| VIEWS | THE FUTURES OF SCHOOL REFORM
When information flows freely, people make lists. They reorder it. For example, in Massachusetts, when the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System was first created, the state released school data alphabetically. Newspapers immediately published the data in order of test scores. After years of push by the school superintendents, the state in 2009 released MCAS “growth” scores—gains. This data created some interesting new narratives.
Perhaps in the near future, we’ll see the same thing with teachers. Individual teacher data is being published. So next, we’ll see more lists of their names.
I’d guess many EdWeek readers strongly oppose this sort of publication. Some don’t believe the data tells us anything of value. Others think the data is imprecise and should be used somehow but not be made public. Nonetheless, I think this trend is likely to continue, and will result in a couple of developments.
First, teachers will be headhunted. As coaches. As leaders. This will create some upward wage pressure. It’s what happens in other professions.
Second, top teachers will get some of the same treatment high-scoring schools are right now: hundreds of visitors. If you believe, as I do, that the field is way too steeped in ivory tower theory, and not enough research from the best schoolteachers, research on teaching methods will advance if we can get past the “whole school” level and think more deeply about the individual teacher level, in part because the transaction costs will be lower to find teachers who, based on imperfect data, at least seem to be unusually effective.
| VIEWS | RICK HESS STRAIGHT UP
I got a number of notes about a recent post, mostly either dinging me for my concerns about value-added systems or asking how I can raise such concerns and still write, “Value-added does tell us something useful, and I’m in favor of integrating it into evaluation and pay decisions, accordingly.”
Let me clarify. I think that two things are both true:
First, teachers vary widely in ability and performance, and many people teaching today probably shouldn’t be.
Second, teaching is complex, and no simple score or algorithm usefully captures that variation in ability and performance, or reveals which teachers shouldn’t be teaching.
Together, these premises argue for systems that aim to evaluate, recognize, and remove teachers based on performance, but that do so while respecting the bluntness of various measures.
Today’s value-added metrics may be, at best, a pale measure of teacher quality, but they tell us something. Structured observation tells us something. Peer feedback tells us something, as does blinded, forced-rank evaluations by peers. Principal judgment, especially in a world of increasing accountability and transparency, tells us something. Well-run firms and nonprofits use these tools in various ways.
This is why I believe value-added metrics should be one useful component, but that I worry when it becomes the foundation upon which everything else is constructed.
Especially in education, where I fear there is remarkably little front-end quality control, it is entirely appropriate that any system of evaluation should be routinely identifying teachers as low-performing and remediating or terminating them. The mistake is imagining that we can or should do this almost entirely through a reliance on value-added or its proxies.
| VIEWS | A PLACE AT THE TABLE
When my 6th graders today say they want to grow up to be pro athletes, I point to pictures of Torrey Smith, one of my former students who was just drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, and I tell them that it can come true—with hard work.
But I also point out that Torrey said: “It’s been a long journey on and off the field. I’ve reached one of my lifetime goals, graduating from college. You can take away the records I’ve broken as a receiver, but you know, my diploma, you can’t take that away from me.”
He may have been only an average student, but Torrey was impressive in that he was modest, polite, and hardworking.
This afternoon I was looking at those pictures and I wondered, in the end, which will matter more—the content we teach, or the values of concern, community, character, and compassion that we model?
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week