More doubts about the California teachers decision

June 11

I share some of Orin’s misgivings about the recent state court decision in Vergara v. California. Let me add a couple more.

First, I am a little confused by the slippage between equal education and good education in the court’s opinion. After canvassing several major state court precedents about educational equality, the court writes:

While these cases addressed the issue of a lack of equality of education based on the discrete facts raised therein, here this Court is directly faced with issues that compel it to apply these constitutional principles to the quality of the educational experience.

The boldface is in the original. It almost seems like argument by pun.

Later on, the court seems to backtrack and suggest that the case is about equality, not just quality, after all; it says that the “ineffective” teachers have a disparate impact on poor and non-white students. That’s a hook, at least, but as my colleague Eric Posner points out, if it’s true it seems like the more natural remedy would be to address the unequal allocation of teachers directly, not to go after tenure.

Second, unlike Orin, I’m not even sure that the decision produces a good result. Maybe I’m just a skeptic about the capacity of judges to implement major reform programs on their own, but I’m not so sure that eliminating teacher tenure is going to make the schools any better. Whether that’s true depends a lot on the kind of educational reform that would be implemented in a world of weaker tenure and what its long-term consequences would be. I’m sure there are folks who know a lot about the answer to that question, but I don’t, and nothing in Judge Treu’s decision makes me think he does either.

Will Baude is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and federal courts. His recent articles include Rethinking the Federal Eminent Domain Power, (Yale Law Journal, 2013), and Beyond DOMA: State Choice of Law in Federal Statutes, (Stanford Law Review, 2012).
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Orin Kerr | June 11