California voters reject tenure, layoff rules for public school teachers

June 26, 2014

PACE/USC Rossier Poll also shows voters have soured on Common Core despite increased awareness

– A strong majority of California voters oppose the state’s tenure and layoff policies for public school teachers, according to a new poll released just days after the landmark Vergara court case invalidated both statutes as unconstitutional.

The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll shows two-thirds of voters (68%) agree that the state should do away with “Last in, First Out,” a policy that requires the newest K-12 teachers be laid off first, regardless of merit. Just 17 percent said California should continue to conduct teacher layoffs in order of seniority, according to the poll.

California voters also largely opposed the state’s tenure laws for public school teachers, according to the poll. Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure, as it makes firing bad teachers difficult. Twenty-five percent of voters said the state should keep tenure for public school teachers to provide them job protections and the freedom to teach potentially controversial topics without fear of reprisals.

When asked specifically about the timeline to tenure – which can be awarded after as little as 18 months in the classroom – 38 percent said two years is too soon to award tenure, and 35 percent said public school teachers shouldn’t receive tenure at all, the poll showed. Seventeen percent of voters said two years was the “right amount of time” to earn tenure, and 4 percent said two years was too long, according to the poll.

“The majority of California voters polled have expressed views that are consistent with Judge Treu’s recent decision in Vergara,” said Julie Marsh, associate professor at the USC Rossier School. “These views may give pause to those appealing the decision.”

On June 10, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu presiding over Vergara v. California struck down both teacher tenure and “Last in, First Out” laws, among others, on the grounds they deprive students of their right to an adequate education.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll showed that 42 percent of voters had heard or read about the Vergara decision, with 58 percent saying they had not heard or read much or any at all about the decision.

Among those with knowledge of the Vergara decision, 62 percent said they agreed with the judge that teacher tenure rules violate the state constitution. Twenty-three percent disagreed and 15 percent said they didn’t know.

When asked about California’s teachers unions, 49 percent of voters said they have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with 31 percent saying unions have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.