Vergara v. California and the Infinite Equal Protection Loop

17 06 2014

A common mantra of the education reform movement in response to evidence that “teacher quality” is a comparatively trivial cause of education disparities is, “So? If we can do something, anything, to improve outcomes, shouldn’t we?” This is more PR than argument; no, you shouldn’t just do anything. And in any case, you need to demonstrate pretty tight causation to radically upend a carefully built system. Yet, just as policy affection for technocracy seeped into takings jurisprudence in Kelo, policy affection for “labor flexibility” when it comes to workers seems to have seeped into Vergara. The resulting opinion featured a questionable weighing of some evidence over other evidence (in a bench trial, where there was no jury) but, more so, legal reasoning that strained to find a violation of equal protection rights by conflating perfect equality of outcome with basic equality of opportunity–a distinction that makes all the difference in equal protection claims.


Slate’s up–still reporting on education in their business section for some reason–with a story about how the judge in Vergara v. California relied on a basically made up statistic–that 1-3% of California teachers are “grossly ineffective”–to strike down tenure as violating the equal protection rights of children of color, who are disproportionately likely (based on trial testimony) to be assigned to a “grossly ineffective” teacher protected by tenure. The Court had to ignore copious evidence in order to rely on this fact–including the very limited role any individual teacher plays in determining standardized testing outcomes used to make this “grossly ineffective” distinction. But, as the legal expert cited in the Slate story points out, the bigger problem is the shaky legal reasoning. And indeed, it is a befuddling opinion not because the Court repeatedly chose to weigh the plaintiffs’ fuzzy data and testimony significantly more heavily than that of the State, but because the equal protection scheme required for it to make sense would result in infinite equal protection violations. 

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The Chicago Model Fallout Revisited: Catharsis, Context and Circumstance

15 09 2012

The Chicago Teachers’ Union strike was not unpredictable, nor was it sudden, nor was it over merely details, free of context, that are the subjects of the collective bargaining negotiations.

Since at least 1995, but particularly since 2004, Chicago’s students and teachers have borne the pain of experimentation, like lab mice in an education policy laboratory. That context is important, and it is inextricably linked to the nature of the strike and the source of its support among teachers, parents, students, the public–most everyone it seems, except journalists and powerful politicians.
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A Long Time Comin’: Chicago Teachers Strike Authorization Vote Begins Today

6 06 2012

cross-posted from Gapers Block

Beginning today, over 20,000 Chicago teachers will vote on whether or not to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike should negotiations with the Board of Education over new contract terms fail. For authorization, 75% of non-retiree union members would need to approve. This high threshold is the result of legislation passed last year. As state public employees, teachers’ collective bargaining rights and terms are governed by state, rather than federal, law.

The legislation in question, known as SB7, was passed after intense and stealth lobbying efforts by Stand for Children, a well-funded non-profit that operates at the state level to encourage entrepreneurial changes to public education that incrementally privatize school systems. Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union. Part of the strategy was to take away one of the union’s more potent tools, the strike threat. Unable to take away the right to a work stoppage, Stand settled for a 75% approval threshold.

Now, it is looking like Stand’s strategy might backfire, if teachers ultimately vote to authorize a strike. After all, the question teachers will vote on is whether to authorize a strike, not whether to go on strike. Arguably, winning an authorization vote by 50%+1 would not be a real show of strength. A significant portion of teachers would have expressed their opposition to a strike, and maintaining the strike, once called, would be exceedingly difficult. The organizational capacity teachers build by being forced to get over 75% means a resilient strike, should things come to that, and a battle-tempered organization prepared to push hard during negotiations.

Besides the mechanics of it, there are the underlying social conditions that are bringing this to a head.
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How & Why a Democratic President Privatized Our School System

3 11 2011

Barack Obama is presiding over the beginning of a process that will inexorably result in the privatization of our school system. That doesn’t mean of course that all of our schools will be owned by big corporations; rather it means that within the next five to ten years, our largest school systems will be enmeshed with the private sector, and the regulatory framework that encourages same will be defended vociferously by a new and fierce network of rent seekers. Within a generation, “public schools” will be public only in the sense that they will rely on primarily on government money–similar in that way to the defense industry.

This is bad. Despite the neoliberal fascination with en-marketing everything to appease the Market Unicorn, competition and market forces will not “fix” education (which, coincidentally, is only broken in those places where poverty is high). It will however do these things:

(1) Inherent Decline in Quality. In order to provide the market signals necessary for competition to operate, it will reduce education to quantifiable superficialities (i.e., “high stakes testing”), undermining critical thinking and creativity, particularly in poorer communities.

(a) Commodification of Curricula It will thus give rise to a huge, and by necessity centralized, curricula development industry with a business model that incorporate rent-seeking by necessity.

(b) Institutionalizing Clout and Corruption as Market Advantage.It will encourage lobbying and market-exclusion behavior from the politically well-connected who can use political influence to design standards that benefit existing school-systems.

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March of the Morons: Brady on Evolution and Creation

6 10 2010

I have one question that I believe should be used to disqualify people from running for executive office. It is, “Do you accept the theory of evolution?” Anybody who says no should be disqualified. No, it’s not a religious test that would violate the Article VI prohibition. It’s a moron test. We could also ask, “Are you a moron?” but then we’d be less likely to get an honest response. This way we could actually root out the morons.

This has nothing to do with conservative/liberal, Democrat/Republican. Evolution is a fact–in fact, it’s more than a fact. It is a theory built upon literally millions of facts. Believe whatever other thing you want, but denying that evolution took place–maybe not exactly how science now conceives, but that it took place in some way–is absolutely no different than denying gravity. Newtonian physics got the mechanics of gravity wrong, but that didn’t make gravity itself wrong. If you think “the jury is out” on evolution, you’re not particularly bright, willfully ignorant, or poorly educated (which may not be your fault, but still–probably shouldn’t be elected to executive office).

Bill Brady thinks it’s okay to teach Creationism in schools. By doing so, he betrays his claim that he accepts “both” creationism and evolution. Accepting both as equivalent to be taught is like saying you accept “both” the theory of electromagnetism and fish are delicious. I don’t care about any of the rest of his politics. How can you vote for a person like that? Creationism in schools? Really? We want the US to create well-educated kids prepared to tackle the most significant problems of the future–not to mention stay on the cutting edge of science–and we’re going to allow school districts to teach Creationism? How stupid is this guy?

Apparently immensely.
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