By Beth Fertig, Anya Kamenetz and Claudio Sanchez

NPR report on tenure
NPR report on tenure: Listen

Why are so many low-income and minority kids getting second-class educations in the U.S.?

That question is at the center of the heated debate about teacher tenure. In New York today, a group of parents and advocates, led by former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown, filed a suit challenging state laws that govern when teachers can be given tenure and how they can be fired once they have it.


Other researchers have found that strong teachers leave low-performing schools because of working conditions, including discipline problems and reduced opportunities for professional development. Making matters worse, compared to data from 2000, more students now attend schools with high concentrations of poverty.

If there is a silver lining, Welner says, it’s that these suits are putting a magnifying glass to the nation’s highest-poverty schools, and that could expose plenty of unjust policies that need addressing.

But the courts are a slow, tortuous path to change. The New York lawsuit is likely to take years, while the California decision is being appealed. Welner questions whether the courts are up to the task of, as he puts it, “mucking around” with complex, contentious educational policies and practices. Still, he says, asking the courts to play that role is “preferable to generation after generation of kids being denied basic equality of educational opportunities.”

Rhee’s group, meanwhile, is considering additional suits in Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey and Tennessee.


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