Elementary school pupils running outsideAmerican parents are turning to the courts to try to secure education reform via lawsuits.  Innovative claims are emerging against Common Core, Individualized Education Programs, and even tenure – all in the name of damages caused by public education.

Education experts have created the possibility for the claims.  As school budgets soared and federal and state mandates increased, experts in education started to design and carry out studies of various factors on student outcome.  Now, several years later, some of these studies are turning out interesting results.

In one case, an expert witness in education recently testified about the nexus between the quality of the teacher and the achievement of his or her students.  When budget cuts eliminate quality education, students suffer, especially in less affluent school districts.

This may seem to be a commonly accepted truth, not requiring expert testimony, per se.  The challenge, however, is defining a “quality teacher.”  The expert witness in education, it turns out, has options, variables, and even conflicting studies upon which to draw.

The stakes are not small when an expert witness in public education testifies about a particular school or an entire district, particularly with respect to teacher hiring, retention, promotion, seniority, and tenure.  The testimony of the education expert witness stands to upend systems put into place through the legislature and the school board processes, often with their own versions of expert testimony.

The expert witness testimony in public education cases may also bring forth a whole new dialogue for the public.  While school boards may have the advantage of access to the full staff of the district, parents generally do not have that level of access.  With widespread coverage of trials on the Internet, parents may find an unexpected benefit through the signaling function of the media not only to expert witness testimony, but also to the resources upon which they rely.

These very recent lawsuits also raise the interesting possibility that such expert witnesses may also be hired to testify at school board hearings on behalf of parents or parent groups.  Especially in schools receiving federal 2013 School Improvement Grants to use a “turnaround model” (requiring replacement of the principal and at least half of the staff), expert witness evaluation, reporting, and testimony may become a critical necessity.

By Paloma A. Capanna, Attorney & Policy Analyst