Campbell Brown takes on teacher tenure in New York

An advocacy group headed by former television journalist Campbell Brown filed a lawsuit in New York on Monday that seeks to overturn the state’s tenure laws and other job protections for teachers.

The legal challenge in New York comes a month after a Los Angeles judge struck down teacher tenure and other related California laws that offer job security to educators, a decision that is triggering similar actions around the country.

Brown, a former CNN anchor who founded the Partnership for Educational Justice, contends that job protections for teachers are archaic and make it difficult for school systems to get rid of incompetent teachers.

The lawsuit argues that poor, minority students are more likely than more affluent peers to be taught by weak teachers, a claim similar to the California case.

Brown’s group has connections to StudentsFirst, the education advocacy group formed by Michelle Rhee, a former D.C. school chancellor, and Democrats for Education Reform. Brown said her group might file similar legal challenges in other states.

Brown’s legal team is headed by Jay Lefkowitz, a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono.

Brown maintains that tenure and “last in, first out” policies where teachers with the least amount of seniority are laid off during budget cutbacks, regardless of their job performance, are damaging to students.

There are some clear differences between teacher job protections in California and New York. For instance, under the laws that were recently struck down in California, tenure was awarded after 18 months. In New York, that probationary period is three years, and teachers unions say administrators have more time to make informed decisions and weed out poor performers.

Brown appeared Monday at a press conference on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan with several of the seven plaintiffs in the case, Wright vs. The State of New York. A similar lawsuit filed by a separate group, Parent Union, was filed in New York earlier this month.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that tenure laws and other job protections are “a bulwark against cronyism, patronage and hiring based on who you know, not what you know. Teachers in New York and across the country, relying on the fairness due process provides, have advocated for the needs of special education students, demanded adequate funding for art and music, and used edgy, innovative material to teach students in new and exciting ways.”

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and a chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, called the lawsuit “courageous.”

“There will be no equality in education until we transition to a system that prioritizes academic achievement for children over job security for adults,” Bush said in a statement. “Teachers have a tremendous impact on the lives of students, particularly the most disadvantaged. When ineffective teachers are allowed to remain in the classroom because of union protections and antiquated laws, it is not only a disservice to students but also to the many wonderful teachers dedicated to excellence in education.”

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.

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