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Students win tenure loses?

Students win tenure loses.

That’s the CNN headline for the Vergara v. California case ruled on by Judge Rolf M. Treu. The crux of Judge Treu’s ruling is that 1 to 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective, and given that there are 275,000 teachers, that means that between 2,750 and 8,250 teachers are grossly ineffective, which has a profound effect on their students. Thus, tenure is unconstitutional, since the state constitution requires the state to provide an adequate education.

The 1% to 3% came from testimony from Dr. David Berliner, who was asked on the stand, “would it be reasonable to estimate that 1 to 3 percent of teachers” have four or more years of showing low test scores for their students. And who replied, “Correct.” That stretched to the 1 to 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective conclusion by Judge Treu, something that Dr. Berliner says he did not mean to imply. In fact, Dr. Berliner has observed thousands of teachers, and stated after the trial that he’s never encountered one he would consider grossly ineffective.

He may not have, but I have. Of the 40-50 teachers that my kids had in our school system, I can categorically say that 2 of them were grossly ineffective. My daughter Eva who is getting her PhD in statistics (not that I am one to brag), would never let me reach a conclusion from such a small sample size, though.

Even assuming that about 2% of teachers are ineffective, it could be argued that perhaps we have a bigger problem in attracting and retaining good teachers than getting rid of bad ones. Half of all teachers leave within five years, while data show that teachers start really hitting their stride around their third year. If you were a teacher or interested in being one, would it be more attractive to know that you could only be fired for cause, or to know that you could be fired at any time, for any reason, by anyone above you?

Could there be other reasons why many children in California do not receive a quality education?

Could it possibly be the lack of investment in education in the state? Since 1969, the education costs have increased an average 2.2% per year in the US. Over the 41 year period until 2010-11 (the latest year for national statistics), California has been dead last with 1.6% annual increase. In 1969, California was 11th in the country in terms of spending per student ($5,105 in current 2012 dollars). In 2010-11, California was 34th, at $9,571 per student, compared to a national average of $11,153.

Or perhaps the unequal spending per district in California could have something to do with the lack of quality education offered to some children. California tracks expense per average daily attendance. Looking at the 537 unified (both elementary and secondary schools) districts with more than 1,000 students, there were 49 districts that spent less than $7,000 per student and 52 districts that spent more than $10,000. Would it be plausible that a district spending $12,000 per student might provide a better education than one spending $6,500 in the same state? Is it plausible that this might be a bigger contributor to bad education than the number of grossly ineffective teachers who were holding on to their jobs because of tenure?

You want students in California to win? Start by making sure that schools are properly and equitably funded.