Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

The following post was written by Jill Barshay and reposted by Larry Cuban on his blog. It is a response to the claim by various economists that teachers don’t improve after three to five years. This claim has been used to promote Teach for America, despite their inexperience and lack of substantive teacher education. It has also been used, as the previous post about North Carolina shows, to claim that teachers should not be paid based on their experience. It’s a pernicious idea, and I thank Larry Cuban for featuring this debunking of the conventional but wrong “wisdom.”

Jill Barshay writes:

The idea that teachers stop getting better after their first few years on the job has become widely accepted by both policymakers and the public. Philanthropist and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates popularized the notion in a 2009 TED Talk when he said “once somebody has taught for three years, their teaching quality does not change thereafter.” He argued that teacher effectiveness should be measured and good teachers rewarded.

That teachers stop improving after three years was, perhaps, an overly simplistic exaggeration but it was based on sound research at the time. In a 2004 paper, economist Jonah Rockoff, now at Columbia Business School, tracked how teachers improved over their careers and noticed that teachers were getting better at their jobs by leaps and bounds at first, as measured by their ability to raise their students’ achievement test scores. But then, their effectiveness or productivity plateaued after three to 10 years on the job. For example, student achievement in their classrooms might increase by the same 50 points every year. The annual jump in their students’ test scores didn’t grow larger. Other researchers, including Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek, found the same.

But now, a new nonprofit organization that seeks to improve teaching, the Research Partnership for Professional Learning, says the conventional wisdom that veteran teachers stop getting better is one of several myths about teaching. The organization says that several groups of researchers have since found that teachers continue to improve, albeit at a slower rate, well into their mid careers.

“It’s not true that teachers stop improving,” said John Papay, an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University. “The science has evolved.”

Papay cited his own 2015 study with Matt Kraft, along with a 2017 study of middle school teachers in North Carolina and a 2011 study of elementary and middle school teachers. These analyses all found that teachers continue to improve beyond their first five years. Papay and Kraft calculated that teachers increased student performance by about half as much between their 5th and 15th year on the job as they did during the first five years of their career. The data are unclear after year 15.

Using test scores to measure teacher quality can be controversial. Papay also looked atother measures of how well teachers teach, such as ratings of their ability to ask probing questions, generate vibrant classroom discussions and handle students’ mistakes and confusion. Again, Papay found that more seasoned teachers were continuing to improve at their profession beyond the first five years of their career. Old dogs do appear to learn new tricks.

The debate over whether teachers get better with experience has had big implications. It has prompted the public to question union pay schedules. Why pay teachers more who’ve been on the job longer if they’re no better than a third-year teacher? It has encouraged school systems to fire “bad” teachers because ineffective teachers were thought to be unlikely to improve. It has also been a way of justifying high turnover in the field. If there’s no added value to veteran teachers, why bother to hang on to them, or invest more in them? Maybe it’s okay if thousands of teachers leave the profession every year if we can replace them with loads of new ones who learn the job fast.

So, how is it that highly regarded quantitative researchers could be coming to such different conclusions when they add up the numbers?

It turns out that it’s really complicated to calculate how much teachers improve every year. It’s simple enough to look up their students’ test scores and see how much they’ve gone up. But it’s unclear how much of the test score gain we can attribute to a teacher. Imagine a teacher who had a classroom of struggling students one year followed by a classroom of high achievers the next year. The bright, motivated students might learn more no matter who their teacher was; it would be misleading to say this teacher had improved.

What can you say when a state decides to adopt a policy that has failed again and again and has been conclusively discredited? I call such proposals “zombie policies,” because they fail and fail but never die.

Justin Parmenter, a National Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina, writes here about a plan in his state to eliminate experienced-based pay and replace it with the obsolete practice of tying teacher pay to student test scores. The leaders in North Carolina call it ”merit pay.” It is also called value-added evaluation and test-based compensation.

Whatever it is called, it is ineffective and demoralizing to tie teacher pay to test scores. Those who teach in affluent districts will be paid more than those who teach in low-income schools or who teach students with disabilities. Presumably, the folks in North Carolina never heard of the POINT study in Nashville, Tennessee, a three-year study of whether teachers would produce higher test scores if offered a big bonus. The conclusion was that the bonus (merit pay) did not make a difference.

The final evaluation concluded:

While the general trend in middle school mathematics performance was upward over the period of the project, students of teachers ran- domly assigned to the treatment group (eligible for bonuses) did not outperform students whose teachers were assigned to the control group (not eligible for bonuses). The brightest spot was a positive effect of incentives detected in fifth grade during the second and third years of the experi- ment. This finding, which is robust to a variety of alternative estimation methods, is nonetheless of limited policy significance, for this effect does not appear to persist after students leave fifth grade. Students whose fifth grade teacher was in the treatment group performed no better by the end of sixth grade than did sixth graders whose teacher the year before was in the control group.

Have the North Carolina policymakers heard about the Gates-funded program to evaluate and pay teachers based on test scores and peer evaluations, which was tried in seven sites, including Hillsborough County, Florida, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and four charter chains? The program cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was evaluated by the RAND Corporation and AIR. The cost of the program was shared between Gates and the local districts.

The evaluation report of the Gates program was released in 2018. It concluded that the program did not improve student achievement, did not raise graduation rates or dropout rates, and did not change the quality of teachers. In some sites, teacher turnover increased. The neediest students did not get the best teachers because teachers angled to get students who would produce higher test scores. The program planners expected that as many as 20% of the site’s teachers would be fired but only 1% were.

Furthermore, in 2017, a federal judge in Houston threw out precisely the same evaluation system that North Carolina plans to use because teachers were judged by a “secret algorithm” and had “no meaningful way” to ensure that their scores were correctly calculated. The judge wrote: “The [teacher’s] score might be erroneously calculated for any number of reasons, ranging from data-entry mistakes to glitches in the computer code itself. Algorithms are human creations, and subject to error like any other human endeavor.”

Parmenter writes:

A draft proposal coming before the State Board of Education next week (April 6) would transition all North Carolina teachers to a system of “merit pay” as soon as 2023.

The proposal represents the culmination of the work of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, which was directed by state legislators to make recommendations on licensure reform.

The proposed change would make North Carolina the first state in the country to stop paying teachers on an experience-based scale that, at least in theory, rewards long-term commitment to a career in education and recognizes the importance of veteran educators (if adequately funded by the state–but that’s a topic for another post).

Instead, compensation would be based largely on teacher effectiveness as determined by EVAAS, a computer algorithm developed by the SAS corporation which analyzes standardized test scores. Teachers who do not have EVAAS scores would receive salaries based on principal observations, observations by colleagues, and student surveys.

This plan is problematic in a number of ways. It would increase “teaching to the test” by offering a handful of larger salaries to those educators whose students do well on tests. Competition over a limited number of larger salaries would lead to teachers working in silos rather than collaborating and sharing best practices as cohesive teams. Teachers of subjects with no standardized tests are raising concerns that observations and student surveys are highly subjective, and basing salaries on them would be unfair.

Dr. Tom Tomberlin, who serves as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support, has justified moving away from an experience-based pay scale by claiming that teacher effectiveness plateaus after the first few years in the classroom.

It’s an argument which shows a major disconnect between DPI and those of us who actually work in schools and experience first hand how important veteran teachers are to overall school operations.

Veteran teachers often work as mentors, run athletic departments, coach sports and deliver professional development for peers.

They have long-standing relationships with school families and community members that position them to be excellent advocates for the needs of their schools.

None of that value is reflected in a veteran teacher’s EVAAS score.

Brenda Berg, CEO of pro-business education reform organization Best NC, has been a vocal proponent of scrapping the experience-based pay scale. Berg, who serves on the compensation subcommittee that helped develop the plan, said this week that it’s clear our current system isn’t working and it’s time to be “bold” about change even if it’s “scary.”

I’d like to note that anyone who claims educator pushback to this plan is centered in fear of change is completely out of touch with what it’s like to be a professional educator. We are the most flexible and resilient people on the planet, and the last two years have illustrated that fact like never before. We also know what it means to be treated fairly.

It’s true that North Carolina is facing a major pipeline crisis, with enrollment in UNC education programs down drastically over the past several years. It’s true that if we aren’t bold about change we will soon have nobody left who’s willing to work in our schools.

But we also need to be bold about acknowledging the reason for this crisis. It isn’t because the licensure process is too cumbersome. It isn’t because veteran teachers are ineffective and making too much money. It isn’t because our teachers lack accountability.

The reason North Carolina’s schools are suffering from a lack of qualified educators is because for the last 12 years our legislature’s policies have made it deeply unappealing to be a teacher in this state. Those policies include cutting master’s pay and longevity pay, taking away teacher assistants, eliminating retiree health benefits and many, many others.

The solution to North Carolina’s teacher pipeline crisis isn’t a system of merit pay which devalues long term commitment to public schools and ties salaries to standardized tests and subjective measures.

The solution to the problem is comprehensive policy change that makes a teaching career in North Carolina an attractive proposition. That’s the kind of change that will allow us to put an excellent teacher in every classroom.

This proposal ain’t it.

You can share feedback on the proposal with Dr. Thomas Tomberlin here: Thomas.Tomberlin@dpi.nc.gov

State Board of Education members will hear Dr. Tomberlin’s presentation at the April 6 board meeting. Their email addresses are:

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
john.blackburn@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov

Jennifer Berkshire, expert education journalist and co-author of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, writes in The Nation about the forces driving teachers out of the schools.

She interviewed many teachers who explained why they were leaving. Some cited ”the bad teacher” narrative promulgated by Arne Duncan and his insistence that teachers be evaluated, based on their students’ test scores, which is both ineffective and inaccurate. His and Obama’s “Race to the Top” was deeply demoralizing to teachers, and it accomplished nothing positive.

She begins:

Neal Patel survived teaching in the pandemic. It was the culture wars that did him in.

In the fall of 2020, Patel added two flags to the wall of his science classroom in Johnston, Iowa. Now, alongside images of energy waves and the electromagnetic spectrum were the Gay Pride rainbow flag and a proclamation that Black Lives Matter. The flags, says Patel, represented the kind of inclusive space he was committed to creating, sending a signal to all students that even in this conservative suburb of Des Moines, there was a place for them.

School administrators supported him—on one condition. “They’re just there as decoration,” Patel says. “The only time I discuss the flags is when a student asks me about them.”

Patel assumes it was a student who snapped a picture of the display. Somehow it ended up on the Facebook page of a conservative state legislator. Representative Steve Holt, who lives 100 miles from Johnston, pointed to the flags as evidence of creeping left-wing indoctrination in Iowa’s schools and encouraged his constituents to take a stand. Patel says he was shocked by the attention, then upset: “Holt thinks it’s a political issue to try to create an inclusive environment, and he’s using that to try to further divide our community.”Johnston has grown only more divided since Patel became Facebook fodder. At a school board meeting last fall, members debated whether to ban two books on race, including one by the Native American writer Sherman Alexie, after parents complained. The president of the Iowa State Senate, who represents a neighboring county, took the mic during the public comment period, calling for teachers who assigned “obscene” material to be prosecuted. Patel was in the crowd that night, to lend support to minority and LGBTQ students who’d come to speak out against banning the books. And he had an announcement of his own to make: This year would be his last as a teacher in Johnston.

The Obama administration made matters much worse for teachers when it imposed test-based evaluation as the heart of its “reforms.”

The thinking went something like this: Make teacher evaluations tougher, and teaching would get better, which would mean higher student achievement, more students graduating from college, and ultimately a country better able to outsmart China et al. “Tougher” meant holding teachers accountable for how their students fared on standardized tests…

In 2010, Colorado became one of the first states to enact a high-stakes teacher evaluation law; by 2017, nearly every state had one on the books. While the pandemic may have disrupted everything about schooling, policies like Colorado’s Senate Bill 10, with its 18-page evaluation rubric and 345-page user guide aimed at weeding out bad teachers, remain in place.

For Shannon Peterson, an English language acquisition teacher in Aurora, that meant leading her students through a writing exercise last fall as her principal observed. Peterson’s students, many of them immigrants who live in poverty, bore the pandemic heavily, she says: “The kids are stressed, all of their writing is about anxiety, and attendance is way down.”

To her delight, the students responded enthusiastically to the writing prompt she’d come up with: comparing and contrasting the Harlem Renaissance and Black Lives Matter, and how the entertainment industries in their respective eras related to both. In a year of stress and struggle for teachers and students alike, here was something to celebrate. “Excellent writing came out of this,” Peterson says.

Her principal wasn’t convinced. Peterson, he felt, hadn’t done enough actual teaching during the observation. “I just don’t feel comfortable checking off these boxes,” he told her.

The previous year, when the cash-strapped school district had offered teachers buyouts to leave, Peterson turned it down: “I felt an enormous obligation to go back for the kids and my colleagues.” After her evaluation, though, Peterson had reached a breaking point. She quit a week later, walking away from a career that spanned 23 years, 18½ of them in Aurora. “I’m not a box,” Peterson says.

Two weeks after Peterson resigned, a major study came out: The decade-long push to weed out bad teachers had come to naught. The billions of dollars spent, the wars with teachers’ unions, and the collapse in teacher morale had produced “null effects” on student test scores and educational attainment.

Please open the link and read the study. Billions of dollars wasted on ineffective and demoralizing teacher evaluations that produced tons of data but nothing else.

I received the letter at the bottom of this post at the beginning of January. I thought it deserved a response.

This was my response:

Dear Jonah,

You don’t know me but I have followed your career. As the son of illustrious parents, much was expected of you.

Stand for Children was a great idea, when it actually defended children and public schools.

But somewhere along the way, you changed and Stand for Children changed. In 2007-08, you began to accept gifts of millions of dollars from “ultra-wealthy political donors,” and you began leading campaigns against teachers, their unions, and public schools. You demanded test-based evaluations of teachers, a useless metric that punished teachers who taught the neediest children. You boasted at an Aspen summer meeting in 2011 (which I attended) that you had outsmarted the Chicago Teachers Union by hiring all the best lobbyists. The big political donors gave you money to support pro-charter candidates in school board races.

Early supporters of Stand for Children started to call it “Stand on Children.”

I agree with all the goals you describe in your letter, and I must ask you if you will continue to promote charter schools, even though they drain money from public schools; whether you will continue to support test-based evaluation of teachers, even though it has consistently failed; whether you will continue to support school board candidates who favor charter schools and privatization.

If you truly intend to reject donations from “ultra-wealthy political donors,” if you truly reject all forms of privatization, including charter schools, if you truly mean to demand “that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism,” then we can stand together. Please let me and the Network for Public Education know where you stand on the issues that could unite us.

Diane Ravitch


On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 10:36 AM Jonah Edelman <info@stand.org> wrote:

Diane,

Reflecting on 2021, I see reasons for hope. The widespread availability of vaccines. A return to in-person learning. An economy that rebounded with record speed due to bold government action.

At the same time, there is cause for grave concern. Tens of millions of children and young people are struggling to recover academically, socially, and emotionally from the pandemic. Tragically, instead of using their power to help children and young people get on track, politicians are passing bans on conversations about race and discrimination that deny children the honest and unbiased understanding of the past they need to create a better future. At the same time, extremists are targeting and harassing school board members, principals, teachers, parents, and even students who want an accurate portrayal of U.S. history with diverse viewpoints.DONATE

Public education is the pathway to economic opportunity and the backbone of a healthy democracy.

That is why we must stand together against the politicians, media moguls, and ultra-wealthy political donors who are stirring up fear and hate and conspiring to make public education a political battleground at the expense of our children’s learning and well-being.

And it is why, together, we must continue to use our collective voice and votes to ensure that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism and the harm it does to us all.

We are deeply grateful for your partnership and support, and we hope you will continue to stand with us in 2022.

Standing together with you,

Jonah Edelman

Stand for Children

2121 SW Broadway #111

Portland, OR 97201

Who is responsible for the widespread teaching exodus? Who demoralized America’s teachers, the professionals who work tirelessly for low wages in oftentimes poor working conditions? Who smeared and discouraged an entire profession, one of the noblest of professions?

Let’s see:

Federal legislation, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

George W. Bush; Margaret Spellings; Rod Paige (who likened the NEA to terrorists); the Congressional enablers of NCLB; Sandy Kress (the mastermind behind the harsh, punitive and ultimately failed NCLB).

Erik Hanushek, the economist who has long advocated for firing the teachers whose students get low test scores; the late William Sanders, the agricultural economist who created the methodology to rank teachers by their students’ scores; Raj Chetty, who produced a study with two other economists claiming that “one good teacher” would enhance the lifetime earnings of a class by more than $200,000; the reporters at the Los Angeles Times who dreamed up the scheme of rating teachers by student scores abd publishing their ratings, despite their lack of validity (one LA teacher committed suicide).

Davis Guggenheim, director of the deeply flawed “Waiting for Superman”; Bill Gates and his foundation, who funded the myth that the nation’s schools would dramatically improve by systematically firing low-ranking teachers (as judged by their students’ scores), funded “Waiting for Superman,” funded the Common Core, funded NBC’s “Education Nation,” which gave the public school bashers a national platform for a few days every year, until viewers got bored and the program died; and funded anything that was harmful to public schools and their teachers; President Obama and Arne Duncan, whose Race to the Top required states to evaluate teachers by their students’ scores and required states to adopt the Common Core and to increase the number of charter schools; Jeb Bush, for unleashing the Florida “model” of punitive accountability; and many more.

We now know that ranking teachers by their students’ test scores does not identify the best and the worst teachers. It is ineffective and profoundly demoralizing.

We now know that charter schools do not outperform public schools, as many studies and NAEP data show.

We now know that public schools are superior to voucher schools, and that the voucher schools have high attrition rates.

We now know that Teach for America is not a good substitute for well-prepared professional teachers.

Who did I leave out?

We have long known that students need experienced teachers and reasonable class sizes (ideally less than 25) to do their best.

Given the vitriolic attacks on teachers and public schools for more than 20 years, it almost seems as though there is a purposeful effort to demoralize teachers and replace them with technology.

Gary Rubinstein writes here about the new leadership of the New York City Department of Education.

He begins:

Eric Adams will become the next Mayor of New York City on January 1st. He will hire David Banks as the new schools Chancellor. And Banks will bring in Dan Weisberg as his top deputy.

Dan Weisberg

Unfortunately Dan Weisberg is one of the most dangerous people in the country who could rise to be the second highest ranking administrator in New York City…

In the article from Chalkbeat, NY, Alex Zimmerman tries hard to sugarcoat the background of this controversial pick. He writes:

He has tapped Dan Weisberg — who runs an organization focused on teacher quality and handled labor issues under Mayor Michael Bloomberg — to be his top deputy. That move is likely to raise eyebrows with the city’s teachers union, which has previously clashed with Weisberg.

So what is this “organization focused on teacher quality”? Well it is TNTP which once stood for The New Teacher Project. TNTP was founded by Michelle Rhee in 1997. What started out as a Teach For America type program for training career changers to become teachers quickly became an education reform propaganda organization. In 2009 they got into funding ‘research’ and their first publication was called ‘The Widget Effect’ which argued the benefits of merit pay for teachers based on standardized test scores. This publication is still often quoted despite very shoddy statistical practices. Dan Weisberg was the lead author of ‘The Widget Effect.’ More recently they put out something called “The Opportunity Myth” about how most teachers have low expectations because they do activities that don’t completely adhere to the researcher’s interpretation of the Common Core Standards.

Fifteen years ago there were plenty of Michelle Rhee type reformers in leadership positions in school districts around the country. As that brand of reform failed to deliver results, those reformers took positions in think tanks where they could make a lot more money but where they would not have such direct power over school systems.

Back in the Bloomberg/Klein days, people like Weisberg would celebrate judicial rulings where parents would fight to not have their children’s schools shut down. Charter schools, in the wake of ‘Waiting For Superman’, were supposedly proving that all you needed to turn around a school was to staff them with non-unionized teachers. Teacher bashing was all the rage, they even had their own Walton funded movie flop ‘Won’t Back Down.’

But things are different now. Reformers are not as brazen as they once were. The charter bubble has burst a bit, though Bloomberg has $750 million that says he can revive it. But it will be hard. With the failures of projects like The Achievement District in Tennessee, it will a a tougher sell to say that we need to replicate their accomplishments. Back in the day, there would be so much talk of charters that were beating the odds with 100% graduation rates or 100% college acceptance rates. Those stores were debunked so often that even The74 hardly runs stories like that anymore. Does anyone know whatever happened to KIPP? The only charter chain that can even claim to get good test scores is Success Academy, and even reformers hardly like to talk about them since they boot (or discourage from enrolling) so many kids who might bring down their precious test scores.

So where does a teacher basher fit into the current system? As a New York City teacher with two kids in the system, I’m a bit scared to find out.

Gary follows up with anti-teacher, anti-union tweets by Weisberg, as well as congratulatory tweets from the hardcore reformers.

Hold on, tight, NYC teachers. You are in for a rough ride.

Education Week reported that a decade of “reforms” focused on tougher teacher evaluations produced no improvement in student test scores.

More than a decade ago, policymakers made a multi-billion-dollar bet that strengthening teacher evaluation would lead to better teaching, which in turn would boost student achievement. But new research shows that, overall, those efforts failed: Nationally, teacher evaluation reforms over the past decade had no impact on student test scores or educational attainment.

The research is the latest indictment of a massive push between 2009 and 2017, spurred by federal incentives, philanthropic investments, and a nationwide drive for accountability in K-12 education, to implement high-stakes teacher evaluation systems in nearly every state.

Prior to the reforms, nearly all teachers received satisfactory ratings in their evaluations. So policymakers from both political parties introduced more-robust classroom observations and student-growth measures—including standardized test scores—into teachers’ ratings, and then linked the performance ratings to personnel decisions and compensation.

“There was a tremendous amount of time and billions of dollars invested in putting these systems into place, and they didn’t have the positive effects reformers were hoping for,” said Joshua Bleiberg, an author of the study and a postdoctoral research associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. “There’s not a null effect in every place where teacher evaluation [reform] happened. … [But] on average, [the effect on student achievement] is pretty close to zero.”

The evaluation reforms were largely unpopular among teachers and their unions, who argued that incorporating certain metrics, like student test scores, was unfair and would drive good educators out of the profession. Yet proponents—including the Obama administration—argued that tougher evaluations could identify, and potentially weed out, the weakest teachers while elevating the strongest ones…

A team of researchers from several universities analyzed the data, starting when states adopted the new teacher evaluations incorporating student test scores. They looked not only at changes in scores but high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates.

Tougher teacher-evaluation systems can work, Petrilli said—but there was no political will to act on the results at the time of the reforms. Teachers’ unions resisted firing teachers who received poor results, and districts were unwilling or unable to pay great teachers more, he said.

At a time of acute teacher shortages, what school district is eager to fire teachers based on their students’ test scores?

The failed reforms were in large part a response to the demands of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top, which required states to adopt test-based evaluation to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion in federal money. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised such teacher evaluations loudly and frequently.

As I wrote in my 2020 book SLAYING GOLIATH, test-based teacher evaluation was never tried before it was imposed on almost every state in the nation. It had no evidence to support its use. Many scholars and professional groups warned against it, but Duncan plunged forward, belittling anyone who dared to disparage his Big Reform.

Obama and Duncan found support in a 2011 study led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, but his glowing predictions about the benefits of test-based evaluation didn’t pan out. His paper on value-added teacher assessment won him a front page story in the New York Times, a story on the PBS Newshour, and a laudatory mention in President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address. Chetty et al concluded that better teachers caused students to get higher test scores, to graduate more frequently, to earn more income over their lifetimes, and—for girls, to be less likely to have out-of-wedlock births. As one of the authors told the New York Times, the message of our study is that bad teachers should be fired sooner rather than later.

But despite the cheerleading of Arne Duncan and the seemingly definitive conclusions of Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff, value-added teacher evaluations failed.

How many good and great teachers left their profession because of this ill-fated “reform”?

Sarah Reckhow of Michigan State University University and Megan Tompkins-Stange of the University of Michigan studied the ways in which foundations fund research that advances policies they believe in. They use the issue of teacher quality, specifically, to demonstrate how the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation underwrote research that provided evidence for evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students (VAM, or value-added modeling). The research supported a policy that the Obama administration wanted to implement.

VAM turned out to be highly ineffective and demoralized teachers, but the big foundations gave the Obama administration the back-up the administration needed for their demand that teachers be evaluated by their students’ test scores. The American Statistical Association warned that VAM was an invalid measure of individual teachers, as did other scholarly and professional organizations, but Obama and Duncan ignored the naysayers.

Reckhow and Tompkins-Stange write:

After the Obama Administration took office in 2009, a number of former Gates Foundation officials assumed senior roles in the Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan, and were influential in drafting Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion competitive grant program designed to induce states to comply with specific policy reforms, including the use of value-added methods in evaluation programs. The Department of Education’s call for proposals stated that Race to the Top grant winners would focus on advancing four specific reforms:

Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy; building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining eective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and turning around our lowest-achieving schools.”

These implicit and explicit references to value-added measures and the need to evaluate and compensate teachers based on their eectiveness are evidence of the emergent debates around using student test scores to determine teacher pay—another plank of the education reformers’ theory of change. An interviewee from a foundation commented on the fact that after Race to the Top, states were required to “put together evaluation systems for teachers and states would begin to link this to hiring and firing.” The fact that this particular reform had acquired such political capital in a relatively short time was, in the words of this interviewee, “remarkable.”

Creating an evidence base

In addition to maintaining close networks with policy elites, foundations actively engaged in commissioning original research designed to provide an evidence base relevant to their policy priorities. Foundations make grants to intermediary organizations to conduct “advocacy research,” which has the explicit objective of being injected into policy discourse to be cited as empirical justification for desired reforms (Lubienski et al. 2009). Unlike traditional peer-reviewed research, which may pose uncertain conclusions regarding policy implications, advocacy research is shaped by specific policy objectives and political strategy and is typically produced by think tanks and nonprofit organizations, rather than universities (Shaker and Heilman 2004). The level of empirical rigor in advocacy research exists on a spectrum, from employing highly rigorous methods and considerations of external and internal validity, to omitting discussion of methods entirely.

While foundation-funded advocacy research is by no means the only source of policy-influential research in the teacher quality debate, it is central in Congressional hearings during our study period. Between 2000 and 2016, only nine research reports were cited three or more times by witnesses (and only one of which was peer-reviewed). The fourth-most cited report, which was consistently referenced in our interviews, was a 2009 advocacy research report by The New Teacher Project entitled The Widget Eect—a call to arms about the need for systematic teacher evaluation systems in order to distinguish between low-quality and high-quality teachers using test score-based evaluation methods. The report stated that “institutional indierence to variations in teacher performance” resulted in systems that perpetuated low-quality teaching across the country, taking aim at evaluation systems that relied predominantly on observational meth-ods as opposed to econometric approaches (Weisberg et al. 2009). Several education reform-oriented foundations including the Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Robertson Foundation, and Joyce Foundation funded the report. Within a month of its release in 2009, Secretary Duncan made the following statement about the report in a speech:

“These policies…have produced an industrial factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets. A recent report from the New Teacher Project found that almost all teachers are rated the same. Who in their right mind really believes that? We need to work together to change this.

The Widget Eect was praised by many interviewees as a triumph of advocacy research—a clear proposal and message, presented in a comprehensible and digestible format, that made a complicated issue more palatable. More importantly, however, the report was also a triumph for the policy networks surround-ing teacher quality discourse—within a month, the report had had such impact that Secretary Duncan was referencing it in major speeches, which was accomplished by disseminating it through policy networks among actors with shared preferences.

The widespread recognition of The Widget Eect was emblematic of the rising prominence of advocacy research in policy debates. In the last ten years, education policy scholars have observed a shift toward targeted advocacy research funded by foundations, particularly surrounding issues of market-based policy interventions (Henig 2009; Lubienski et al. 2009). Contemporary examples of advocacy research contest the traditional conceptualization of expert researchers being separate and distinct from politics. According to Kingdon (2011, p. 228):

“The policy community concentrates on matters like technical detail, cost-benefit analyses, gathering data, conducting studies, and honing proposals. The political people, by contrast, paint with a broad brush, are involved in many more issue areas than the policy people are, and concentrate on winning elections, promoting parties, and mobilizing support in the larger pol-ity.”

In current education policy networks, however, the converse is true, as researchers and advocates may overlap. One interviewee, a sta member of an education advocacy organization, described her role on a Gates Foundation-funded advocacy research project: “We saw a need to be more involved, not just from putting ideas out there but to help guide the conversation more hands-on.” Foundations, particularly those that endorse common education reform priorities, are now more likely to reject the traditional model of funding basic research in universities intended for diusion into policy networks, but without the added leverage of a dedicated marketing structure to ensure, rather than impute, that the research reaches its intended audience.This is particularly true for foundations that identify as strategic philanthropies who are more likely to assertively use research as a tool to advance their policy goals. Strategic philanthropy is structured around the managerial concept of strategic planning, emphasizing clearly articulated goals from the outset of an initiative, the use of research to substantiate decisions, accountability from grantees in the form of benchmarks and deliverables as measured in incremental outcomes, and evaluation to assess progress toward milestones (Brest and Harvey 2008).

Strategic funders also prioritize measurable returns on investments. Applying this formulation, basic research can appear very costly, with high levels of uncertainty or ambiguous returns, while targeted advocacy research promises better yield.Interviewees described strategic foundations—most notably, the Gates and Broad Foundations—as highly influential leaders within the teacher qual-ity policy network and depicted foundations’ theory of change as based on the assumption that teacher evaluation was necessary to advance other education reform goals, such as pay for performance and alternative teacher certifications. They also focused on these foundations’ use of research evidence as political in nature, departing from the “expert-led model of change” that Clemens and Lee (2010) describe and moving toward a model wherein researchers and advo-cates pursued similar goals: to inject policy ideas into political discourse more directly than their traditional philanthropic approaches.

The authors go on to describe the Gates Foundation’s big investment in the MET program (Measures of Effective Teaching). As several interviewees comment, the research started out with a desired outcome, then sought the evidence to back it.

The research paper was published in 2018 and remains timely.

What we don’t know yet is whether the Gates Foundation learned anything from its multiple failures in the field of education.

Peter Greene wonders if you have missed Michelle Rhee, once the Wonder Woman of the edreform biz, but recently absent from the national scene. After her meteoric rise to national prominence, when she was selected to be chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools after two years of TFA teaching, she was a colossus: on the cover of TIME as a miracle worker, featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” frequently interviewed on national TV. Her tenure in D.C. was controversial and stormy: she fired teachers and principals and made bold claims about test scores. When Adrian Fenty, the mayor who appointed her, was defeated, she left and started an organization called StudentsFirst, which she said would raise $1 billion and recruit one million members. she never reached either goal, but she traveled the country advocating for charters and vouchers and against teachers’ unions. She allied with Jeb Bush and other school choice advocates. as her star faded, she disappeared from public view.

Peter Greene says she is making a return public appearance at a Sacramento State University event on September27, where she is the keynote speaker. You can watch on Zoom.

Jeff Bryant is a journalist who specializes in education. In a recent issue of The Progressive, he details the many failures of what is falsely called “education reform.” The term for many has been a ruse for privatization via charter schools and vouchers. Instead of “reform,” it should be called disruption and destruction. Bryant leads the Progressive’s Public School Advocate project. This is a good-news story. Ed Reform has no successful strategies or ideas, but it’s billionaire funders and the U.S. Department of Education continue to fund its failed ideas.

He begins:

It was telling that few people noticed when Chicago’s Board of Education announced in late May that it was closing down its school turnaround program and folding the thirty-one campuses operated by a private management company back into the district.

The turnaround program had been a cornerstone of “Renaissance 2010,” the education reform policy led by former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, who became U.S. Secretary of Education during the Obama Administration. As the news outlet Catalyst Chicago reported, Duncan used the core principles of Renaissance 2010 as the basis for “Race to the Top,” his signature policy that he rolled out to the nation.

Race to the Top, a successor to former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program, included holding schools accountable for higher scores on standardized tests, inserting private management companies into district administration, and ramping up charter schools to compete with public schools.

Another news event affecting Chicago public schools that got very little national attention was the decision by the Illinois state legislature to rescind mayoral control of Chicago schools and bring back a democratically elected school board. The plan is backed by the state’s Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker (and, predictably, opposed by Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot). For years, prominent Democratic leaders—including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Chicago mayor and previously Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—touted mayoral control and a rejection of school board governance.

A third story from the Chicago education scene was that, in December, Noble Charter Network, the city’s largest charter school chain, disavowed its “no excuses” approach to educating Black and brown students because of the racist implications. Noble’s decision added to other reports of no-excuses charter chains dropping their harsh behavioral control and discipline policies during the past year.

These stories highlight the waning of three “school improvement” approaches: strict accountability with private management, mayoral control, and no-excuses charter schools. Each approach was among the pillars of “education reform” favored by previous presidential administrations and heartily endorsed by Washington, D.C., policy shops, such as the Center for American Progress.

Taken in unison, the three stories also contribute to the much larger narrative of how the once all-pervasive and generously funded policy movement known as education reform has ended—not with a bang, but a whimper.

Other policy directives of the reform movement that are also being relegated to the dustbin of history include state takeovers of low-performing schools, evaluating teachers based on student test scores, and flunking third-graders who score below a certain threshold on reading exams.

Please open the link and read on.