Tenure makes firing ineffective teachers expensive and difficult and has sparked controversy for years now, particularly since Vergara v. California started making its way through the courts in May, 2012. Back then, nine public school students took tenure to to task for protecting ineffective teachers at their expense and blaming it for school inequity. Their bottom line: Poor and minority children get stuck with the worst teachers.

The Superior Court asserted that “every child has the constitutional right to learn from effective teachers and have an equal opportunity to succeed in school.” But in 2013, the California Teachers Association and the California  Federation of Teachers added their voices to the State’s and appealed that decision. Ultimately, on April 14, 2016, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal ruled against the nine students, and on August 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court declined to review the case–a win for

So are poor and minority kids really in classrooms with the worst teachers? A team of researchers at Mathematica Policy Research decided to find out by studying  students’ standardized test scores over five years in 26 school districts across the country and found…

  • High- and low-income students are just as likely to have the very best teachers and the very worst.
  • Some poor students would benefit a lot from quality math teachers–but only in 3 of the 26 districts.
  • Black students “have only marginally less effective” math teachers than their white counterparts.
  • For black and white students, English/language arts teachers are just as good.
  • There’s only “limited evidence of harm from the revolving door of teachers entering and exiting the profession.”

The conclusion: “If poor students and rich students were taught by equally-effective teachers, the effect on the ‘achievement gap’ in their test scores would be minimal.”

Indeed, said lead researcher Eric Isenberg, “It does suggest that a full-throated focus in all districts on equalizing access to effective teachers may not get the kind of results that putting our effort into a different set of reforms or different set of policies might be able to achieve.”

Think they’re on to something or are they way off?