Education Funding Opinion

Mike Dwyer: Value Adders - The Newest Members of the ‘Monday Morning Quarterback Club’

By Anthony Cody — January 07, 2011 6 min read
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Recently a comment to one of my posts caught my attention. I asked the author, a veteran teacher named Mike Dwyer, from Illinois, to write a bit more, and I share his post here.

Lots of people are jumping up and down and saying that teachers ought to be paid for the “value” we add to our students. Salesmen get paid for how much they sell, fruit pickers get paid for how much they pick--why shouldn’t teachers be paid for how much our students learn? Basing the performance of a teacher on students’ test scores sure seems quick, efficient, understandable and expedient in the age of instant data. But there are some big reasons why this cannot be trusted, any more than the guy at the water cooler can be trusted when he describes how HE would have delivered victory in the past week’s bowl game or NFL playoff contest. Value adders believe that because they have been students in an elementary, middle school/junior high, high school and college, they know how to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and the art of teaching. Like the Monday morning quarterback who has watched thousands of games, they think this vicarious experience qualifies them as experts.

After my second year in attempting National Board Certification I was able to become Board Certified. I had earned a Master Teaching Certificate which every state education body recognizes as a valid teaching license/certification. I felt my first year’s portfolio videotapes of both my large and small group classroom instruction were good as were my written portions describing my students and lessons. One reason I scored 266 the first time through had to do with my hunt and peck typing skills that did not fare me well in the timed essay response portions of the exam. However, the most valuable learning lesson from my first attempt occurred when it dawned on me that I had not asked my students to self-assess their learning. So, in year two I continually practiced word processing and included time for student reflection throughout my lessons. My year two submission to the Nation Board surpassed the cut score by more than 20 points. Shockingly to value adders, although I had to show how I assessed students’ growth in learning and how I reflected on my own teaching methodologies, I did not have to submit any local, state, or national test data to show my value or effectiveness as a teacher.

Educators’ insights to value added ideologues are spot on--it’s an attempt to measure teachers by people who seem to be either clueless about what goes on in the classroom or want what on the surface seems a quick, easy solution or have a hidden political agenda to bash teachers. My analogy for the clueless and those who value expediency more than effectiveness is that value added espousers are similar to people who, because they watch a sport on TV, e.g. football, they think they know how to coach and how to evaluate someone who is coaching. All these judgmental people see is the outcome--the final score--and not the hours of teaching and preparing the athletes to perform. Monday morning quarterbacks have no sense of the nuances of running a pro set or the wildcat or the I-formation or the T-formation. And let’s not even get into the blocking schemes to use predicated on the multiple defenses the team will face. Consequently, evaluating a coach’s effectiveness solely on the outcome of one game is as ludicrous as yearly evaluating a teacher solely on the outcome of one high stakes exam.

In what other profession is an evaluation of a person’s effectiveness based on a three hour snapshot of people taking an exam in a high stakes environment?
Should the teacher be scrutinized and evaluated at work in the classroom using Charlotte Danielson’s model? Or, how about a checklist of effective teaching behaviors based on Danielson and Robert Marzano’s behavioral descriptors of a new teacher, a master teacher and a teacher who has mastered the art of teaching? Should video tapes of the teacher in action be viewed, studied, and evaluated by a group of mentors? Should the teacher being evaluated have the right to present a written reflection on what he sees in his on video? Only air traffic controllers make more daily on the spot decisions than teachers. Why don’t we figure out a method to evaluate the multitude of daily decisions teachers make in and out of the classroom? Why? Is it because all these aforementioned alternatives to the snapshot test take hard work, intense training, and a lot of time to do effectively? But the snapshot test sure is expedient and can provide plenty of topics for Monday morning water cooler meetings.

The underlying false assumption of the value added folks is that they think because they have been students in classrooms, they believe they know how to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. Student success or failure on a high stakes test is no more indicative of a teacher’s skill sets than basketball coach Ray Meyer’s won and loss record was in 1971. Eight years later when Coach Meyer was listening to the media’s accolades about what a great coach he was because his 78-79 team was going to the NCAA Final Four, Coach asked the reporters where they were a few years earlier when he was a better teacher and coach with a team that ended up 8-17. An effective teacher or coach knows how to lead with a team full of stellar performers. It is the teacher or coach who systematically improves mediocre performers who truly deserves the accolades despite the test scores or the won-lost record. But under the value added scheme these teachers who choose to work with underprivileged children will be publicly humiliated when their names are published in local papers. Will flawed value added thinking be then applied to the dedicated police officers who choose to work in high crime district or applied to the firefighters who choose to work in a hot district? What about the physicians who choose geriatrics or oncology as their specialty--will failure be determined by what percentage of their patients survive over a four year span when compared with plastic surgeons? Will police officers’ names be published in local papers if by 2014 the crime rate is not reduced to zero? Will firefighters’ names be published if the rate of house fires is not reduced to zero by 2014? Will doctors’ names be published if they don’t reduce their patients’ death rate to zero by 2014?

Let’s stop the lunacy of offering unfounded solutions to real issues. Of course everyone is entitled to his opinion when discussing a game, the crime rate, and poor student performance, but let’s not let the clueless determine policy.

Mike Dwyer describes himself: This is my 34th year as a high school English teacher. I have taught every grade level and ability level except honors/AP sophomores and juniors. I coached high school boys and girls teams for 21 years and had been a varsity head coach for 13 of those years. Since 1993 I have been the English Department chair at Waubonsie Valley High School, a comprehensive high school in Aurora, Illinois, about 35 miles west of Chicago. I am responsible for writing informal and formal evaluations of the more than 20 English teachers currently on staff and in the past I also did informal and formal evaluations of Music and Art teachers. Prior to becoming a department chair, I served as a consulting teacher for the Illinois State Board of Education and mentored a teacher who was placed on remediation. My wife and I live in the school district where I teach and our daughter is a 2010 graduate of Waubonsie Valley HS.

What do you think? Are the Value Adders guilty of Monday morning quarterbacking?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue 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.