Economists and the Value-Added Wave in Schools
How Economists and Educators Can Find Common Ground
Suddenly, value-added-based accountability policies are everywhere. The wave of these new policies has been astonishingly swift and broad. Except for educators in Tennessee and Dallas, few had ever heard of “value added” a decade ago. Today, it has been a key component of the federal Race to the Top competition and is being used in a fast-growing list of states and school districts.
Given the size and speed of this wave, you might expect a great deal of agreement about value-added measures, but nothing could be further from the truth. Several recent reports highlight the surprising fault lines in the debate. In particular, it is hard to miss the grand divide between economists and other educational scholars.
First, a very brief introduction. Drawing on student-level achievement data across years, linked to individual teachers, statistical techniques can be used to estimate how much each teacher contributed to student scores—the value-added measure of teacher performance. These measures in turn can be given to teachers and school leaders to inform professional development and curriculum decisions, or to make arguably higher-stakes decisions about performance pay, tenure, and dismissal. In Los Angeles, teachers are called out by name with their value-added measures on the Los Angeles Times website; the practice may be coming soon to New York City where a judge has ruled that the city school system can release performance ratings of teachers there to media organizations; the United Federation of Teachers says it plans...
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