Since the announcement of Race to the Top, schools have become even more obsessed with test scores than they were under No Child Left Behind (which still exists in law). To be eligible to get a portion of Race to the Top’s $4.35 billion, states had to agree to evaluate their teachers to a significant degree by the test scores of their students. Later, when states needed waivers from NCLB’s mandate that every child must be proficient by 2014 or their schools would be labeled “failing,” Secretary Duncan made the waivers conditional on states’ agreement to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. Unfortunately at the time the U.S. Department of Education insisted on what was known as “value-added-modeling” (VAM), testing experts did not agree that it was fair or reliable as a measure of teacher effectiveness. On October 5, 2009, the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan warning him of the pitfalls and limitations of VAM. Secretary Duncan ignored their advice and their caution. So now the entire nation is ensnared in an unscientific, unproven method to evaluate teachers.



John Ogozolek, who teaches in upstate New York, developed an analogy to try to make sense of VAM evaluations:




The analogy I was using this past week involves home repairs. Imagine your house needs a new roof or a new bathroom or even a new foundation. But then some big multi-national construction corporation shows up with a scheme of its own -not only to fix what your house might need but to renovate the entire place, top to bottom. Plus, they’re here to “fix” every other home in town, too -with the EXACT SAME “PLAN”.


So, you’re trying to have a rational discussion with the foreman of this alleged construction crew then you hear a chainsaw kick on down the hallway. You run down there just as some guy starts ripping apart your kid’s bedroom furniture, splinters flying. You can barely hear what the smiling worker is saying over the din but you get the idea when he hands you your own chainsaw and motions for YOU to join in, too. What the hell is the plan, you scream. “We…don’t….have….one”, he yells back, “We’re building the plane as we’re flying it”




They are destroying your entire house. But, of course, it doesn’t really matter to them. If they burn down the town from one end to another, they’d only be happier. They don’t want you, they don’t want your house.


Their plan to renovate the world reminds me of the wacky “modern” architecture that leveled entire neighborhoods in cities 50 years ago and left us with mammoth housing projects….the urban “renewal” that ended up being worse than the tragic problems it sought to cure. It was all so much about science and “progress” back then, too, you know. I reread Tom Wolfe’s critique of modern architecture (“From Bauhaus to Our House”) a few years ago, when the Race to the Top crap first really hit the fan. How could such madness grip an entire culture and come to shape our world? I just had to shake my head…..yup, here we go again.


The statistical argument about VAM is great….it’s powerful……I’ve used it myself since reading about it on this blog. We should shout it from the rooftops. But I don’t think some of the people who are attacking public schools and destroying what goes on in our classrooms really care.


It’s like a good carpenter thinking about how to use a specific tool…..meanwhile a giant, smoke-belching excavator is sidling up on its greasy tracks, crushing whatever is in its way and swinging the good ole wrecking ball……