Thursday, June 12, 2014


The political Left feasts on self-anointed moral superiority. "Inequality" is on the lips of pundits and politicians all over the U.S. Runners up (and not unrelated) are the importance of a good education as well as the non-performance of many public schools -- and how that stymies the advancement possibilities for many of the poorest.

But when it comes to the question of what to do, positions are all over the place and moral superiority is strained. Many of those who wear their "fairness" concerns on their sleeves also owe their careers to support from the education establishment. This week's Vergara v. California ruling knocks down California's bizarre legal protections for incompetent public school teachers.  Even the L.A. Times opined "Vergara ruling offers California an opportunity to change a broken system" (gated). California's two teachers' unions will appeal and it remains to be seen which of their Sacramento allies will join. Hoover's Carson Bruno notes, "While it’s unlikely that Vergara v. California will become a household name along the lines of Brown v. Board of Education, it nevertheless could be just as consequential in leading to education reforms."

There is a mountain to climb and whatever reforms follow this ruling (if any) are just the start. But the gold standard research on the matter is by Eric Hanushek.  Here is the summary:
Most analyses of teacher quality end without any assessment of the economic value of altered teacher quality. This paper combines information about teacher effectiveness with the economic impact of higher achievement. It begins with an overview of what is known about the relationship between teacher quality and student achievement. This provides the basis for consideration of the derived demand for teachers that comes from their impact on economic outcomes. Alternative valuation methods are based on the impact of increased achievement on individual earnings and on the impact of low teacher effectiveness on economic growth through aggregate achievement. A teacher one standard deviation above the mean effectiveness annually generates marginal gains of over $400,000 in present value of student future earnings with a class size of 20 and proportionately higher with larger class sizes. Alternatively, replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the U.S. near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion. 
Hanushek chimes in re Vergara here. If he is right (and I presume he is), the California tenure rules that are finally being challenged are poison.