Translating rhetoric into practice

Last week, a California judge issued a long-awaited opinion on Vergara v. California, ruling that not only were students’ civil rights violated, but that they were being deprived of their right to an education under the California State Constitution.  The decision is poised to open the gates for city-by-city, state-by-state conversations, cases, and debates.  Cases like this serve a critical role in framing issues, and to achieve the goals behind the decisions, it will be necessary to translate solid legal reasoning into implementation and practice.

The case creates an opportunity to discuss closing the chasm between rhetoric and results.  No Child Left Behind is a great case in point, wherein the policy necessitated a still-to-be-realized shift in practice. NCLB required that all students be taught by a “highly-qualified” teacher. An aspirational statement, certainly, but most school systems, particularly systems service high concentrations of low-income students, still fall short of this goal.

Fortunately, there has been some progress in linking policy to practice. A timely study highlighted in EdWeek on Monday found just that: stricter tenure laws in New York City resulted in underperforming teachers leaving schools voluntarily, and thus placing more effective teachers in the classroom in front of students.

While on paper the Vergara ruling sets the stage for a new era of equity in education, now is the time to get to planning for implementation and to explore what educational equity looks like on the ground.