LAUSD headquarters
A researcher testifying in a trial about California teacher policies says that the worst teachers in Los Angeles are doing more harm to students than the worst ones in other school systems that he compared. Above, LAUSD headquarters. (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times / June 12, 2002)
Black and Latino students are more likely to get ineffective teachers in Los Angeles schools than white and Asian students, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher. The findings were released this week during a trial challenging the way California handles the dismissal, lay off and tenure process for teachers.
 In the study, professor Thomas J. Kane concluded that the worst teachers—in the bottom 5%--taught 3.2% of white students and 5.4% of Latino students. If ineffective teachers were evenly distributed, you’d expect that 5% of each group of students would have these low-rated instructors.
A similar pattern held when Kane looked at teachers rated in the bottom half: 38.5% of white students had such an instructor; the number was 48.6% for African American students and 52.2% for Latino students.
Kane presented his findings during testimony in Vergara versus California. He appeared as a witness on behalf of nine families, who are backed by the Menlo Park-based Students Matter, which seeks to overturn several laws. The organization opposes teacher tenure decisions being made in only 18 months, layoffs based on seniority rather than merit, and a dismissal process for ineffective teachers that can prove lengthy and costly. These laws have the effect of diminishing the quality of the teacher workforce and do particular harm to low-income and minority students, advocates contend.
The teaching-quality imbalance especially hurts the neediest students because “rather than a