Monday, June 16, 2014

Well, that didn't take long -- more on Vergara and the perils of legislating from the bench

As mentioned before, one of the problems with legislating from the bench is that it usually entails reasoning backward -- starting with a conclusion then coming up with arguments to justify it -- which leads to bad law. The precedents take on a life of their own. As Harvard's Noah Feldman wrote in Bloomberg View, "The court’s two-part reasoning was thin to the point of being emaciated," and that thin reasoning means that the ruling can be applied in ways that even many of its supporters are likely to object to.

You can certainly argue that California's system for assigning tenure and removing bad teachers is flawed (you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone on either side of the reform debate willing to defend it). Most of those cheering the decision seem to be taking an implicit ends-justify-the-means line -- the policy was bad and the decision made it go away, therefore it was a good decision -- but the sloppiness and the sparseness of the reasoning makes it applicable to a wide range of far more questionable cases.

If you were looking for a state at the other end of the tenure policy spectrum to California, you might pick Connecticut.
Danbury's Deputy Superintendent of Schools William Glass also said the California ruling won't have an effect on the educational community in Connecticut.

"We have a very effective process for dismissing a teacher with cause," Glass said.

"It takes time and we provide support for a teacher to see if they can improve. But if they can't, we are now down to a 10-month process for dismissal," he said, referring to the new reduction in due process.

Glass also said most teachers who are not a good fit will voluntarily resign.

No one wants an ineffective teacher because the principal, the school and the district all are held responsible for that teacher's ineffectiveness in teaching students, Glass said.

"Accountability has never been as clear as it is now," Glass said. "The days of hiding are gone. It's all very visible."

In California, tenure can be earned after only two years in front of a classroom. In Connecticut, it takes four years to earn employment protection.

Connecticut also recently added language to its tenure laws that allow ineffectiveness -- as determined by new teacher evaluation procedures -- to be a cause for dismissal.
Glass may have gotten one thing wrong. When he said the California ruling won't have an effect on Connecticut, he probably should have said 'shouldn't.'

[from the same article]
A California judge's ruling this week that teacher tenure laws deprive the state's children of their constitutional right to a quality education has some wondering if Connecticut could face a similar challenge.

"The Vergara case exposed the fact that children have unequal access to quality teachers in California. This problem exists in Connecticut as well," said Jennifer Alexander, chief executive officer of ConnCAN, an organization that supports school reform.
This is how bad law works

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