that has the potential to change all of this.

Nine public school students filed the Vergara v. California case last year with the help of a nonprofit organization called Students Matter. The month-long trial for this groundbreaking lawsuit began last month.

When these students have their day in court, their lawyers will argue that our state’s outdated and misguided laws governing the hiring, firing and seniority of teachers violate the California Constitution’s guarantee of an equal right to a quality education.

Defending the right to education is usually the legislature’s job. As a legislative body, we are supposed to work together to set education policy that puts the needs of our state’s children first. But as a member of the California State Assembly and Vice Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, I have seen time and time again how powerful interests in Sacramento and fearful politicians have been able to stymie progress, keeping California lagging at the back of the pack.

That’s why I’m cheering on this case and its student plaintiffs.

If these nine courageous kids are victorious and these outdated, unfair laws are overturned, we will have a golden opportunity to reset the conversation in California about our schools and how to achieve top-ranking status once again.

We will have the chance to reach across the aisle and create a new, more modern system of teacher hiring and dismissal, a system in tune with the educational needs of our kids and the economic needs of our future.

Ed’s Note: California Assemblywoman Kristin M. Olsen, R- Modesto, is the vice chair of the Education Committee.  This commentary revises her earlier piece.

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