Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let's give them something to talk about...

(Thanks to my friend who lives in LA and keeps pointing out interesting follow-up articles to me.)

First, the LA Times extended the value added analysis to schools rather than just teachers, finding that schools serving similar demographics can have pretty different value-added results on their tests based partially on school leadership and focus on helping individual teachers improve and partially on curricular and instructional focuses. Here.

Then the Times printed opinions on value-added analysis from a variety of education leaders and professionals: Here. I maybe cynical, but the responses seem exactly what you'd expect. (All responses paraphrased by me.)

  • The USC professor: "this just encourages teaching how to take tests, we need to address poverty instead."
  • The charter boosting philanthropic rep: "we should use the data we have and make it better, and make it public to increase transparency."
  • The first LA Board of Ed member: "we don't want to drive teachers to teach to the test, and we support transparency, but how dare the LA Times go airing our dirty laundry."
  • The CEO of a charter management organization: "student test scores should be one part of measuring teacher effectiveness, and should be used to help teachers improve and (after context-setting) with families and communities; value-added measures work better for elementary than high school where you might take a single subject for only one year."
  • The UCLA professor: "value-added methods have a lot of problems and the LA Times shouldn't go ranking every teacher in LA with a single number next to their name -- it's too complicated for that to be fair or helpful."
  • The second Board member: "we were working on teacher effectiveness, incorporating all the stakeholders, and we need more cooperation from the unions and the legislature to make any changes happen."
  • The educational nonprofit exec director and parent: "The great teachers will be fine and something needs to be done to get rid of the really inferior teachers that have been hiding behind the union; maybe this will shame them into going."
  • The president of the teacher's union: "All the Times has is a hammer, so everything looks like a nail -- we need more tools (better administrator observations, less paperwork, more funding), a better definition of student learning and metrics of it, and more guidance for teachers on how to improve their practice"
  • CA Secretary of Education: "Bravo to the Times for forcing this conversation on what metrics to use to measure effective teaching, the union should stop complaining and start working on a better alternative."
  • Parent representative: "standardized tests are not everything, but this data should be public unless they're going to be used by the district for private personnel processes"
  • Third Board member: "We've been making a lot of progress on getting rid of bad teachers in the past two years, really!"

What I'm still missing is the dialogue -- not just, "this is what I believe" but "I hear what you believe and this is why I disagree." I'd love to get all these people in a room (and also the key LA Times reporters and editor) and see if a constructive conversation could be fostered. Wouldn't it be great to find out what they might come up with?


  1. Excellent point. The kind of dialogue you propose means coming to the table with a sense of openness and vulnerability. Where does that sense of civility come from in fractured communities, I wonder.

  2. KF, I feel like starting from a central premise of, "we're here to build institutions that serve students and our community" might help set the civil tone. I wonder more about the forum. When / where do all those parties ever get together, and who would they all be willing to let moderate / facilitate it?

  3. Your "friend from LA," eh? Well, here are a few more links, to keep you apprised of the situation:,0,1507297.story

    This one I read yesterday (the most interesting part was where a teacher talked about how, because they can't say that any teachers are bad, that they conversely cannot say that any teachers are good either):,0,5541840.story

    And the actual list:

  4. Oops, here's a link to the entire section so that you can keep up:

    Last year they did an investigation into how hard it was to fire teachers, if you scroll down on the link above you'll see it, but here's one of the stories that was disturbing:,0,2529590.story