ALEC Reports on the War on Teachers
In case you missed it, in this analogy, the teacher unions represent the Nazis, while the forces for corporate reform represent the doughty British and their allies.
The greatest success story cited in this report is Indiana, where the corporate reform "alliance"succeeded in passing comprehensive
Readers may recall my post last July describing the role the Gates Foundation-funded group Teach Plus played in
advancing this legislation. The Gates Foundation last year also gave ALEC a grant of $376,635
The report describes many other reforms enacted by the Indiana legislature, including expansion of vouchers, charter schools, "virtual schools," and a parent trigger so that parents can petition to convert neighborhood schools into charters.
But it was the introduction to the report, written by Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, that brought this into focus for me. He writes:
According to this logic, the individual teacher's accountability for student performance is absolute. Governor Daniels apparently believes there ought to be a one to one correspondence between student achievement and teacher effectiveness. This is rather incredible, but there you have it.
Even Eric Hanushek, the economist who has done more to advance these evaluation systems than anyone, admits that teachers only account for
around ten percent of the variability in student test scores. But when teacher unions represent the axis of evil, I guess anything that can be done to rout them is justifiable.
According to the Wall St. Journal, as of last fall, nearly half the states now link teacher evaluations to student test scores. This week Connecticut became the latest to make the move.
I do not think teachers in many states quite understand how the profession is being transformed. And our unions are, in some cases, negotiating these agreements into place. Tennessee has been ahead of the curve, and may offer us a preview of what may be in store. There, the state has had en extensive data collection system for years, and, in order to gain Race to the Top funds, implemented a comprehensive system that rates teachers using test scores.
Michael Winerip wrote about Tennessee in the New York Times:
In a New York Times column posted yesterday, Principal Corbett Burris writes,
This is a good summary of the bad effects of this shift. In the brave new world of teacher evaluations based on test scores, every teacher, every year, will be subject to the vagaries of chance. Every teacher will have to decide how that class of English Language Learners will affect their livelihoods. Every teacher will live in fear of being assigned special ed students, likewise difficult to move on the VAM charts. We are moving from the time when schools were blamed to a new time of the toad, when individual teachers will be vilified, their careers ruined over their scores.
To make this more real, I want to share with you some specific results from the Houston Independent School District (HISD).
In spring of 2011, a number of HISD teachers' contracts were not renewed, largely due to:
"a significant lack of student progress attributable to the educator," and
"insufficient student academic growth reflected by [EVAAS] value-added scores."
A recent research summary included evidence about the value-added scores of several teachers, including this one, who had been a highly-regarded elementary teacher in HISD for more than 10 years. In each year, she "exceeded expectations" across every domain in her supervisor evaluations. She was given a "Teacher of the Month" award in 2010 and a "Teacher of the Year" award in 2008.
Here are her scores for the previous four years:
Many studies have found that the scores that come from these models are subject to a great many factors, and are highly variable from year to year. In Houston, the study quoted here found that most teachers' value-added scores were lower in the years when they had a large number of newly mainstreamed English learners, a practice that occurs in grade 4, as shown in this teacher's case.
Here is another example.
This teacher certified for grades 4-8 via HISD's Alternative Teaching Certificate (ATC) program. She took a full-time position in HISD in 2006. Until 2010-11, she was rated as "exceeded expectations" or "proficient" across every domain in terms of her supervisor evaluations. Like most teachers, she had positive (3 out of 6) and negative (3 out of 6) value-added scores across the years.
In 2009-2010, when she was assigned to teach a large number of English Language Learners who were transitioned into her classroom, her value-added scores went down. This well-regarded teacher has now also left the Houston school district, while those who have stayed are increasingly confused and demoralized by this system.
These teachers report that there is no relationship between their instructional practices and their value-added ratings, which appear unpredictable. As one teacher noted:
These examples were drawn from the report of a policy briefing sponsored by the American Educational Research Association and National Academy of Education, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: A Brief for Policymakers, by Linda Darling-Hammond, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Edward Haertel, and Jesse Rothstein. The report notes the results of a number of studies that have found wide swings in teachers' value-added ratings, based on classes and characteristics of the students they teach, the year, the test, and the statistical model used. For these reasons, this research summary points out that leading research organizations, like the National Research Council, ETS, and RAND Corporation, have all counseled against the use of these kinds of ratings for high-stakes decisions for teachers. As a letter from the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment stated in a letter to the US Department of Education:
"VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness ... should not used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable."
Of course this is all taking place against a backdrop of rising class sizes and cuts to support services such as school libraries and health programs. But teachers alone are held accountable for the results of their students, on the narrowest of measures. How many more teachers will we lose as these policies spread? How far will this corporate reform war on our profession go? At the end of the day, this will hurt the most vulnerable students the most, as it will speed up the revolving door of their teachers and create a dynamic in which teachers with options will try not to teach in the schools and classes where poor students and English Language learners predominate.
It seems that ALEC considers itself engaged in a battle of epic proportions, yet many teachers are too busy working to even realize that their profession is being redefined in state after state. I would offer another quote from Winston Churchill:
What do you think? Will teachers suffer a fate similar to that of our schools under NCLB, and find themselves declared failures? Is it time to
turn and confront this danger?
(tables from the report, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: A Brief for Policymakers, used with permission.)
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