Education Opinion

The Value- Added Chronicles

By Walt Gardner — August 27, 2010 2 min read
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Since I wrote about the decision by the Los Angeles Times to publish its ratings of 6,000 elementary school teachers based on the value- added model, the debate has heated up (“How Not to Win Support for Teachers Unions,” Aug. 18). In a series of front-page stories under the heading of “Grading the Teachers,” followed by op-eds and letters to the editor, the Times has focused national attention on the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest.

Although the LAUSD is not the first district to be associated with the controversial metric, it is being closely watched because of its size. Taking a page from the auto industry, labor leaders correctly anticipate pattern bargaining to follow any agreement reached with the school district. Perhaps this explains why A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles has agreed to reopen negotiations over teacher evaluations with the LAUSD. I suspect that Duffy realizes he can no longer afford to take an obstinate stand after Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has already negotiated 54 contracts with districts where the value-added model counts for 10 to 30 percent of a teacher’s overall rating.

In Sunday’s edition, the Times devoted a full page to allow education leaders and professionals to weigh in on the value-added approach (“Testing the System’). It promises to feature the voices of classroom teachers in coming days. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of USC’s Rossier School of Education, led off by emphasizing how high standardized test scores are not always the result of superior instruction. Even if - and that’s a big if - high test scores measured educational quality, John Rogers, associate professor of the UCLA Graduate School of Education, wanted to know how parents would put the information to good use.

If the real goal of adopting the value-added model is to help underperforming teachers improve, rather than to shame them, then why is it necessary to publish their names in the Times? Spike Dolomite Ward, founder and director of the Arts and Education Aid Council, charged that these weak teachers have “hidden for far too long behind their union and have hurt the children of Los Angeles. Perhaps public humiliation is the last and only resort to get rid of them.” I doubt it.

I say that because Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington D.C. school district, has been unable to post the results she wanted when she took a punitive approach. Elementary pass rates in reading and math actually declined 4.5 percent this year. And the academic achievement gap between the District’s poorest and its most affluent children in some cases widened, as did the black-white divide (“D.C. mayor contest must get substantive on schools, corruption,” Washington Post, Aug. 21). Because the LAUSD enrollment contains nearly 75 percent of children poor enough to qualify for free lunches, I doubt the results on standardized test scores will be much different from those in D.C.

Stay tuned for the next episode in this unfolding drama.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.