And the world keeps producing great kids: On Tuesday morning, we groaned when we read the New York Times letters page.
The first group of letters concerned the recent court decision about California’s teacher tenure laws.
It’s amazing how often this happens! The very first letter the Times chose to print seemed to misstate the ruling:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: Re “Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure” (front page, June 11):From that letter, a reader might think that Judge Treu ruled that the state of California has to “get rid of teacher tenure”—has to “jettison tenure.”
Of all the muddle-headedness that passes for serious education policy these days, the least thought through is, to me, the idea that getting rid of teacher tenure will improve the education of public-school children.
Let’s say, as Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in his decision about tenure, that many inner-city California schools are afflicted with bad teachers. This can best be explained by one of two reasons:
The first is that school administrators, the ones who grant tenure, can’t tell an incompetent teacher from a good one. How will handing more power to bad managers result in better decision-making and education?
The converse reason is that the administrators are good, but that the available teachers from which they have to choose is so poor that they must settle. In that case, how will jettisoning tenure—one of the few perks that teaching can offer that other professions available to highly qualified people can’t—do anything but further dilute the talent pool?
Treu didn’t issue that ruling. That said, it’s amazing how often the Times does this—highlights a letter which flatly misstates the basic facts of some matter.
But wait a minute, you might complain! What about the headline on that front page report? “Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure!”
Sad but true! On June 11, the Times ran a front-page news report which appeared beneath a version of that headline. Even worse, Jennifer Medina’s first paragraph may well have conveyed the impression that the judge ruled that “teacher tenure laws” violate California's state constitution as a general matter.
Here's the way that news report currently appears on-line. In our own hard-copy Times, that same headline appears right at the top of the front page:
MEDINA (6/11/14): Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California“Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California?” Doesn’t that headline, and that first paragraph, seem to say that teacher tenure has been ruled unconstitutional—full stop?
A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights. The decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.
That isn’t what the judge ruled. But that seems to be what the letter writer thought he read in last Wednesday’s Times. Six days later, the Times rushed his mistaken letter to the top of the letters page. For our money, a few other letters in that batch jumbled the basic facts too.
The judge did not declare that teacher tenure is unconstitutional in California. He ruled that certain state laws are too extreme to pass constitutional muster.
His finding may be overturned on appeal. But not before our greatest newspaper has everyone confused!
This case, Vergara v. California, is named for two teen-aged plaintiffs, Beatriz Vergara, age 15, and her older sister, Elizabeth Vergara. The sisters are students at Cesar Chavez Learning Academy in Pacoima, a district in Los Angeles.
According to their testimony, the sisters both receive free lunch. They speak Spanish in the home.
They want to go to college.
In the 2000 census, about half the residents of Pacoima had been born in other countries. Eighty-six percent were Hispanic. Only 4.2 percent had four-year college degrees.
The Vergaras want to go to college. In their testimony, they describe the conduct of some of their teachers in the middle school grades.
We’ve watched their testimony on tape; we’re very glad we did. Our basic reaction was simple: “What have any of us ever done to deserve such beautiful, cheerful kids?” You might consider watching too.
The Vergara case is fascinating because of the way it’s been partisanized. For various reasons, we liberals are supposed to oppose the plaintiffs, who in this case happen to be beautiful, cheerful kids.
If you have a few minutes, you might consider watching their testimony. Next week, we’ll probably discuss some press reactions to this case. But that tape lets you marvel at the way the world just keeps producing beautiful, smiling kids.
We groaned when we read those letters this week. We were moved by what we saw from the next generation.
Baltimore’s full of great kids too. We see them every day of the week, but today we defer to Pacoima.