Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform.

The following is a summary of a chapter in her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. She prepared this excerpt for this blog.

She writes:

For the past twenty years, American K-12 education has been on the receiving end of Big Philanthropy’s efforts to reengineer public schools based on free-market ideas, with foundation-funded private operators taking over large swaths of school districts in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Between 2000 and 2005 alone, three foundations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—quadrupled their spending on K–12 education to $400 million. By 2010, the top 15 foundations had spent $844 million on public education.

Moreover, these Big Philanthropies coordinated their spending, investing in what Harvard’s Jal Mehta and Johns Hopkins’s Steven Teles call “jurisdictional challengers”—efforts aimed atupending traditional educational institutions, in particular public schools and school boards. Instead, the foundations funded a range of private and public institutions, including charter-management organizations and alternative teacher-development institutions such as Teach for America, as well as school-board candidates who would back the philanthropists’ reform agenda and help break the “monopoly” of public-school districts.

Diane Ravitch and a slew of other academics, bloggers and writers have documented the growing influence of Big Philanthropy and its convergence with federal education policies, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, creating what the political scientist Sarah Reckhow calls “a perfect storm.”

As part of its soup-to-nuts strategy designed to maximize the impact of its gifts and expand its influence, Big Philanthropy has expanded its reach to universities, think tanks, government institutions, and the news media.

My chapter, “Media Capture and the Corporate Education-Reform Philanthropies,” in Media Capture, explores the efforts of the Big Philanthropy to shape public opinion by ratcheting up its spending on advocacy and, in particular, by investing in local news organizations. The philanthropies have supported education coverage at a range of mainstream publications—investments that often helped promote the foundations’ education-reform agenda. In addition, they have founded publications specifically dedicated to selling their market-oriented approach to education.

For the news media, battered by internet companies such as Craigslist and Facebook, which have siphoned off advertising revenue, funding from philanthropies comes at an opportune time. Nor can private foundations be faulted for supporting the news media, especially given the rise of “alternative facts” and demagoguery during the Trump era. Foundation funding has long been important to a range of respected news organizations such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as established education publications, such as Education Week.This is not to say that this funding has unleashed a spate of pro-reform coverage. Indeed, I have published essays critical of the education-reform philanthropies in many foundation-funded publications. However, logic suggests that publications desirous of repeat tranches of funding will at least moderate their critical coverage.

What is particularly troubling are the large contributions to local news organizations—many of them earmarked specifically for education coverage—by foundations that explicitly support the takeover of local schools and districts by private operators. My chapter explores how philanthropic support of news organizations—including new publications founded and run by education-reform advocates—is aimed at creating a receptive audience for the foundations’ education-reform agenda.

The Gates Foundation’s effort to influence local and national policy via the news media is a case in point.

The Gates Foundation alone devoted $1 billion in the decade from 2000 to 2010 to so-called policy and advocacy, a tenth of the foundation’s $3 billion-a-year spending, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.

Although much of that money went to analyze policy questions—such as the efficacy of vaccine-funding strategies—“the ‘advocacy’ side of the equation is essentially public relations: an attempt to influence decision-makers and sway public opinion.”

In 2011, The Seattle Times published an exhaustive article about its leading hometown philanthropic organization and asked: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?” (At the time, the Gates Foundation also was bankrolling a slew of education policies, including the common core, and building political support for “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.”)

The Seattle Times showed how the Gates Foundation funding goes far beyond providing general support for cash-strapped news organizations:

“To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

Indeed, Gates usually “stipulates” that its funding be used for reporting on issues the philanthropy supports—whether curing diseases such as HIV or improving U.S. education. And although Gates does not appear to dictate specific stories, the Seattle Times noted: “Few of the news organizations that get Gates money have produced any critical coverage of foundation programs.”

The Seattle Times story was written before the newspaper accepted a $530,000 grant, in 2013, the bulk of it from the Gates Foundation, to launch the Education Lab. The paper described the venture as “a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network” that will explore “promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K–12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.” The Gates Foundation contributed $450,000, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funding the rest.

In a blog post, the newspaper addressed the potential conflict of interest posed by the grant: “The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support.” The newspaper earmarked its funding for so-called “solutions journalism.”

It may be laudable for a publication to focus on “solutions” to societal problems. But almost by definition, a mission that effectively targets “success stories” diminishes journalism’s vital watchdog role.

Then too, Gates’s influence extends well beyond Seattle. The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

Meanwhile, the same year in Los Angeles, fellow philanthropist,Eli Broad, identified Gates as a key potential investor in his $490 million plan to dramatically grow the city’s charter-school sector. The plan included a six-year $21.4 million “investment” in “organizing and advocacy,” including “engaging the media”and “strategic messaging.” (The charter-expansion plan itself followed an $800,000 investment by a Broad-led group of philanthropists to fund an initiative at The Los Angeles Times to expand the paper’s coverage of K–12 education.) In 2016, Gates invested close to $25 million in Broad’s charter-expansion plan.

The Gates Foundation also served as a junior partner in one of the most audacious, coordinated efforts by Big Philanthropy to influence coverage of the education-reform story—the establishment, in 2015, of The 74 Million, which has become the house organ of the education-reform movement. The 74 has been a reliable voice in favor of the charter-school movement, and against teachers’ unions. In 2016, it published The Founders, a hagiography of the education-reform movement. And it has served as a Greek chorus of praise for the education reforms in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter district, while ignoring the experiment’s considerable failings.

Key contributors to the publication, which boasts a $4 million-annual budget, were the Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Soon after it’s founding, The 74 acquired a local education publication, the L.A. School Report, which itself had been heavily funded by Broad. In 2016, Gatescontributed, albeit a relatively modest $26,000, to The 74.

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David C. Berliner, one of our nation’s most honored researchers of education, shared this essay for readers of the blog.

                                             A Hug for Jennifer

          I met Jennifer for the first time at a party. She taught elementary school to mostly white, mostly middle-class kids in a suburb of San Francisco. We chatted about education for a while and she invited me to visit her class. I like visiting classes, in part, because they are always so difficult to understand. It is an enormous intellectual challenge to witness and make sense of the interaction of teachers and students with curriculum materials in a classroom setting. Sometimes, with teachers you come to admire, it is like trying to put together a recipe after  tasting  a delicious food. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients that made it so special. 

More frequently, my observations struck me as a bit like trying to study what comes out the end of a funnel–without much confidence that you know all about what went into the funnel. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients—the stuff that makes a classroom hum or fail. Some of the things that are sure to have entered the funnel are: all of society’s values; the pop culture of today, particularly as represented on television; the individual child-rearing practices of 25 or so different families; the economic, physical and mental health of the people in the neighborhood around the school; the teaching skills, content knowledge, prejudices and personal family concerns of the individual teacher; the leadership skills of the principal; the educational directives issued by the school district and the state; and so forth. After the large, open-end of the funnel receives a thousand items of this type, I wander into a classroom to observe a teacher attempting to create something sensible and unique out of whatever comes tumbling out the small end of the funnel. You really never know what you’ll see and hear when you go to observe a classroom. 

         Besides the challenge of trying to unravel what goes on in such  complex environments, I also visited classes regularly for another reason. It was because of my profound distaste for the many people who freely comment about education but spend no significant amounts of time visiting schools and classes. These education bashers regularly provide the media with false descriptions of America’s schools, inadequate critiques of the educational system, and unfeasible suggestions for school improvement. So, I took Jennifer up on her offer and I began to occasionally drop in on her class since her school was on the way to my work. On one of those visits, now many years ago, I learned a lesson about teachers and observing in classrooms that affected the rest of my career.

         Jennifer taught fourth grade. She had the self-confidence to let me drop in any time, unannounced, to observe her class. I timed one of my visits so I could avoid the taking of attendance, the principals’ announcements, and other morning housekeeping activities. As I had planned, I arrived just as reading was about to start. From the seating chart Jennifer had given me I soon identified Alec. He had caught my eye, though I was not yet sure why. Alec sat at the side of the class, his face a blank– impassive, masklike. I somehow was compelled to watch him a lot throughout the reading period.  Despite the generally upbeat lesson in which the class was involved, Alec displayed no emotions. He seemed to barely follow what was going on around him.  I was surprised that Jennifer, who usually was so equitable in her interactions with the children, seemed to be ignoring Alec. When reading was finished, and the children went out for recess, Alec remained in the class, the same blank look on his face, and with Jennifer still showing the same pleasant, but unconcerned manner. 

When the children returned from their break, no one talked to Alec. To his teacher and his classmates, Alec seemed not to exist. To me, the outside observer, it looked like a modern version of an old punishment–Alec was being shunned!  I was losing my curiosity about what was happening and, instead, began to get angry at Jennifer and the other children.

       Mathematics work began and Jennifer called small groups of children to the desk where she presented some new concepts, while most of the rest of the class did problems in their workbooks. Alec did nothing. He never took out his workbook and Jennifer never criticized him, and she never invited him to the desk, as she did the other students. I couldn’t stop myself from focussing on this situation, to the exclusion of whatever else was happening in the class. I grieved for this child, remembering my worst days as a school boy and my terror of being ostracized, even for a short time. I remembered the games we sometimes played, games in which we were so cruel to one another. My memory filled suddenly with an event from junior high school. A time when we once had “Don’t talk to Bobby day!”–a day when my classmates and I purposely set out to hurt another child. But never had I seen a teacher join in, as seemed to be the case here. As my fantasies about Alec’s plight merged with my own resurrected childhood fears and embarrassment, I began to get angrier and angrier at Jennifer. When the lunch bell finally rang, and the children filed out with Alec, still alone, but now among them, I approached Jennifer’s desk. I tried to keep the anger I felt under control and I pushed away, to the farthest reaches of my mind, the shame and the embarrassment I felt about being both perpetrator and victim of such exclusionary practices in the past. I said to Jennifer, in as controlled a manner as possible, that Alec did not seem to be participating much in classroom activities. 

         When Jennifer responded, I learned a lesson about the importance of understanding the intentions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the persons you intend to study. It is difficult, of course, in any communication setting, to genuinely understand another person’s thoughts and feelings. But when you try to be a social scientist, and are not just an ordinary person chatting with others, this commonplace problem in interpersonal communication looms much larger. A lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding of another person’s intentions, can lead a social scientist to make dangerously flawed inferences about that persons behavior.  

      Jennifer responded to me, saying that Alec’s brother had been shot and killed by the police the night before– a rarity in the middle class neighborhood the school served. And it happened at home, in front of Alec. Before I had arrived that morning Jennifer had taken Alec aside and told him how sorry she was for his whole family. She thought the day might be a tough one for him, so she told Alec that he should feel free to participate or not that day, to do whatever he felt like. She would let him decide how he wanted to use his time. She also told him how glad they all were that he was in the class and when he felt like getting involved with everything again to just start doing so. The other students had all heard about what had happened and were not shunning Alec, but giving him some breathing room. My anger, of course, was gone. In its place was a sense of wonder.

      How many incidents like this one did Jennifer have to deal with per week or per month, on top of her academic responsibilities? Who taught her to confront this awful event in such a straightforward and sensible manner? Actually, I am still not sure it was the best response to Alec’s loss and sadness, but it sure seemed to be a sensible response to me. Did she have such sensitivity to youngsters when she first started teaching, or is this part of what teachers learn as they gain experience? How could I have been so blind as to what was going on that I grew angry at Jennifer? How many other times have I observed classes and reached completely wrong conclusions about what was going on?

         After this incident, when I was working in classrooms, I was sure that I had become a better social scientist. I tried always to understand the intentions of the teachers that I studied. I spent time with them, trying to learn what they were going to teach, what special constraints they were under, and what they thought I should know before I began watching them. When I did this, I was sure that my conclusions about what occurred in their classrooms were different than before I had met Jennifer. More importantly, however, is that my views about observation in classrooms had changed. I once thought that some kind of “raw” observation was possible, that a kind of neutral, objective mirror of classroom life could be obtained. But Jennifer taught me that is just not true.

          Observations can be relatively undistorted, relatively objective, but never completely so. In fact, it is likely that observations and interpretations of classroom life without understanding teachers and their intentions, are likely to be more distorted than observations and interpretations made with such knowledge. I believe this despite the obvious loss of objectivity and neutrality that must occur as teachers and researchers get to know each other better. I’ll say it clearly: Interpretations of a teachers’ behavior without knowledge of the teachers’ intentions are either useless or, worse, inaccurate and unjust. My visit to Jennifer’s classroom that particular day, as an outsider, had led me to inaccurate and unjust conclusions about what was going on. It was sobering.

         There is also a bigger issue to which this incident is relevant. Since we cannot adequately interpret life in classrooms unless we have an insider’s understanding of that classroom, how is it possible for principals, department heads, and others who evaluate teachers, to do so when they visit a teacher’s classroom infrequently, stay for only the briefest period of time, and try to distance themselves from the teacher to maintain a goal of objectivity? The unbiased observations of the outsider may be a requirement in physics, chemistry, oncology, and other natural and biological sciences. Doing “good science” certainly requires the illusion of total objectivity, even though the best of scientists acknowledge that such a goal is impossible to achieve. But in areas of social behavior and especially those research areas concerned with classrooms and schools, such calls for objectivity are probably misplaced. Perhaps the only way to understand life in classrooms is to visit frequently, stay for a lengthy period of time, and have a shared vision with the teacher of what is intended. Evaluations of teachers that rely too heavily on formal observation instruments, notions of objectivity, and the outsider’s view of the classroom are likely to report, as I might have, that Jennifer was an insensitive, uncaring, human being. A more appropriate evaluation system would have caused the observer to hug Jennifer and give thanks that she chose to teach children rather than sell computers.

DAVID C. BERLINER is Regents Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader:

Richard P. Phelps was hired by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to oversee testing, which was a crucial element in her plans to “reform” the district and raise test scores. During his time there, outsiders raised questions about whether there was widespread cheating on tests.

Phelps addresses those questions in this post.

He begins:

Ten years ago, I worked as the director of assessments for DCPS. For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as chancellor.

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average U.S. school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons:

–in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

–test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time;

–after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

–after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven.

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.

Phelps’ articles were originally published at the Nonpartisan Education Review. They were reposted on Valerie Jablow’s blog.

Richard P. Phelps recounts his experiences as the director of assessment for Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Phelps was expected to expand the notorious IMPACT testing program, meant to evaluate teachers. Phelps visited hundreds of administrators and teachers and asked their advice about how to make the program better. They gave him good ideas, and he passed them on to top staff as recommendations. The professionals’ advice was rejected by two top reformers.

Phelps’ article was posted on the blog of D.C. activist Valerie Jablow. She acknowledged its origin in this editor’s note:

[Ed. Note: In part 1 of this series, semi-retired educator Richard P. Phelps provided a first-hand account of what went down in DCPS as ed reformers in the early days of mayoral control pushed standardized tests; teacher evaluations based on those tests; and harsh school penalties. This second part looks at the cheating scandals that arose in the wake of such abusive practices. Such accounts are all the more important now that the DC auditor has just released a bombshell report of poor stewardship of DC’s education data. Both articles appeared in Nonpartisan Education Review in September 2020 and are reprinted here with permission. For this part, the author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel and DC school budget expert Mary Levy.]

Phelps came to realize that the “reformers” really didn’t care about improving education or helping children. They were padding their resumes, building their career prospects in the lavishly funded reform world.

Phelps writes:

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, U.S. education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly connected politicos and academics—a mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson).

Despite their failures, the elites who led DCPS moved on to remunerative positions. The game goes on. And it’s not “for the children.”

The past two decades have been rough times for the two big teachers’ unions. Republicans have demonized them. The Obama administration courted their support but did little to help them as they were attacked by the right in Republican state houses and the Courts. Duncan gleefully promoted the misguided use of test scores to evaluate teachers, despite repeated warnings by eminent researchers that the methodology was flawed. In fact, eligibility for states to compete to get more than $4 billion in Race to the Top funding was contingent on states enacting laws to do exactly that. “Value-added measurement” flopped; it was not only a costly failure but it was enormously demoralizing to teachers. When the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post published the VAM scores of teachers, Duncan applauded them.

As a candidate, Joe Biden made clear that he’s not only pro-teacher, he’s a union man. Whether or not either will be chosen, the names of the leaders of the NEA and AFT have been floated as possible choices for Secretary of Education. This would have been unthinkable at any time in the past 20 years.

Politico suggests that the Biden administration heralds a new day for the unions. Certainly they worked hard for his election. He is listening to the unions in a way that Obama never did. The pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform is not happy with this development.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/18/biden-obama-teachers-union-447957

The president-elect benefits from witnessing the union blowback against Obama, who enraged educators when he publicly supported the firing of teachers at an underperforming Rhode Island school in 2010. The National Education Association — Jill Biden’s union — even called on Obama’s first Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign amid fights over academic standards, public charter schools and testing, though tension faded when Obama in 2015 signed bipartisan legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind.

By contrast, Biden is starting off with a plan that his wife, while pointing to herself, likes to say is “teacher-approved.” He has pledged to nominate a former teacher as his education secretary and told union members, “You will never find in American history a president who is more teacher-centric and more supportive of teachers than me.” 

But within the Democratic party, the spectrum of ideology on education issues is far more complex than “pro-teacher.”

Biden will need the support of teachers and Congress as he tries to meet his goal of safely reopening most schools in the first days of his administration. But he will also need to navigate sharp divisions that remain within theDemocratic party on charter schools and student assessments — both flashpoints during the Obama administration as well.

The president-elect has been critical of charter schools. And the Democratic Party platform — written with input from teachers unions — argues against education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores, stating that high-stakes testing doesn’t improve outcomes enough and can lead to discrimination.

But it’s an open and pressing question whether Biden’s education secretary will waive federal standardized testing requirements this spring for K-12 schools for a second year or to carry on, despite the pandemic. Teachers unions say it isn’t the time, but a host of education and civil rights groups say statewide testing will be important to gauge how much students have fallen behind during the pandemic…

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, said she does not expect the Biden administration to recycle the education policies of the Obama years.

Biden has called for tripling federal spending on low-income school districts, boosting funding for special education, increasing teacher salaries, helping states establish universal preschool and modernizing school buildings. His education plan also calls for creating more community schools, with expanded “wraparound” support for students — a big priority for unions.

“The Biden administration is going to support public schools, which means not only turning away from the policies of Betsy DeVos — that’s a given — but also turning away from Race to the Top,” she told POLITICO before the election.“It’s going to be very different.”

 

Audrey Amrein Beardsley writes here about Houston’s experience with value-added evaluation of its teachers.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) contracted with William Sanders’ SAS to provide a model to calculate the “value-added” of its teachers from 2007-2017.

Teachers objected that the method of calculating their scores was opaque. They couldn’t learn how to improve their practice because Sanders’ methodology was proprietary and secret.

Teachers were fired based on their VAM scores.

The Houston Federation of Teachers sued to stop the use of the “black box” method.

In 2017, a judge agreed and enjoined the use of VAM.

Thus by now, after a decade of VAMMING teachers, Houston should have identified and removed all the “bad” teachers and employ only “effective” or “highly effective” teachers.

But the state threatened to take over the entire district because one high school–Wheatley– has low test scores. Wheatley High School has a disproportionately large share of students who are poor and have special needs, has low scores, even though all of its teachers–like all of Houston’s teachers–were VAMMED for a decade.

If VAM were effective, HISD should be the best urban district in the nation.

All achievement gaps should have closed by now.

Why is the state–which has no expertise in running a large urban district–taking control away from the elected board?

Our wonderful reader Laura Chapman reports here on the origins of the laws that purport to measure teacher quality by the test scores of their students. The founding father of this methodology was the late William Sanders, an agricultural statistician who believed that the same productivity used to measure cows could be used to measure teachers. His ideas were adopted and promoted by Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, which required states to adopt “value-added methodology” if they wanted to compete for a share of billions of federal dollars. The Gates Foundation also embraced test-based accountability. These methods proved to be ineffective at measuring teacher quality; they are inaccurate and demoralizing.


According to a 2019 report coauthored by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, 15 states are still inflicting teacher evaluations by VAM (value added measures) and 28 are using the equally invalid process of writing up Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). SLOs require you to predict the end-of-year (or end of unit) achievements of students, among other ridicule-worthy feats. https://kappanonline.org/mapping-teacher-evaluation-plans-essa-close-amrein-beardsley-collins/

Vamboozled, the website of Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, is a great resource for anyone still being a victim of this method of estimating the “value you have added” to the test scores of your students.

But there is also a deeper and little known origin story for VAMs. That story was exposed to view in April, 2020, by Gene V. Glass, a Senior Researcher at the National Education Policy Center and a Regents’ Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University. Glass released a treasure trove of correspondence about VAM (value added measures), first used in education by the late William Sanders, an agricultural statistician. http://ed2worlds.blogspot.com/2020/04/an-archaeological-dig-for-vam.html

In his blog post “Archeological Dig for VAM,” Glass reveals how William Sanders borrowed statistical methods for calculating VAM, then began using those calculations to judge teacher productivity/quality, based on the test scores of their students, specifically in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).

It turns out that Sanders’ TVAAS process (VAM) was “built on the formulation of the late C.R. Henderson, a Cornell statistician, a fellow in the American Statistical Association, known for his pioneering work in breeding animals, specifically herds of dairy cows. Henderson’s statistical methods of producing a “genetic evaluation of livestock have been widely accepted, utilized, and enhanced by animal breeders and statisticians.”

Until Henderson’s 1953 publication of “Estimation of variance and covariance components” in Biometrics,” no one had tackled the difficult problem of “estimating variance components from unbalanced data of cross-classified models, e.g., of milk production records of daughters of A.I. (Artificially Inseminated) sires in different herds – where sires are crossed with herds, and, for a large group of herds, each sire has daughters in many herds and each herd has daughters of many sires.” https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/31657/BU-1085-MA.pdf;sequence=1

If you have a background in statistics (mine is minimal and vintage), you may enjoy reading the extended “defense” of VAM/TVAAS by the late William Sanders who cites his debt to Henderson’s work. Sanders’ defense of using VAM with teachers and the test scores of their students is revealed in his answers to numerous questions from William Robert Saffold, Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, who is well-informed about the results in TVASS in Tennessee and wanted more information to interpret the results of TVAAS for educators. The extended discussion reveals the many unwarranted assumptions Sanders made in constructing TVAAS.

I think the hoopla over the specifics of VAM (and SLO’s) is too often disconnected from the fact-based origin story on “how to cull herds of dairy cows to maximize their productivity.” VAMs and SLOs are designed to cull teachers based on their productivity in raising the test scores of their students.

Almost all of the accountability structures in education based on standardized test scores are designed to cull–select and discard–teachers who are not producing gains in test scores. In VAMs, test scores of students are not much different from measures of milk production, whether of individual teachers or the whole herd (school).

Some supporters of VAM’s are acting as if education geneticists. They seem to think that some teachers are destined to be more productive than others. They insist, for example, that Teach For America graduates with high GPA’s from selective colleges are good breeders of above average test scores in their students. Moreover, these potentially good breeders only need is a brief course in summer before they are ready to produce students who are high scorers on tests. That brief summer dose of instruction is analogous to providing artificial insemination in breeding females… or for males, perhaps a dose of Viagra.

VAMs and SLOs are flawed measured pushed by the Obama/Duncan administration’s Race to the Top. These measures are still present in many state ESSA plans. That may explain why Race to the Top testing resources are still available, even if developed under contract for Race to The Top by members of a “Reform Support Network.”

The Reform Support Network was nothing more than a huge marketing campaign for these flawed measures. Here, for example, is how they marketed SLOs as a substitute for subjects and grade levels for which there were no statewide standardized test scores for calculating VAM. One is the infamous collective measure where, as Diane notes, teachers “are assigned ratings for students they never taught in subjects they never taught.” https://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/rsn-slo-toolkit.pdf

Madeline Will wrote in Education Week that many states plan to resume teacher evaluations, despite the pandemic and the difficulties of teaching remotely and/or in-person. Some will incorporate student test scores, which is absurd. Many teachers believe this is unfair, since teaching conditions are adverse. Unfortunately, Will relied on the “National Council on Teacher Quality” for its “expertise.” This is an organization launched by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation that has no professional credibility and that issues an annual rating of teacher education programs based on its reading of course catalogues and on whether the programs offer instruction in Common Core, for example.

The best authority on VAM in the nation is Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University, who earned her Ph.D. as a student of David Berliner and Gene Glass. She has written the definitive studies of test-based teacher evaluation. Her blog VAMboozled! is the go-to place for updates on this fraudulent evaluation method.

If Joe Biden is elected, one of the first things his Secretary of Education should do is to give blanket waivers are annual federal testing in grades 3-8 and urge states to eliminate any teacher evaluations based on test scores. Test-based teacher evaluations were enacted into state law solely to qualify for a chance to win some share of the billions attached to Race to the Top. Ten years ago, the research on value-added assessment (VAM) was almost non-existent but then Secretary Arne Duncan insisted on its validity. In the past decade, VAM has proven to be unreliable, invalid and unstable. Every state should repeal the laws they passed at Duncan’s urging.

Will reports:

For many teachers, stress levels are at an all-time high this year, as they navigate remote lessons, socially distanced classrooms, or a combination of the two. And there’s yet another looming stressor: teacher evaluations.

“You would think that given everything that’s changing and everything that’s brand new to teachers, that they would have figured out a way to skip a year,” said Kristin Brown, a high school math and computer science teacher in Wisconsin. As a teacher, she added, you shouldn’t have to “defend yourself and prove that you’re an effective educator in a pandemic.” 

In the spring, nearly half of states eased evaluation requirements or issued flexibility or guidance for school districts, and teachers’ unions are arguing for more of that as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

So far, at least 17 states have released guidance on teacher evaluations this year, according to an analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Most states are still requiring teacher evaluations in some capacity, although Mississippi has suspended the requirement for districts to submit annual employee performance data, and Illinois has told districts they will not be penalized if they don’t conduct summative evaluations this year.

While some administrators and other experts say evaluations and observations are crucial to providing valuable feedback and support, many teachers say it’s unfair to make potentially high-stakes job-performance decisions when they’re navigating new technologies, adjusting to different methods of teaching, and trying to reach students who might not have reliable internet access or stability at home. They worry that evaluations this year, particularly those that include student growth data, won’t be reflective of teachers’ abilities, since students’ lives and learning have been so disrupted.

Shannon Holston, the director for teacher policy at NCTQ, said she expects more states to release guidance in the coming weeks. For those that have already, “it seems a number of states understand that this is not a normal year and have tried to adjust requirements for evaluations while still really focusing on the observation and feedback component,” Holston said. 

For example, Colorado and Ohio will not incorporate student growth data in teacher evaluations at all this school year. And districts in Connecticut and Oregon can use social and emotional learning or student engagement measures in evaluations this year instead of academic measures to show student growth. 

Massachusetts has streamlined its evaluation rubric to focus on six priorities, and Washington state has reduced the number of criteria required for comprehensive evaluations from eight to two. The rest of the evaluation score will be based on the teacher’s previous score...

New Jersey had to tweak its student growth percentile formula because there were no statewide assessments last year from which to collect data. Instead, teachers and administrators this year are responsible for setting goals for students and assessing whether they’ve met those goals by the end of the year. This objective will make up 15 percent of teachers’ evaluation rating, while the observations or the portfolio of practice will make up the remaining 85 percent...

A new law in Indiana says that schools are no longer required to use state test scores when evaluating teachers. But Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said he has heard some districts are still planning to use test scores this year—which the union is against. Gambill said local associations will be working with those districts to try to eliminate test scores from evaluations...

Teachers are limited with how they can react to unexpected challenges during remote classes, said Gambill, of the Indiana state teachers’ union.

“If technology freezes or there’s an issue with connectivity, that’s not something you can course-correct for in the same way you could if everyone is in person,” he said. 

Teachers say they welcome coaching and feedback. [Monise] Seward [a special education teacher in Georgia] said she’d find it more helpful to have another teacher observe her class, so she can get feedback from someone who’s currently in the trenches with remote instruction. Mostly, Brown said, teachers want to be afforded professional trust that they’re doing their best possible work under challenging circumstances.

“The sentiment out there is that teachers are drowning, and day to day we might have our heads above water for a little bit of time, but the next minute we’re gasping for air,” she said. “What can I give up, and what can I do differently, so that I’m always above water? Once we’re in this for a while, we’ll get a routine going. Just let us get our feet under us before jumping in.”

Rebekah Ray responded to another Florida teacher who complained the changes by the State Legislature has destroyed the promises made to him when he became a teacher. It’s method of evaluating teachers is one of the worst in the nation. If they don’t teach reading or math in grades 3-8, they are assigned ratings for students they never taught in subjects they never taught.

Ray writes:

I would not sign that evaluation. The first year Florida started its detrimental evaluation system I taught all 11th grade classes. I was asked to meet with the principal and the AP of curriculum (my evaluator) and was told I was a “Needs Improvement Teacher”. I was devastated because prior to that year, I had always received outstanding evaluations. I was also an NBCT teacher. Additionally, for that first year of the insane evaluation system, all teachers on campus who did not teach 9th and 10th grade were supposed to receive the school-wide VAM. I pointed out that I should have received the SW VAM scores because I taught all 11th grade students. The AP looked at me and said, “No, you have one 10th grade class.” At that point, my devil horns came out, and I asked for specific data that they based their scoring on. The principal called the district office and spoke to the one mathematician who did the calculations for each teacher. He stated that I had received that score because over the course of three years of teaching, nine of my students did not pass the FCAT re-takes. I asked, “What about the 300 other students who had passed; don’t they count?” They did not have a clue how to respond. I refused to accept their evaluation and did not sign it. The principal told me to send him an email once I had time to think about the situation, so I did. I asked for all sorts of data on those nine specific students: When did they enroll in my class?; How many absences did they have?; Are they on free or reduced lunch?… and lots more data. I received no response, but the a-holes gave me the SW VAM, and the next year, they moved me to 10th grade in an effort to set me up for failure. At the end of that year, I met with my evaluator to sign my evaluation, and she commented, “You are one of those teachers.” My defense mechanism immediately went into high gear, and I asked, “What does that mean?” She replied, “You are responsible for our A+ rating.” I had no idea because I’m that rebellious teacher who refuses to look at data; I look at the students in front of me and tell them point blank, “I will never treat you like a data point; I will treat you as a human being, and you will work harder in this English class than any other ones you have been in, and you will pass that stupid state test with no problem!!” Then I never mention the test again until a month before its administration. (I also ignore the scripted common core curriculum). Ergo, my students excelled, and for consecutive years, I earned perfect VAM scores (unbeknownst to me). I only learned about it because the department chair told me. (Again, I rarely look at the data; I always look at the child). My next evaluator consistently awarded me with high scores such as 99/100. The following year a new evaluator came on board, an academic with a doctorate in Reading, but zero classroom experience. She tried to lower my rating, but I refused to sign until she changed her scores, explaining, “Nothing has changed; I cannot help that you never came to my classroom to observe those specific activities, and I still have perfect VAM scores, so why do you think it’s okay to lower my score in categories I have always been rated as Highly Effective?” She changed my scores both years she evaluated me.

The tragedy of it all is that I had to consistently fight to get what was rightfully mine from the outset. No teacher should have to suffer such denigration and demoralization at the hands of administrators who have been given district and state directives to assign lower scores because “Too many of your teachers are being rated as ‘Highly Effective’”.

I have five years before I can retire, but my heart is no longer in it, so I will be leaving this profession and the children who I dearly love teaching. The stress that comes with teaching has taken a massive toll on my health, and I am currently on an LOA because of it. (Yes, I also had to fight for my FMLA benefit; it’s always a fight, with the district and admin on one side, and the teachers on the opposite side). It’s not supposed to be that way; we are all supposed to be on the same side, but it’s not like that here.

I have two pieces of advice for anyone thinking of going into education: 1. Don’t do it!! 2. If you really believe it is your true calling, then go straight through and get your masters degree; subsequent to that, teach in the U.S. for a minimum of three years, so you can get some experience; apply to teach overseas where your efforts will be appreciated and rewarded. Most of all, you will be respected and honored everywhere else in the world because you are a teacher.