Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vergara vs. California Shines a Light

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu's decision in Vergara v. California makes for compelling, if sometimes tragicomic reading for anyone interested in the public education leviathan that consumes such vast resources with soaring costs, poor results and no accountability.

Beginning with 1954's Brown v. Board of Education Judge Treu notes its conclusion that inherently unequal facilities denied those students the equal protection required under the 14th Amendment.  Education, then stated as the most important service produced by the public sector, was to be made "available to all on equal terms."

This suit focused on challenging three statues, "permanent employment," "dismissal," and "LIFO."  When these are actually read in print and examined in basic terms, as Judge Treu does, they defy the notion of being being enshrined into state law by a legislature claiming to represent the best interests of students in public education.

"Grossly ineffective teachers" are found to have a disproportionate impact on schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students.  A study by Harvard economist Raj Chetty is quoted where he concludes that a year with a grossly ineffective teacher costs $1.4 million in lost lifetime income per classroom.

Another study, put forward by representatives of the educational establishment, cites evidence that only about 1-3% of the total teacher population are in the class of grossly ineffective.  This amounts to 2,750-8,250 teachers in total.

According to the Wall Street Journal,
"L.A. spent $3.5 million between 2000 and 2010 to fire seven teachers for poor performance. Yet only four of the seven were ultimately dismissed. Two received large settlement payouts, and one was retained. Chief of Human Resources Vivian Ekchian testified that the district employs 350 grossly ineffective teachers it hasn't even sought to dismiss."
The 0.001 percent of grossly ineffective teachers dismissed is a tiny fraction of the 1 percent dismissal rate of state workers in general and a multiple of the 8 percent rate in the private sector

School principals, under this regime, are not even in control of their own labor force, although they might be accountable for the student performance in their own schools. Even parents who clearly know from direct experience or from the parent network who the incompetent teachers are, cannot move their students from one classroom to another by request.  Management of the the labor force that is the biggest factor in the production of the services that determine lifetime earnings is locked by statute into the control of teachers unions. Ever hear the slogan, "The customer is king?" Not in education.

In public education, the customer, whether parent or student, is a mushroom or a pawn.  The interests of this group of students who brought the suit, with the assistance of Dr. David Welch's organization "Students Matter," are congruent with those minority parents who support school choice through vouchers, and with those minority students attending parochial schools who are not supported by the public purse.  Perhaps one day, all of these interests will come together as they should through real school choice, which is the only way to real educational reform.

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