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Friday, August 1, 2014

With V.A.M., Teachers are like Stocks: Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Success

I realize the above picture seems to have absolutely nothing to do with teaching, yet, its ups and downs remind me of the erratic anomalies made possible at the value-added-measure amusement park.  We may ride high one year, but hit rock bottom the next.  We're strapped in, but we're not at the controls.  It may be exhilarating for ed. "reformers" to watch, but it turns teachers' stomachs!

In this crazed world, tenure is more necessary than ever!  Have you seen the reports exposing dynamo teachers as "grossly ineffective," given the whacked evaluative measurements of statisticians?  One year, the teacher may make teacher of the year, and, the next, earn the title of "grossly ineffective."   Witness most recently, the case of Christine McLaughlin of Blair Middle School, teacher of the year in Pasadena then subject to the Vergara public stoning.  

McLaughlin is only the most recent, stellar example of this all-too-common phenomenon.  Let me point to just one more, Simone Ryals.  She was branded in the newspapers as one of the worst teachers in Florida.  But, check out her accomplishments.  This teacher is anything but ineffective.  She had 100% of her students pass a 5th grade science exam when the state average was 40%.  Yet, these scores did not figure in the formula for her evaluation.  In part, she suffered because her students, already functioning at high levels, left less room for improvement.  Other teachers may be statistically martyred because they work with new arrivals who speak little-to-no English.  Saddest of all, Ryals points to a California teacher who committed suicide in circumstances similar to her own, following the publication of his name in newspapers among, supposedly, the most inept.

I really feel that statisticians attempt to play God with their formulas.  They say some teachers are destined for heaven and they make the lives of other teachers living hell.  Then, the results are flipped on their head the following year.  Sometimes, they find glaring errors in their calculations, as in D.C.  Oops!  

But even working without errors, as the story of Simone Ryals clearly shows, the formulas themselves are tragically flawed.  If these accountability-driven reformers cared to look more closely, they would find their formulas contribute to some of the most unhealthy educational practices imaginable.  Students lose out on arts, drama, music, a generally well-rounded education and many of the things that add joy to a young person's life.  In its place, they gain Stanley-Kaplanesque test prep.  

It's a sad and sorry commentary on the state of things that even if any one of us appears to be a great teacher one year, our future is in no way secure. We may gain experience and knowledge, but it doesn't shield us in any way against the idiosyncrasies of some statisticians' dream formula.   Near perfect one year, the formula may turn on us and bite us at any moment.  We can never rest confident, so long as we live to teach another year.  And, tragically, if we become slaves to the formula and "game the system," we do a disservice to humanity.  Too bad the people who write this reform stuff have too much hubris, but too little common sense.   If we're deprived of tenure in this Twilight Zone of education, we haven't a prayer!

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