Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fortune favors the bold (Or, the best defense is a good offense)

So, Randi Weingarten (president of the American Federation of Teachers) thinks parents should have access to individual teacher's performance evaluations, and maybe those performance evaluations should take into account value-added test score data, but should not entirely be comprised of such data. Therefore the LA Times is being a big, scary, sledgehammer-wielding meanie by threatening to publish individual teacher's "primitive" and "rudimentary" value-added scores.

I actually think she's mostly right -- it would be better to (a) give parents transparency on teacher's performance evaluations and (b) have those performance evaluations include both standardized test score impacts and other metrics such as classroom observations (ideally unannounced) and student portfolio assessments. Ideally, this would include through a controlled, well understood process whereby the district calculated each teacher's value-added score, and discussed it with teacher so they knew what it meant, and how to use it to make improvements.

I also still think that Ms. Weingarten, the district, and the teachers would be in a lot better position if they were proposing this first rather than using it as a reactive defense to the Times. There are interesting questions in here for any administrator, teacher, parent, or local journalist:

  1. What are your local public school districts currently doing with their standardized test score data? What more could they be doing to really understand your students' learning and your teachers' effectiveness?
  2. What level of transparency does your local district currently offer on teacher performance? Is that sufficient for you and your community?

If the answer to the first question is "not nearly as much as they could be" and the answer to the second question is "not much", then it seems like there is a big, gaping opportunity in your local community, and whoever takes the initiative to come up with a proposed answer first is going to have the most leverage in controlling that debate going forward. The lesson here is that districts and teacher's unions can't just bury their head in the sand and hope the standardized test scores will go away because we don't like them -- fortune favors the bold. Figure out how to use the data in a way that makes sense, then broadcast your answer to heavens. If the LA Unified School District and teachers' union had taken the initiative here, the LA Times would be using the teacher-approved, school-district controlled approach to evaluating teacher effectiveness to write their stories.

What story do you want your local paper to publish?


  1. The LA Times' Sunday special on educationis up tonight online:,0,2593849.story

    what do you think?

  2. Ugh - I have been procrastinating reading this story after seeing so much online buzz about it. But you are right on the money - whoever takes the leadership role will control the debate. How often do practicing teachers take on that leadership role? How often do they let themselves be victimized? It's a fascinating thing to consider.