Tuesday's decision invalidating California's teacher tenure and dismissal laws isn't the final word on the subject.
Appeals could stretch out for years.
Or the warring parties — teachers, administrators, employers and parents — could start working now on the challenge that concluded Los Angeles Judge Rolf M. Treu's tenative ruling: "providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education."
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of nine children, Treu cited landmark rulings requiring equal access and equal funding for schools and applied the same legal principles in finding that children have a "fundamental right to equality of education."
California's unusually broad tenure protections are an obstacle — but not the only obstacle — to fulfilling that obligation, especially for poor and minority students.
Teachers are granted tenure, effectively permanent employment, after less than two years on the job. It's almost impossible to fire a tenured teacher, even for incompetence, predatory behavior or other criminal behavior. Many districts don't even try.
Moreover, layoffs must be based entirely on seniority, with no consideration of skills or effectiveness. The result: Talented teachers and their students pay the price for protecting incompetence. How could that ever be in the public's interest?
During a two-month trial, experts testified that 1-3 percent of California teachers are "grossly ineffective" and that spending a year with such a teacher can cost a classroom $1.4 million in lifetime earnings.
"The evidence is compelling," Treu wrote. "Indeed, it shocks the conscience."
Treu's decision is a bitter defeat for the teachers' unions. But he defines the perverse impacts of California's tenure protections more clearly than he explains why the system is unconstitutional.