Value-Added Evaluation Hurts Teaching

Here’s the hype: New York City’s “worst teacher” was recently singled out and so labeled by the New York Post after the city’s education department released value-added test-score ratings to the media for thousands of city teachers, identifying each by name.

The tabloid treatment didn’t stop there. Reporters chased down teacher Pascale Mauclair, the subject of the “worst teacher” slam, bombarding her with questions about her lack of skill and commitment. They even went to her father’s home and told him his daughter was among the worst teachers in the city.

Now the facts: Mauclair is an experienced and much-admired English-as-a-second-language teacher. She works with new immigrant students who do not yet speak English at one of the city’s strongest elementary schools. Her school, PS 11, received an A from the city’s rating system and is led by one of the city’s most respected principals, Anna Efkarpides, who declares Mauclair an excellent teacher. She adds: “I would put my own children in her class.”

Most troubling is that the city released the scores while warning that huge margins of error surround the ratings: more than 30 percentile points in math and more than 50 percentile points in English language arts. Soon these scores will be used in a newly negotiated evaluation system that, as it is designed, will identify most teachers in New York state as less than effective.

Is this what we want to achieve with teacher-evaluation reform?

Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Although successful systems exist, most districts are not using approaches that help teachers improve or remove those who cannot improve in a timely way. Clearly, we need a change.

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Do Teacher Quality Initiatives Impact the Wrong Teachers?

Three anectdotes.

so, what do these three have in common?

In the first, the teacher (rightfully) wanted to scare the worst students straight and push the mediocre ones to do better. But it was the best student (I'd like to think) who was mortified, not the worst ones. Many years later, I found out my Mom had relayed my reaction to the teacher, who had sighed, shaken her head, and said something like "it's always the wrong ones who get scared."

In the second, I (rightfully, I sure hope) wanted to scare the worst students straight and push the mediocre ones to do better. But the only reaction I got was from possibly the best student in the class -- the one who doesn't need to spend any time fretting about what the end of term report card will say.

In the third, the district (rightfully, I think) wanted to scare the worst teachers straight (and/or just fire them) and push the mediocre ones to do better. I can't say how the other teachers responded, but the model teacher I know is the one who's been scared, despite being straight as an arrow to begin with.

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The Debate over Teacher Merit Pay

The term “merit pay” has gained a prominent place in the debate over education reform. First it was D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee trumpeting it as a key to fixing the D.C.’s ailing public schools. Then a handful of other cities gave it a go, including Denver, New York City, and Nashville. Merit pay is a big plank of Education Secretary Arne Duncan‘s reform platform. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has just launched his own version of merit pay that focuses incentives toward principals. There’s just one problem: educators almost universally hate merit pay, and have been adamantly opposed to it from day one. Simply, teachers say merit pay won’t work.

In the last year, there’s been some pretty damning evidence proving them right; research showing that merit pay, in a variety of shapes and sizes, fails to raise student performance. In the worst of cases, such as the scandal in Atlanta, it’s contributed to flat-out cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. So, are we surprised that educators don’t respond to monetary incentives? Is that even the right conclusion to draw?

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