Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

This is the executive summary of the statement of the American Statistical Association on the use of value-added assessment to evaluate teachers. Please share it with other teachers, with principals, and school board members. Please share it with your legislators and other elected officials. Send it to your local news outlets. The words are clear: Teachers account for between 1 and 14% of the variation in test scores. And this is very important to remember: “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”

 

 

ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment

 

April 8, 2014

 

Executive Summary

 

Many states and school districts have adopted Value-Added Models (VAMs) as part of educational accountability systems. The goal of these models, which are also referred to as Value-Added Assessment (VAA) Models, is to estimate effects of individual teachers or schools on student achievement while accounting for differences in student background. VAMs are increasingly promoted or mandated as a component in high-stakes decisions such as determining compensation, evaluating and ranking teachers, hiring or dismissing teachers, awarding tenure, and closing schools.

 

The American Statistical Association (ASA) makes the following recommendations regarding the use of VAMs:

  • The ASA endorses wise use of data, statistical models, and designed experiments for improving the quality of education.
  • VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to develop the models and interpret their results.
  • Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. These limitations are particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes.

 

o VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.

 

o VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.

 

o Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.

 

• VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.

Peter Greene noted that Minneapolis followed the terrible examples of Los Angeles in 2010 and New York City in 2012 and published teachers’ value-added ratings in the newspapers for all to see. Even Bill Gates objected to this practice and said in a New York Times article that it would harm the relationship between supervisors and teachers to publish job ratings in the paper. Gates said that publishing VAM scores was an act of “public shaming” and no good would come of it.

 

Greene writes:

 

As promised, this morning brought the publishing of teacher ratings, including VAM scores, with a map and a pearl-clutching interview with the district’s superintendent. The gap is shocking, alarming, inexplicable.

 

I’m speaking of course of the apparent gap between Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s brain and reality. How does somebody with this gigantic an inability to process data end up as a superintendent of a major school system?

 

Superintendent Johnson is shocked– shocked!!– to find that under this evaluation system, it turns out that all the worst teachers are working in all the poorest schools! Hmmm– the poorest schools have the worst results. What’s the only possible explanation? Teachers!! [Pause for the sound of me banging my head on the desk.]

 

“It’s alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. “We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention.”

 

No, Superintendent Johnson. What’s alarming is that you don’t understand a damn thing.

 

Here’s what you have “discovered.” If you rip the roof off a classroom, the teachers that you send to teach in that classroom will get wet when it rains. You cannot “fix” that by changing the teacher.

 

But apparently that’s the solution being considered. “Okay,” says Superintendent Johnson. “Over here we have teachers who stay dry and their students stay dry, so we’ll put this dry teacher in the classroom without a roof and have a dry teacher for the wet rooms. That’ll fix it.”

 

And Superintendent Johnson appears willing to go further. “Maybe we just need to fire the wet teachers and replace them with new, dry ones,” she may be thinking. [Sound of me banging my head against the concrete slab of my basement floor.]

 

If you want a dry teacher in the room, build a damn roof on it.

 

Look. Look look look look look. We already know that poverty absolutely correlates with test results. Show me your tests results and I will show you where your low-income students are. Poverty and lack of resources and underfunding put these students in a classroom without a roof, and anybody you put in there with them will be a wet teacher.

 

Build a damn roof.

 

Minneapolis public school officials say they are already taking immediate action to balance schools’ needs with teachers’ abilities. The district has created programs to encourage effective instructors to teach at high-needs schools and mentor the newest teachers. District officials say they are providing immediate training for teachers who are deficient. And last year, the district fired more than 200 teachers, roughly 6 percent of its teaching staff.

 

Wrong. All wrong. In fact, worse than wrong, because you are now in the position of saying, “Hey, over here we have a room with no roof on it, and if you teach in there and get wet when it rains, we intend to punish you. Now– who wants to volunteer to teach in the roofless room?? Also, we’ll probably smear your good name in the local paper, too. Any takers?”

 

And to the students, sitting in that roofless room day after day, shivering and wet as poverty and lack of resources and insufficient materials and neglect by the central office rain down on them, this sends a terrible message. “We know you are sick and wet in your roofless room,” says the district. “So we are not sending a roof or even ponchos or an umbrella. We’re not going to spend a cent more on you. We’re just going to stand a different teacher up in front of you, to see if she gets wet when it rains.”

 

 

Last week, Kevin Huffman and John Ayers resigned. Huffman was state commissioner of education in Tennessee, and he employed every possible strategy to make testing a centerpiece of education policy. Ayers was director of the Cowen Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans, which was greatly embarrassed when it released–and then rescinded–a “research” report claiming amazing gains in the charter schools of New Orleans. Both were big boosters of using student test scores to judge the quality and effectiveness of teachers, a methodology referred to as VAM, or value-added-modeling.

 

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, one of the nation’s expert researchers on teacher evaluation, looks at the two resignations as evidence that the VAM-mania is failing and claiming victims. There is as yet no evidence that VAM improves teaching,  improves student achievement, or correctly identifies the strengths and weaknesses of teachers. As its critics have said consistently, VAM results depend on many factors outside the control of the teacher and may vary for many different reasons. A teacher may get a high VAM rating one year, and a low VAM rating the next year. VAM ratings may change if a different test is used. Yet those who stubbornly believe that everything that matters can be measured with precision can’t let go of their data-driven mindset.

 

The lesson: proceed with caution with a methodology that has no record of success and that inevitably places far too much importance on standardized tests.

A few days ago, I posted about a plan by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to take away teachers’ licenses if they received poor evaluations. Not just to take away their tenure or their job, but their license to teach. I relied on a terrific post by Peter Greene saying that Massachusetts had come up with an ingenious way to chase teachers out of the state. Given how flimsy and flawed the new test-based evaluations are, this was a horrendous plan that lacked logic, common sense, or basic decency. Given the fact that Massachusetts is by far the highest performing state on NAEP, these draconian measures were incomprehensible.

 

The Massachusetts Teachers Association rallied their members against the DESE plan, and the state DESE backed down. This is the MTA’s description of what happened, how they mobilized, and why good sense prevailed.

 

Here is the communique from the MTA leadership:

 

MTA MEMBERS SHOW UNION POWER; DESE RESCINDS PROPOSALS LINKING LICENSURE TO EDUCATOR EVALUATION

 

 

MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson sent the following message to MTA members on Friday, November 14:

 

We did it! In recent days, thousands of you have contacted state education officials to express your opposition to linking your license to your evaluation. MTA members sent e-mails, spoke out at DESE’s “town halls,” organized building meetings and made plans to attend upcoming DESE meetings in Malden and Bridgewater.

 

Today, the commissioner of education released a letter that says: “… we are rescinding the draft options that link licensure to educator evaluation.”

 

Our message — Union Strong — is making a difference.

 

While the immediate threat is lifted, there is much more to be done to make sure state officials hear what educators think we and our students need.

 

Here’s the background on the licensure story.

 

Twenty-five days ago, MTA received notice of licensure changes proposed by DESE that would connect performance evaluation to license renewal and advancement. These proposals and the façade of voice given within the DESE “town halls” exposed the deep disconnect between educators and the department. Union members spoke out resoundingly. Several members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education joined us in telling the commissioner they opposed this licensure plan.

 

The decision announced today is a good start, but other aspects of proposed licensure changes are still unsettled, and the disconnect between educators and DESE remains.

 

The commissioner has invited us to “continue the conversation.” Let’s do just that by showing up in Malden on Nov. 19 and Bridgewater on Nov. 20 to tell our stories, speak our truth, and reclaim public education.

 

Here are the details of the meetings next week:

 

DESE-sponsored Town Halls on Licensure

 

Wednesday, November 19
4:30-7 p.m. (arrive at 4:15 p.m.)
Malden High School
77 Salem Street
Malden

 

AND

 

Thursday, November 20
4:30-7 p.m. (arrive at 4:15 p.m.)
Bridgewater State University
Crimson Hall – Dunn Conference Room
200 East Campus Drive
Bridgewater

Even as we move forward with our plans to make our voices heard, this is a moment to celebrate our strength and acknowledge the hard work of our members on this crucial issue. So thank you, and let’s keep up the fight!

In solidarity,

Barbara and Janet

 

 

Katie Lapham teaches ESL classes in Brooklyn. What is really rotten in the schools, she writes, are the terrible tests that her first-graders must take. Their purpose is solely to evaluate the teachers. The tests were largely developmentally inappropriate. No teacher, she writes, would create such absurd tests.

She writes:

“Last month, it took me two and a half days to administer the 2014-2015 Grade 1 Math Inventory Baseline Performance Tasks to my students because the assessment had to be administered as individual interviews (NYCDOE words, not mine). The math inventory included 12 tasks, many of which were developmentally inappropriate. For example, in demonstrating their understanding of place value, first graders were asked to compare two 3-digit numbers using and =. Students were also asked to solve addition and subtraction word problems within 100.

“While I do not believe my students were emotionally scarred by this experience, they did lose two and a half days of instructional time and were tested on skills that they had not yet learned. It is no secret that NYC teachers and administrators view these MOSL tasks as a joke. Remember, they are for teacher rating purposes ONLY. “You want them to score low in the fall so that they’ll show growth in the spring,” is a common utterance in elementary school hallways. Also, there will be even more teaching-to-the-test as educators will want to ensure that their students are proficient in these skills before the administration of the spring assessment. Some of the first grade skills might be valid, but others are, arguably, not grade-level appropriate.

“The Grade 1 ELA (English-language Arts) Informational Reading and Writing Baseline Performance Task took less time to administer (four periods only) but was equally senseless, and the texts we were given had us shaking our heads because they resembled third grade reading material. In theory, not necessarily practice, students were required to engage in a non-fiction read aloud and then independently read an informational text on the same topic. Afterwards, they had to sort through a barrage of text-based facts in order to select information that correctly answered the questions. On day one, the students had to complete a graphic organizer and on day two they were asked to write a paragraph on the topic. Drawing pictures to convey their understanding of the topic was also included in the assessment.”

Lapham was surprised to learn that there is an alternative assessment that progressive schools use. She wonders why her school, in a poor neighborhood, was never informed about the option.

Superintendents in the Lower Hudson Valley area spoke critically of the state evaluation system for teachers and principals, called the Annual Professional Performance Review, in a meeting with the editorial board of the Journal-News. .

The evaluation system does not accurately identify teachers as effective or ineffective, and the State Education Department has been unwilling to listen to professionals in the field. The implementation has been as flawed as the implementation of Common Core. Both are tied to testing, and both derive from Race to the Top. The state received $700 million in Race to the Top funding but is likely to spend multiples of that amount to carry out its mandates. Since no part of Race to the Top was based on research, it is unlikely to produce good results. What it has produced is disruption, demoralization, outrage, and a vibrant anti-testing and anti-Common Core movement, led by parents.

Greta Callahan’s article about teaching kindergarten in Minneapolis went viral. She wrote her article in response to one that appeared in the same paper asserting the “worst teachers are in the poorest schools.” She teaches in one of the poorest schools, and she tells her story.

 

To those who parrot the false claim that low test scores are caused by “bad teachers,” she offers a counter-narrative. She explains the burdens suffered by her students and the stress of being evaluated by a rubric that makes no sense.

 

Let’s start with what it means to be a “good teacher.” As the article says: “The district uses three different tools to evaluate teachers: classroom observations, a student survey and student achievement data.” Let’s put that into the perspective of a Bethune kindergarten teacher.

 

• Classroom observations: We have four per year. The teacher receives points based on standardized criteria; the feedback is generally helpful. But these observations also involve the observer walking up to students and asking what they are doing. Even my 5-year-olds, who may have just started school, get asked this question. The student is supposed to regurgitate the “I can” statement that correlates to “Focused Instruction.” The usual response, though, is something along the lines of “math” or “Jaden took my crayon!”

 

If you were in my room, observing an observation, you would laugh. I promise.

 

• Student surveys: I administer a student survey once a year. My 5-year-olds have to circle their responses (even though they can’t read) to questions about their teacher and school. Have you been around a 5-year-old? They are adorable, spacey, loud and unfocused — and under no circumstances does this student survey make sense for them or to them.

 

• Student achievement data: Two to three times a year, our students are pulled out of our classrooms and tested by a stranger from the district. When she asks our kids to go into a separate room with her and gives them a test, most of them shut down. It’s intimidating to them. Some are asked to take this test in the middle of breakfast; others are tested right after recess. The inconsistency of when our children are tested creates a test that isn’t being measured consistently or accurately, in my opinion.

 

These are the “achievement data” that are referenced in the article. The scores are often low and rarely reflect the students’ actual achievements. My fellow teachers and I have plenty of conflicting and affirming evidence to support our students’ actual achievements, growth and knowledge. But this evidence is not considered when determining the effectiveness of a teacher.

 

Recruiting and retaining teachers at a high-poverty school present unusual challenges:

 

The retention rate of teachers at my school and others like it will not go up unless we have more incentive to stay — and more assistance to attempt to give our students an even chance.

 

At Bethune, many of our students are what most Americans would define as starving. At least a third are HHM (homeless/highly mobile), see violence in their homes or neighborhoods regularly and come to school with baggage many of us couldn’t imagine, let alone at age 5. Yet they are expected to meet the standards of kindergartners at upwardly mobile neighborhood schools like Burroughs and Hale. As far as the tests are concerned, a teacher is a teacher and a student is a student.

 

There are plenty of reasons why a teacher might not want to teach in a school like Bethune. Say, physical safety. Within the last two weeks, I have been slapped so hard in the face by a student that I had to seek emergency care; have been threatened by a student who said he was going to go home, come back and hurt me, because I wrote him up for hurting one of my kindergartners, and have broken up numerous fights. My fellow teachers and I have had parents threaten our safety more times than I can count — threats delivered on school property, in front of students. And, lest anyone be misinformed, there is no combat pay for working at a school like mine.

 

My children are happy to come to school and they are eager to learn. But sometimes they just lose it. A student will throw a chair across the room, or scissors at other students, or kick and punch me. It takes time, love and energy to find out why they are doing this. Many are imitating behaviors they see at home. Sometimes they have bottled-up feelings about something they have experienced and don’t know how to handle their anger. So, I teach them. I love them. I’m consistently there for them. I report their situation to Hennepin County all too often.

Many of our children do not have someone who will look over their work with them at night or take them to an activity. Our parents are generally very young and trying their best. It takes a village, but our village is poverty-stricken in every imaginable way.

 

Please read Greta Callahan’s article. She says succinctly what most teachers experience and know: Teaching is hard work. Low scores are caused not by “bad teachers,” but by terrible life circumstances that harm children and families. Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but not in the idiotic way she describes. Teachers who flounder need help and peer assistance. If they can’t teach, after sustained efforts to help them, they should leave teaching. But the narrative of “bad teachers cause low scores” is wrong. It ignores the effects of the single biggest blight on our society: growing poverty and inequality.

 

Peter Smagorinsky, professor at the University of Grorgia, is one of our most astute critics of the current testing mania. This essay appeared in Maureen Downey’s blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He writes:

“The Georgia Department of Education has introduced a new assessment vehicle, the “Student Growth Model,” to measure student and school progress. According to the DOE, it produces “[t]he metric that will help educators, parents, and other stakeholders better understand and analyze the progress students make year to year.”
Very enticing. Who wouldn’t want such an instrument to track students’ growth?

Georgia plans to assess teachers based on student growth, but are we clear on what growth really means?

The Student Growth Model relies on two measurements. One is based on the percentage of students who meet or exceed state standards on standardized tests. The second measurement is designed to assess year-to-year progress of each student, compared both to students in other Georgia schools and to students at the national level in “academically similar” schools in terms of demographic and socioeconomic statistics.

These measurements make up a major portion of the state’s new teacher assessment system. The model assumes that there is a one-to-one causal relationship between individual teachers and individual students in terms of their test scores, which serve as a proxy for learning, for growth, and for teacher effectiveness in all areas.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose coverage of education I respect, has provided very favorable exposure of this initiative, using the language of advancement to describe its (as yet untested) effects in terms of students’ “progress,” “learning,” “achievement,” and “growth.”

Damian Betebenner, the statistician who designed the model that Georgia has adapted, has said, “You may have a teacher that’s in a classroom and the kids aren’t growing. We’re not saying that you’re necessarily a bad teacher, but it’s just not working here.” Yet by factoring in “growth” in these measurements, the system does indeed conclude that teachers whose students do not improve their test scores relative to local and national peers are bad.
I would like to offer some alternative understandings of what human growth involves, and how to measure it. As one who is immersed in developmental psychology, I always ask of claims of growth, Development toward what? And thus by implication, Development by what means?

For a committed Southern Baptist, this growth might involve learning, through faith-based texts and adult guidance, Biblical precepts so as to walk a righteous path according to the church’s teachings. This path is, above all, going somewhere and might be measured by attendance at church, tithing, good works, and other indicators of devotion. Which would you find more valuable measures of growth within this community, a multiple choice test on the Holy Bible, or living a virtuous life led by worship?

Now, I am not a religious person, so this conception of growth would not suit me. I’m an old high school English teacher who now works in teacher education. There is great disagreement among English teachers about what it means to grow through engagement with this discipline and its texts, traditions, and means of expression. To some, growth through English involves learning canonical works of literature and the cultural traditions that they embody.

To others, growth involves becoming a more involved citizen through engagement with the values and beliefs available in literature. Others might see English as a vehicle through which personal reflection and maturation are available; or as a discipline that requires mastery of the conventions of formal English…..”

Growth, progress, achievement, learning: We all want these attributes in our children and expect our teachers to promote them. But the new Student Growth Model measures do not measure up to what most people hope for in their child’s developmental course: their development into good human beings according to some cultural definition of a quality life.
So, what does it mean to conceive of a curriculum and assessment package in terms of human growth? I don’t think it’s the same for everyone, because people are headed in different directions.

Even those headed in the same direction often take different pathways, follow different paces, integrate that pathway with different goals, and otherwise follow Henry David Thoreau’s wisdom: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away…..”

Statisticians’ solutions are admirable in their ability to reduce assessments to single numbers, and thus are prized in the policy world. Teachers’ solutions tend to be much knottier, because they work with kids of delightful variety and hope to help each one realize his or her potential in an appropriate way.

If you agree that Georgia’s Student Growth Model does not rely on measures that encapsulate either student growth or teacher effectiveness, and if you agree that making students and teachers accountable for growth is a good idea, what might be a better alternative in terms of developing teacher effectiveness measures? If you believe that test scores constitute valid measures of student growth, toward what end are they growing, and in what manner do these scores demonstrate that growth conclusively?

In prior essays in this forum, I’ve made points I needn’t recapitulate here in detail. I oppose the standardization of diverse people, and believe that teachers should be entrusted to know their disciplines and how to teach them. I think that standardization is conceived especially poorly when it is measured by people who have never taught. I think that factory-style schooling is more likely to set back authentic human growth than to promote it in ways that lead to satisfying and productive lives. I think that single-iteration test scores are unreliable measures of performance. I think that most conceptions of curriculum and assessment provided by today’s policymakers are misguided and harmful to teaching and learning.

- See more at: http://getschooled.blog.ajc.com/2014/10/06/georgia-will-judge-teachers-on-student-growth-but-growth-toward-what-end/#sthash.1MDQKxAb.dpuf

The Gallup Poll reports that three-quarters of teachers support common standards, a similar proportion oppose standardized online common assessments, while 89% oppose teacher evaluations based on student test scores.

Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students is the most prominent initiative launched by Secretary Arne Duncan. The Gallup Poll shows that Duncan’s favorite “reform” is almost universally opposed by the nation’s teachers.

Hello, President Obama. Please pay attention.

My Review of TIME’s Cover Story on Teacher Tenure

 

 

In the past four years, TIME and Newsweek have published three cover stories that were openly hostile to teachers.

 

On December 8, 2008, TIME published a cover story featuring a photograph of Michelle Rhee, dressed in black and holding a broom, with the implication that she had arrived to sweep out the Augean stables of American education. (Detractors thought she looked like a witch.) The title on the cover was “How to Fix America’s Schools,” suggesting that Rhee knew how to fix the nation’s schools. The subtitle was “Michelle Rhee is the head of Washington, D.C., schools. Her battle against bad teachers has earned her admirers and enemies—and could transform public education.” The story inside was written by Amanda Ripley. We now know that Michelle Rhee did not transform the public schools of the District of Columbia, although she fired hundreds of teachers and principals.

 

 

Newsweek had a cover on March 5, 2010, saying “The Key to Saving American Education: We must fire bad teachers,” a phrase that was written again and again on the cover, as if on a chalkboard. The story began with the false claim that “Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world.” Simply untrue; when the first international assessments were administered in 1964, American seniors scored dead last of 12 nations and in the fifty years that followed, we never outscored the rest of the world. The Newsweek story celebrated the mass firing of high school teachers (without any evaluations) in Central Falls, Rhode Island, a calamitous event that was hailed by Secretary Arne Duncan as a bold stroke forward.

 

 

And now TIME has added another cover story to the litany of complaints against “bad teachers.” This one, dated November 3, 2014, has a cover that reads: “Rotten Apples: It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher: Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found a Way to Change That.” The cover shows a judge’s gavel about to smash an unblemished, shining apple. The story inside was written by Haley Sweetland Edwards. In addition, the magazine includes a column by Nancy Gibbs, Editor of the magazine, commenting on the story.

 

 

The underlying theme of all these covers and stories is that “bad teachers” have ruined and continue to ruin American education, harming children and the nation. They claim that unions and rigid tenure rules are protecting these terrible teachers. Get rid of the “bad teachers” and America’s test scores will fly to the top of the world. That seems to be the assumption behind Arne Duncan’s insistence that teachers must be evaluated to a significant degree by the test scores of their students. Those who get higher scores get extra money, while those with low scores may lose their tenure, lose their job, lose their license.

 

That seems just to the folks who edit Newsweek and TIME, to the tech millionaires and billionaires, but it seems very unjust to teachers, because they know that their ratings will rise or fall depending on who is in their class. Students are not randomly assigned. If teachers are teaching English-language learners or students with disabilities or even gifted students, they will see small gains; they may not see any gains, even though they are good teachers. Their ratings may fluctuate wildly from year to year. Their ratings may fluctuate because of the formula. Their ratings may fluctuate if the test is changed. To many teachers, this system is a roll of the dice that might end their career. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 89% of teachers oppose test-based evaluations of their quality. This is not because teachers object to evaluations but because they object to unfair evaluations.

 

The most recent TIME cover and story should be viewed in three pieces, because the pieces don’t fit together snugly.

 

First is the cover. Someone, my guess would be someone with more authority than the writer, approved a highly insulting cover illustration and accompanying language. Should the perfect apple (the teacher) be crushed by the judge’s gavel? Is the profession filled with “rotten apples”? Is it “nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher”? Nothing in the accompanying story demonstrates the accuracy of this allegation.

 

Then comes the story itself, written by Haley Sweetland Edwards. Edwards contacted me to ask me to read the story and judge for myself, rather than be swayed by the cover (the implication being that the cover is sensationalized and thus emotional and inaccurate, although she did not use those words). She sent me a pdf. file whose title, interestingly enough, was “shall we let millionaires change education.” Now, THAT would have been an interesting story, and the kernel of it is in Edwards’ article.

 

She writes about the battle over teacher tenure:

 
“The reform movement today is led not by grassroots activists or union leaders but by Silicon Valley business types and billionaires. It is fought not through ballot boxes or on the floors of hamstrung state legislatures but in closed-door meetings and at courthouses. And it will not be won incrementally, through painstaking compromise with multiple stakeholders, but through sweeping decisions—judicial and otherwise—made possible by the tactical application of vast personal fortunes.


“It is a reflection of our politics that no one elected these men to take on the knotty problem of fixing our public schools, but here they are anyway, fighting for what they firmly believe is in the public interest.”

 

Now, think about it. What she has written here is that a handful of extremely wealthy men work behind closed doors to usurp the democratic process. No wasting time with voting or legislative action. They use their vast personal fortunes to change a public school system that few of them have ever utilized as students or parents. True, David Welch, who is bankrolling the legal challenges, attended public schools but it is not clear in the story whether his own children ever went to public school or if he himself has set foot in one since his own school days long ago. Then follows a rather star-struck account of this multi-millionaire as he sets his sights on ending due process for public school teachers, engaging a high-priced public relations team, creating a well-funded organization with a benign name, and hiring a crack legal team. Now, he is repeating his strategy in New York and other states; he is Ahab pursuing the bad teacher. The Vergara decision is presented as a culminating victory, where everyone hugs and kisses at the outcome, even though not a single plaintiff was able to identify a “bad teacher” who had actually caused her any harm.

 

 

The story fails to note that Judge Treu, in his Vergara decision, cited a witness for the defense, education scholar David Berliner, who guessed that maybe 1-3% of teachers might be incompetent; when the judge jumped on that number as a “fact” in his decision, Berliner retracted it and said he had not conducted any study of teacher competence in California and it was a “guesstimate” at best. Too late. Berliner’s guesstimate became Judge Treu’s “proof” that the bottom 1-3% should be fired before they do more harm.

 

Up to this point in the story, David Welch and his fellow millionaire/billionaire reformers are treated heroically. But then comes Edwards’ ending, where she concludes with almost two full columns undercutting value-added assessment and the very idea that tests of students can accurately gauge teacher effectiveness.

 

Edwards writes about how No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have led most states to create teacher evaluation systems tied to test scores that determine tenure, layoff decisions, and bonuses. She writes: “This two-decade trend has not, of course, been free of controversy. But what began with protests over ‘high-stakes testing’ and cheating scandals in various public-school districts [my note: including Michelle Rhee’s] in the mid-2000s has morphed in the past six months into an outright mutiny, driven in large part by the controversial rollout of Common Core State Standards, which are linked to new state curriculums, more-difficult tests and new teacher evaluations.” She points out that teachers have filed lawsuits in several states. “Many argued that policies focusing on cold, statistical measures fail to take into account the messy, chaotic reality of teaching in communities where kids must content with poverty and violence.”

 

Edwards then goes on to cite the numerous studies challenging the validity of value-added assessment. She mentions the American Statistical Association’s report on VAM, a review by the American Educational Research Association, even a study published by the U.S. Department of Education finding that “VAM scores varied wildly depending on what time of day tests were administered or whether the kids were distracted.” Had she started the story with this summary, it would have been a very different story indeed. It would have shown that the millionaires and billionaires have no idea how to judge teacher effectiveness and are introducing chaos into the lives of teachers who are doing a hard job for less than the millionaires pay their secretaries.

 

Edwards wrote, I am guessing, a good story about the invalidity of VAMs and the insistence of the tech millionaires/billionaires that they know more about education than teachers and that they are ready to deploy millions to force their views on a public education system about which they are uninformed. For them, it is a power trip, not reform. Again my guess is that her editor rewrote the story to make the millionaires look heroic, because what they are doing is not heroic. Anyone who has any regular contact with public schools expects it will be harder to recruit good teachers as a result of the Vergara decision. But the millionaires don’t know that.

 

 

The third part of the TIME story is the four-paragraph column by Nancy Gibbs, Editor of TIME. She calls it “Honor Thy Teacher,” an ironic title for her piece and for the cover illustration, which Dishonors All Teachers. Gibbs begins by thanking three teachers– Mrs. Flanagan, Miss Raymond, and Mr. Schwartz–who “seeded” her imagination and shaped her character. But she then goes on to say that “one Texas study found that cutting class size by 10 students was not as beneficial as even modest improvement in the teacher.” That is bizarre. I wish she had identified the study or its author. I don’t know of any teacher, even the best, who would not prefer to teach smaller classes; I don’t know of any teacher who thinks he or she can do their best when they have 35 or 45 children in the class. Gibbs then goes on to reiterate the familiar claim that other countries draw their teachers from the top third of graduates while the U.S. draws almost half of its teachers from the bottom third. Again, I would like to see her citation for that datum. Perhaps the three teachers she thanked at the outset—Mrs. Flanagan, Miss Raymond, and Mr. Schwartz—were drawn from the bottom third.

 

Does Nancy Gibbs know that between 40-50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years (perhaps those in the bottom third)? Does she know that education programs are shrinking because young people no longer see teaching as a desirable career, given the contempt that people like Gibbs and legislators in states like North Carolina and Indiana and millionaires like David Welch heap on teachers? Does she know that teachers in California must acquire a liberal arts degree before they can enter education programs? Does she know that many experienced teachers are leaving the profession because of the highly public attacks on teachers by people like Arne Duncan, David Welch, and Michelle Rhee? Which side is she on? Does she side with Mrs. Flanagan, Miss Raymond, and Mr. Schwartz, or with the tech millionaires and billionaires who want to reduce them to data points and fire them? Has the thought occurred that the tech millionaires want to replace teachers with computers? It makes sense to them. The rest of us would like to see greater support for teachers, greater emphasis on recruitment and retention of those who have the responsibility for instructing the nation’s children.

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