Still More on the “Vergara” Ruling

The Plaintiffs’ Teachers Were Not Actually “Grossly Ineffective”

This is excerpted from David B. Cohen’s post on Diane Ravitch’s Blog, and the bulk of the excerpt is a passage from a post-trial brief:

“I was curious to learn whether the plaintiffs in the Vergara trial actually had ‘grossly ineffective teachers.’ The answer is ‘no, they did not.’

“Not only did none of them have a ‘grossly ineffective’ teacher, but some of the plaintiffs attended schools where there are no tenured teachers. Two of the plaintiffs attend charter schools, where there is no tenure or seniority, and as you will read below, “Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness.

It turns out that the lawyers for the defense checked the records of the plaintiffs’ teachers, and this is what they found (filed as a post-trial brief in the case): (See pp. 5-6).

“’Plaintiffs have not established that the statutes have ever caused them any harm or are likely to do so in the future. None of the nine named Plaintiffs established that he or she was assigned to an allegedly grossly ineffective teacher, or that he or she faces any immediate risk of future harm, as a result of the challenged statutes. The record contains no evidence that Plaintiffs Elliott, Liss, Campbell or Martinez were ever assigned a grossly ineffective teacher at all. Of the remaining five Plaintiffs, most of the teachers whom they identified as “bad” or “grossly ineffective” were excellent teachers. Because none of the five Plaintiffs are reliable evaluators of teacher performance, their testimony about the remaining purportedly ineffective teachers should not be credited. Nor could Plaintiffs link their assignment to purportedly “bad” or “grossly ineffective” teachers to the challenged statutes. Not a single witness claimed that any of Plaintiffs’ teachers were granted permanent status because of the two-year probationary period, would have been dismissed in the absence of the dismissal statutes, or would have been laid off had reverse seniority not been a factor in layoffs. Indeed, Plaintiffs did not call any administrator of any of Plaintiffs’ schools to corroborate their testimony or in any way connect the teachers they identified to the statutes they challenge. Furthermore, any threat of future harm to Plaintiffs caused by the challenged statutes is purely speculative. Plaintiffs Elliott and DeBose are high school seniors who will almost certainly graduate in spring 2014. Plaintiffs Monterroza and Martinez both attend charter schools that are not subject to the challenged statutes at all. Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness. As for the remaining three Plaintiffs, there is no concrete, specific evidence supporting any claim that they will be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers due to the challenged statutes; instead, their claims are based on pure speculation.’”


The Estimate of the Total Number of “Grossly Ineffective” Teachers in California’s Public Schools Was a “Guesstimate”

This from karoli at the Crooks and Liars blog, quoting liberally from Slate:

“In episode number umpty-zillion of the ongoing “destroy the teachers’ unions by any means possible” soap opera, I bring you the ridiculous sequel to last week’s Vergara v. California decision.

“As it turns out, the judge’s righteous indignation over all of those so-called ‘ineffective teachers’ comes from one tiny bit of testimony from an expert. Said expert, when contacted, confirmed that his estimate of 1-3 percent of teachers being ineffective was nothing more than a number he pulled from the air.

“Yes, you read that right. Here’s the important part. Pay attention now. Said expert also confirms that no one anywhere has ever arrived at any kind of definition of what constitutes an ‘ineffective teacher.’


“’Nowhere, it turns out. It’s made up. Or a ‘guesstimate,’ as David Berliner, the expert witness Treu quoted, explained to me when I called him on Wednesday. It’s not based on any specific data, or any rigorous research about California schools in particular. I pulled that out of the air,’ says Berliner, an emeritus professor of education at Arizona State University. ‘There’s no data on that. That’s just a ballpark estimate, based on my visiting lots and lots of classrooms.’ He also never used the words ‘grossly ineffective.’

The phrase appears to have been Treu’s shorthand to describe teachers whose students consistently perform poorly on standardized tests. But Berliner is a well-known critic of using student test scores—or ‘value-added models,’ in the parlance of education experts—to measure teaching skills. In part, that’s because research suggests that teachers don’t really control much of how their pupils perform on exams; according to the American Statistical Association, they influence anywhere between 1 percent and 14 percent of the variation in students’ scores. As result, teachers often don’t deliver the same results year after year.

“Still, if you look at enough data, there are always a few teachers who consistently underperform on test results. ‘There’s an occasional teacher who shows up really good a few years in a row,’ Berliner said. ‘There are a few who show up really bad.’ And that’s where the now-infamous statistic comes in. During a deposition, Berliner told me, the plaintiffs’ lawyers asked how many teachers deliver low test scores year after year. He didn’t have a hard number, so he said 1 percent to 3 percent, which he thought sounded suitably small. That led to the following exchange with a plaintiffs’ lawyer during cross-examination.”


California’s Schools Began to Decline Not after the Unionization of Teachers but after the Passage of Proposition 13, Which Has Put Stringent Limits on the Property Taxes Available for School Funding

This from Dante Atkins at the Daily Kos:

“California’s schools were among the best in the nation all the way through the 1970s, when voters approved Proposition 13, which significantly decreased the amount of revenue collected from property taxes and prevented local governments from passing their own local measures to raise revenues without having at least a two-thirds supermajority vote. Perhaps Students Matter could file a lawsuit against Proposition 13 instead?”


It Is Instructive That the Targets of David Welch and “Students Matter” Are Strong Teachers’ Unions, Not Underperforming Public School Systems 

And this from Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos:

“The decision will be appealed, but it will also doubtless lead to countless other court cases, targeting not the weakest educational systems in the country, but the strongest teachers unions.”



2 thoughts on “Still More on the “Vergara” Ruling

  1. Pingback: America’s Most Wanted: Week 4 Blogical Discussion Post | Between Knowledge and Ignorance

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