I attended my regularly scheduled board meeting for the Fortune School of Education in Sacramento the same week the California courts struck down the state’s teacher tenure system. In his decision Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that laws protecting teachers from dismissal violated the state’s constitutional commitment to provide “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”
As a member of the Fortune School Board since its inception in 2010 I have witnessed the growth of the organization from the opening of Hardy Brown College Prep with 235 students to now overseeing five schools in two counties with over a thousand students. Under the leadership of education reform advocate Margaret Fortune, the Fortune School of Education’s charter schools are focused on closing the African-American achievement gap and boasts the second and third highest Black student populations in California. Margaret and her entire management team understand that the key to the success of our students and schools is our ability to hire and retain good teachers. In fact, the foundation of the Fortune School of Education is “Project Pipeline” the organization founded in 1989 by her parents Rex and Margaret Fortune, which was designed to prepare programs to fill the “pipeline” of educators needed in today’s schools. It was the brainchild of Dr. Rex Fortune, who as a school superintendent saw an opportunity to bring more diverse teaching candidates into public schools, especially in the shortage areas of science and mathematics instruction.
The plaintiffs in the tenure case argued that the barriers to firing ineffective teachers disproportionately affect minority students with long lasting negative consequences. While public school advocates claim that dismantling teacher tenure in its current form will do little to close the achievement gap, a recent Forbes Magazine article suggests that the ruling can help public schools compete with charters, whose enrollments in the state of California continue to grow annually as parents seek high performing charter schools as an option for the inferior neighborhood schools they have been forced to send their children to in the past. According to one financial analyst, “The ruling would allow districts more time to determine teacher quality, which would improve educational quality and keep ineffective teachers off the payroll… The judge heard testimony that dismissing a single, grossly ineffective teacher could take a district anywhere from 2 to 10 years at a cost of $50,000 to $450,000.”
As high performing schools with exceptional test scores, the Fortune schools have benefitted from having the ability to replace poor performing teachers before students suffer. Now it is possible that students in our public schools will have the same opportunities to excel academically without the pedagogical barriers of bad teaching.
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