Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Two weeks ago, a California trial court sent shock waves through the education system by holding that California statutes that limit the removal of ineffective teachers and disproportionately expose poor and minority students to these teachers violate those students' fundamental right to education. This holding raises major issues regarding the identification and measurement of ineffective teachers. We might know that there are ineffective teachers, but reliably identifying them is another matter altogether.
The current position of the federal government and many other education reformers is that ineffective teachers can be identified through value-added modeling (VAM) that statistical measures the impact that particular teachers have on student growth from year to year. Two of the leading proponents of this approach are Professors Raj Chetty and Tom Kane of Harvard. The judge's opinion in Vergara relies heavily on Chetty and Kane for its factual predicates, without directly addressing their underlying assumptions in regard to (VAM) and the identification of ineffective teachers. In pertinent part, the judge writes:
I am one of the most firmly committed individuals to the notion that students' constitutional rights to education are sacrosanct and among the very first obligations of legislatures. I would also tend to agree that disproportionately exposing poor and minority teachers to ineffective teachers and cutting off remedies to this problem violate students' rights. But over time, I become increasingly less certain of exactly how we apply those two legal principles to real world facts. The judge in Vergara identifies the problem, but seems to assume its factual cause and remedy.