The battle of the experts continued today in Vergara vs. California as an expert in labor economics and public policy called by the defense provided rationales for keeping in place the state laws governing teachers that are under challenge in the case.
Jesse Rothstein, a professor at Cal-Berkeley and a former senior economist on the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors, testified that the two-year tenure statute was adequate to identify ineffective teachers and still help school districts attract new employees.
He also said a “last-in, first-out” process that favors seniority in times of staff reduction is more fair and objective than so-called “value-added” models that take into account student performance to measure teacher effectiveness.
And he said the dismissal statutes protect teachers against “arbitrary and capricious decisions of employers” who might want to get rid of certain teachers.
These three issues — tenure, dismissal and seniority — are central to the case, which began more than a month ago. The nine student-plaintiffs are trying to show that California’s laws governing the issues combine to deny public education students access to a quality education.
The state and its two big teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — are trying to convince the court that the laws are fine as they are, posing none of the pernicious effects the plaintiffs claim.
Rothstein’s testimony, under direct questioning by Jim Finberg, representing the unions, was largely focused on opinions derived from his own studies and those of others that took general views on the subjects at issue in the case. Rothstein left the strong impression that he believed the laws, as they are, do not impede academic performance because of ineffective teachers.
But later, under cross examination by Marcellus McRae, the plaintiffs lead lawyer, he admitted that he knew little about how the laws play out in California and that none of his own work specifically reflected public education policies in the state.