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Former Oakland Unified Superintendent Dr. Anthony Smith Testifies That California’s Education Laws Protect Adults at the Expense of Children

Dr. Anthony Smith: “It’s unfair to the State of California that we are organized in ways that value and protect roughly 300,000 jobs at the expense and opportunity for roughly 6 million children.” Presentation of Evidence Concludes; Closing Arguments Scheduled for Thursday, March 27

All parties completed their presentation of evidence today in the historic education equality trial, Vergara v. California.  Plaintiffs’ final witnesses were Stanford University economist Dr. Eric Hanushek and former Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony “Tony” Smith.  State Defendants and Intervenors also recalled Dr. Jesse Rothstein to the stand for a brief surrebuttal.

Dr. Eric Hanushek

Plaintiffs called Dr. Hanushek, a Professor of Economics and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, to the stand today as a rebuttal witness.  Dr. Hanushek testified that the value-added methodology (VAM)—a statistical method used by some of Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses as a means by which to calculate teacher effectiveness—reliably can be used to differentiate between average and ineffective teachers.  Dr. Hanushek further testified about the significant impact that teachers have on student achievement, noting that students who have bad teachers are “pushed back in the learning curve” and can “never recover.”

Dr. Hanushek testified that a student’s background does not determine his or her academic success.  Additionally, he testified that African American and Latino students in California achieve at significantly lower levels than African American and Latino students in Texas and Florida, despite the similar demographics between in the states.

Finally, Dr. Hanushek testified that students in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) charter schools, some of which are exempt from the Challenged Statutes, outperform their peers in traditional district schools.  Specifically, Dr. Hanushek testified about a study released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, which found “dramatic improvements in student growth” for charter school students in LAUSD, especially among poor and minority students.

Dr. Tony Smith

Plaintiffs’ final witness, Dr. Smith, is the Executive Director of the W. Clement and Jesse V. Stone Foundation, the former Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the former Deputy Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, and the former Superintendent of Emery Unified School District.

When asked whether the “Last-in, First-out” (LIFO) Statute is “fair”—an argument that the Defense has made in this case—Dr. Smith responded as follows:

  • “[I]t’s deeply unfair, first and foremost to children … [I]t’s unfair to families and communities; and I think ultimately it’s unfair to the state of California that we are organized in ways that value and protect roughly 300,000 jobs at the expense and opportunity for roughly 6 million children. This way of enacting a choice making system that defends the fairness of how long someone has been there, as if that affects how well they meet the needs of children, sets the condition for us to be perpetually not serving whole groups of children while certain adults have their jobs protected, I think that fundamentally undermines all of our right to expect quality education.”

When asked whether the Permanent Employment Statute provides districts enough time to collect the evidence necessary to make an informed tenure decision, Dr. Smith stated:

  • “We have about 14 months. There’s just no way to collect enough information about the effectiveness of those teachers in service of our children … The time has made it less possible for us to make sure that every single teacher is effective … I think in all districts every kid needs an effective teacher everyday, but the time and the opportunity to actually assess that and to determine their effectiveness is so short … I do think it has had a negative effect on overall teacher effectiveness.”

Plaintiffs also asked Dr. Smith about whether the challenges that students face outside of school somehow eliminate the need to have effective teachers in school.  In response, Dr. Smith testified as follows:

  • “No … in our city, in Oakland, every one of our kids deserves and needs an effective teacher.  Every kid in California does.  There are conditions outside of schools that make it more or less difficult to get into and out of that school, but the life and experience inside the school has to be first, foremost and always about the exchange between the teacher and the student.  And creating the conditions for an effective teacher to be working deeply with children, that’s our job.  And every single school in California has to have that.  I think that the challenges in cities, in sections where opportunities have been stripped and there are intense needs, we have to ensure there are effective teachers in those classrooms.  So yeah, I think it’s hard, and we must do it, particularly in the public sector with public money.  That’s our job.  So those conditions are real, but the need to serve those kids is even greater.”

To hear more from Dr. Smith, watch Students Matter’s deposition highlight reel.

tony smith