I received my latest issue of ‘One Day,’ the TFA alumni magazine. No, I have not asked TFA to remove me from their mailing list. I have great hopes that TFA will ‘one day’ will become, again, an organization that I can be proud of being a part of.
I’ve been writing recently about how TFA is too intertwined with the ‘reform’ mindset. I know that not every staffer has the same views on the complex issue of education reform, but TFA, the organization, in my view, portrays the ‘reform’ ideas as, at least, the ‘majority’ opinion.
My issue with the ‘reformers’ is that they lie to make it look like they have evidence that the strategies of charter schools and evaluating (and firing) teachers by standardized test scores actually work. My concern is that these ‘reforms’ will actually make things worse. I truly believe this and also believe that with my limited time I have forced my way into the conversation and am making an impact.
The cover story was called ‘The Measure of a Teacher’ and had the subtitle on the cover “Spurred by Race to the Top, states grapple with the dicey question of how to evaluate the complex art of teaching.” I was happy to see this as the focus of the issue. It is, without doubt, the biggest issue in ed reform today. A related article had op-eds about whether or not teacher ratings should be made public.
First, I’ll let you know that the ‘balance’ I mentioned in the title of this post was in the section about making teacher ratings public. They reprinted Wendy Kopp’s Wall St. Journal Op-Ed, where she said that we should not be humiliating teachers — though she never mentions anything about the huge error rates in value-added measures. But in the point / counterpoint section following Wendy’s piece was something from Tom Rochowicz, who is a teacher at the WHEELS academy (I am friends with the principal there, and even considered transferring there a few years ago). He wrote:
The release only undermined the call for increased teacher accountability. With such large margins of error from tests two years old, few took the data as an actionable measure of performance.
He then admits that on the ratings, he was judged merely ‘average.’ I was happy to see this.
The issue, though, that I had with the magazine was the giant eight page cover story by the magazine’s editor Ting Yu. Early in the article, she lays out the problem with the old evaluations:
No one got fired for poor performance, despite the fact that 81 percent of administrators said there was a tenured teacher in their school who was ineffective. The opponents of high -stakes evaluation – mainly teachers unions — argued that the metrics were flawed, that test scores provided an incomplete picture of a teacher’s performance, and there was no accounting for insidious factors like poverty and home life on a child’s performance. Trying to gauge the impact of a teacher on a child’s academic progress was difficult and unfair, they said. So, for the most part, school districts didn’t.
About Race to the Top she writes “states practically overnight rewrote their policies and laws to measure teacher performance linked, in part, to student achievement.” But student achievement is not the same thing as value-added calculations. I see ‘reformers’ constantly using the expression ‘student achievement’ interchangeably with test score ‘gains.’
I don’t think that comparing the results of a class to what a computer predicts they should get with an ‘average’ teachers measures ‘student achievement’ in a direct way any more than thorough principal evaluations. I think that if a principal can see a teacher’s lesson plans and they look good, and then watch that teacher to see if they can teach from their lesson plan and students are participating and answering questions, well, that, to me, is evidence of ‘student achievement.’
One thing I’ve thought about with regard to teacher evaluations is to have teachers give pre-tests and post-tests for all their units. This is good teaching practice anyway, and a principal would just have to look at the comparison between the two tests to see that a lot of ‘student achievement’ has occurred. Teacher-made assessments will more easily reveal what the students have actually learned.
In a section called ‘Hard to Measure’ she does say that value-added is ‘controversial’ but then says that new research from Gates indicates “that value-added analysis is more accurate than any other single measure in predicting success over the course of a teacher’s career.” This is not really what the ‘Measures of Effective Teaching’ research says. Basically it says that principal evaluations don’t correlate much with value-added. This is something that should raise a red flag about value added. And yes the value-added for a teacher does more accurately predict ‘success,’ but since that ‘success’ is defined as more value-added, this should not be surprising. A good analysis of this research can be found here.
As case studies of evaluations done ‘right,’ we see two places where TFA alumni are prominent, Washington D.C. and Tennessee. Both of these evaluation systems are complete disasters. D.C. has horrible teacher turnover, and their IMPACT system is generally considered the main reason.
The Tennessee system is hailed as a success because 25% of the teachers were labeled ‘ineffective’ or ‘minimally effective’ so “the city is poised to boast one of the most varied teacher-evaluation distributions in the country.” See, TFA starts with the premise that there are a lot of ineffective teachers and then uses the fact that this system gives a lot of teachers a low evaluation as evidence that it is a good system. This is the system that was mocked in the New York Times back in February.
The more I learn about value-added, the more I can’t believe that it counts as up to 50% of evaluations in some states. New York passed a law to make it 40%. D.C. is 50% for some teachers. Tennessee has 35%. In D.C., from what I have read, they are lowering that number. Ironically, Bill Gates recently said in a speech “If someone wants to rush an evaluation system into place – and they think they can speed it through by doing it without the teachers – that is a grave mistake.” It seems like he is saying, without explicitly saying it, that systems implemented in places like Washington D.C. were rushed.
The funny thing is that TFA was probably blind to the lack of balance in this piece. This is the big obstacle to ever getting TFA to ‘come around.’ I do appreciate that they tried to include some counter points of views in the op-ed section, but this article was the ‘feature’ article and is written as ‘fact’ so they need to be more careful, I think, in fairly representing both sides.