My colleague has already explained the most obvious problem with yesterday’s discharge from the California courts, Lochner II: This Time It’s Educational. Whether the policy preferred by Treu is preferable to the status quo is beside the point because it’s not his commission to set the policy.
It’s also worth noting, however, that as the millions of people who unnecessarily lack health insurance are well aware this kind of amateur policy-making by the courts has a strong tendency to be inept. Dana Goldstein, while acknowledging that California’s tenure system is decidedly suboptimal, notes a fatal flaw in Treu’s proposed new legislation:
But here’s where Judge Reulf’s theory is faulty: Getting rid of these bad laws may do little to systemically raise student achievement. For high-poverty schools, hiring is at least as big of a challenge as firing, and the Vergara decision does nothing to make it easier for the most struggling schools to attract or retain the best teacher candidate.
From 2009 to 2011, the federal government offered 1,500 effective teachers in 10 major cities—including Los Angeles—a $20,000 bonus to transfer to an open job at a higher poverty school with lower test scores. In the world of public education, $20,000 is a major financial incentive. All these teachers were already employed by urban districts with diverse student populations; they weren’t scared of working with poor, non-white children. Yet less than a quarter of the eligible teachers chose to apply for the bonuses. Most did not want to teach in the schools that were the most deeply segregated by race and class and faced major pressure to raise test scores.
Principals have known about this problem for ages. In Chicago, economist Brian Jacob found that when the city’s school district made it easier for principals to fire teachers, nearly 40 percent of principals, including many at the worst performing, poorest schools, fired no teachers at all. Why? For one thing, firing a coworker is unpleasant. It takes more than a policy change to overturn the culture of public education, which values collegiality and continuous improvement over swift accountability. That culture is not a wholly bad thing—with so many teachers avoiding the poorest schools, principals have little choice but to work with their existing staffs to help them get better at their jobs.
The can opener that education “reformers” always assume is that there’s a large supply of outstanding teachers just waiting there to take the most demanding challenges as soon as a school’s weakest teachers are forced out. Why we should assume this pool of brilliant teachers just waiting to take the worst jobs is…far from clear. The idea that making these jobs much more insecure will increase the willingness of these imaginary teachers to take these jobs is bizarre — but without this assumption Treu’s argument collapses. Treu is essentially asking schools who most need to attract good teachers to try to recruit them by offering them less, in the name of educational equality. Can’t see any flaws in that plan!
And, yes, Arne Duncan’s endorsement of this decision is a disgrace on multiple levels.