Everyone in the edu-blogosphere is talking about the Vergara decision, which finds that teacher tenure and seniority laws in California are unconstitutional (that's the state's constitution, not the federal one).
I don't want to give away too many of my thoughts here, as I have a major piece coming out this weekend about Vergara in a pretty darn large media outlet here in Jersey (I'm such a tease...). For right now, I'd encourage you to go over to Diane Ravitch's blog: as usual, she has collected some of the best writing on this issue. I think Kevin Welner and Dana Goldstein in particular make some very good points.
For now, I'll just add this:
Judge Rolf Treu's decision reads like a reformy greatest hits list. He's got Hanushek and Chetty, dropping their academic bombs from 40,000 feet, blissfully (willingly?) unaware of the damage they are causing to the teaching profession and the lives they are bound to ruin in the name of "putting kids first."
Treu's use of the Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill-Inator, speciously pumping up the rather modest findings in Chetty's study, could have come right off of StudentsFirst's website (and probably did). He bizarrely imagines a public school system where "gifted" junior teachers regularly lose their jobs to "grossly ineffective" senior teachers -- as if this scenario plays out regularly in any place other than Michelle Rhee's fevered imagination.
But what really makes Treu's essay bananas is that it refuses to acknowledge the most obvious thing in the world:
All data from the CA-DOE. Every point on this graph is a California elementary school. The vertical axis shows the average scale score in English Language Arts for Grade 3. The horizontal axis shows how many children at that school qualify for free or reduced-price meals, a proxy measure for economic disadvantage.
If poverty had no effect on test scores, there would be a big blob in the middle of this graph. But look at how closely most of the points cluster around the red line. That line shows a prediction for a school on how well its students will do on the ELA test, given how many kids are economically hurting. That line is telling us that poverty has an enormous influence on test outcomes. And the number in the lower left corner is mathematically confirming this truth.
Nearly 60 percent of the variation in English Language Arts test scores for Third Grade students in California can be explained by the level of economic disadvantage in their school.
If Judge Treu really thinks the California constitution demands that all children must have an equal opportunity to succeed in school, he really has no choice, does he?
If California declares that tenure is unconstitutional, it must also declare that childhood poverty and economic disadvantage are unconstitutional.
Seems to me that Judge Treu, if he's going to be consistent, would have to admit that his decision would be right in line with policies that would tax the crap out of people like David Welch (the money bags behind the California anti-tenure movement), so the state could use the money to better the lives of California's poor, deserving children.
I would very much like to see someone bring exactly this argument before a California court. And I would dearly love it if that court was Rolf Treu's. True tests of intellectual integrity are so rare these days...
ADDING: Some more grade levels:
Are you kidding me? Two-thirds of the variation on California's Grade 5 ELA tests can be explained by free lunch eligibility?! That's extraordinary.
On the CST, the r-squareds run between about .25 and .6, depending on the grade and test. In my mind, we'd expect to see that correlation decrease as students got older, but let's save that discussion for another time...
This summer, I'll hopefully be looking some more at California: it is a truly wacky place when it comes to schools.