Proof that teachers matter

On Sunday the Los Angeles Times published a story that has created a small firestorm in education circles. Three reporters documented the effects that teachers have on their students’ test results.  And they named names, so that now the world knows that students in John Smith’s fifth grade class start out ahead but lose ground as the year goes on, while Miguel Aguilar’s fifth graders follow the opposite trajectory: they do poorly at the start but outscore Mr. Smith’s students by year’s end.

Over seven years, John Smith's fifth-graders have started out slightly ahead of those just down the hall but by year's end have been far behind. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

Those are just two of the names the Times printed, and the union is furious, calling for a boycott of the paper.

But is it wrong to speak the truth?  Is it wrong to call out ineffective teachers?  That’s the debate going on, with even the Secretary of Education weighing in on whether it’s appropriate to make the names public.  (For the record, Secretary Duncan approves.)

Let’s be clear about one thing: the Times is most definitely NOT breaking new ground when it tells us that some teachers are effective and others are not.  Every parent knows that, and savvy parents lobby for teacher so-and-so for their children.  My wife and I were at a block party just last night where the subject came up. Earlier in the day I was bicycling with friends, and one woman described how hard she had worked to make sure that her twins had a certain math teacher in middle school.

I firmly believe that just about everyone in any school can tell you who the really good teachers are in the building.  Whether they will tell you is another story, perhaps, but everyone knows who’s good and who’s bad.

Reading the Times piece I was reminded of a paper that Dan Fallon, formerly of Carnegie Corporation, shared with me some years ago. It’s a powerful demonstration of the influence good teachers have.  I have a chapter in my new book, Below C Level, about this as well.

I applaud the Times for bringing this to the forefront.  I worry that it could be a step backward if it merely heightens the significance of scores on bubble tests, but that’s a risk worth taking.

One phrase in one sentence early in the piece is the key, in my view: “year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall.”

And then:
In Los Angeles and across the country, education officials have long known of the often huge disparities among teachers. They’ve seen the indelible effects, for good and ill, on children. But rather than analyze and address these disparities, they have opted mostly to ignore them.

That’s the central point: the adults in charge have known of the damage that some teachers are doing—and have done nothing, or nothing effective anyway, about it.  That’s the high tolerance for mediocrity that I find alarming, and that’s what must be addressed, and soon.

Of course it’s possible.  Two years ago we watched the chair of the math department in a DC high school going over student scores with his faculty. He was able to pinpoint which teachers were apparently not doing a good job of teaching particular concepts (quadratic equations, for example) because he had student results matched up with their teachers.  His response was to offer those teachers new strategies and approaches, to give them opportunities to get better.  How can anyone find fault with that?

The next step, of course, is to remove those teachers who, for whatever reason, do not improve.

So rather than boycott the LA Times, I say we should all subscribe.  And we should turn up the heat on administrators who refuse to set  and maintain high standards for their teachers, and on unions that don’t work hard to give teachers opportunities to be excellent.  Your thoughts?


Who’s teaching L.A.’s kids? [LA Times, 08/14/2010]

The Amazing Miss A and Why We Should Care About Her [Dan Fallon’s 2001 paper]

102 thoughts on “Proof that teachers matter

  1. John,

    I sense a bit of regret in your statement, “Leaving aside the ad hominem stuff, I am disappointed by the attacks, largely because no one is offering alternative ways to evaluate teacher performance.”

    Falling back on this “give me an alternative” argument is the diatribe of a person standing on a weak argument, seeking someone to give yet another simplistic solution to a problem that cannot be solved in the pages of a newspaper or blog post. Therein lies most of the problem with education reformers; they believe that as long as they say something, it is better than nothing. Our children are their experiments in social reconstruction.

    But, I’ll bite. How about critics taking some extended time to get off their soapboxes, out of their offices, and spending real time in the real world of our children (as you can read about in some of the comments and in Danzinger’s post about the LAT article here – ), and not assume, see, or even observe what is going on in the classroom. How about experiencing the classroom and home life of our children, right now, in real time.

    I know, it’s not cost effective, it’s not practical, and it’s not going to happen because critics have things to do, like criticize that which they do not understand in full.

    It’s much like Sec. Duncan (who never taught in a K-12 environment, isn’t that right?) telling teachers what an effective teacher looks like. Saying “standardized tests aren’t the only measure of teacher evaluation” then calling for even more testing and offering no other forms of evaluation as an alternative has not been questioned deeply enough. Why not ask him what the alternatives are, after all, he is the “top educator” in the country. Then report back to us.

    Teacher evaluation and school reform are complicated, sophisticated issues. But America does not enjoy the process of complicated, sophisticated thinking and solution-finding. Perhaps this (and articles like the one found in LAT and here) is the indictment of public education. We seek simple and simplistic answers, and believe that crunching numbers will give us the solution. When dealing with real people, numbers seldom give a completed picture.


    • You say, “Why not ask him what the alternatives are.” Instead, you and hundreds of thousands of teachers ought to be TELLING him what the reasonable alternatives are, as long as 1) you don’t exclude standardized tests and 2) your approach allows for getting ineffective teachers out of the classroom.


  2. At one time everyone knew that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it.

    At one time everyone knew the earth was flat.

    At one time everyone knew that the way to cure disease was the use leeches to suck out the ill blood.

    At one time everyone knew that one’s intelligence was limited by one’s race.

    At one time everyone knew that disabled people needed to be warehoused.

    At one time everyone knew that left-handed people were sinister.

    At one time everyone knew that brown and black-skinned people were inferior to people with lighter colored skins.

    At one time everyone knew that homosexuality was a choice.

    At one time everyone knew that autism was the result of inadequate mothering.

    Now you tell me that everyone knows who the good and bad teachers are.

    Are you sure?


      • No, this is not a good question at all. Just because one can list examples of of historic inaccuracy, does not lead to the conclusion that all statements are potentially inaccurate. I could easily use Deven’s list and then call into question whether your name really is Carol. Are you sure? People were wrong about the earth being flat, maybe that isn’t your name…


    • Of course I am not ‘sure,’ but I do know that a system that reports that 97% of teachers are satisfactory or better is deeply flawed.


      • What you don’t realize is that there are definite power tiers in education. Do you not think that many a teacher has tried to ‘inform’ a principal that a colleague is not up to snuff, and should not achieve tenure, only to be chastised by said principal? I know I have. This is about management not doing the job. And to be honest, I can’t really blame management, because the job of building principal is just unreasonable for one person to handle. The unions have absolutely no power when it comes to evaluating their own. The power structure is not set up that way. There are no systems put into place to police our own. Administration is not open to the idea.


  3. John – Why not address the many points brought up by many thoughtful people? This is why teachers are so discouraged by this nonsense. No one REALLY listens to the pitfalls experienced, quality teachers raise legitimately. How do you know that “no one calls them out?” Do most professions fire or admonish someone and then publish that to the world? Its no one else’s business. Do you have statistics on how many teachers quit BECAUSE other teachers and administrators cajoled them to do so? (I wonder if they are part of the 50% of teachers who quit the profession in the 1st three years?). Is the teaching profession worse than any other at doing so – and you have proof of that??? I strongly suggest you read this post by a thoughtful, award winning teacher:


    • My experience, and the testimony of others, is that too often it is the people we’d like to be teaching our children who leave the classroom after a couple of years. I’ve interviewed a lot of former teachers, and one thread has been their dissatisfaction with the system’s low expectations–for them, for their students, for their colleagues. Teachers are treated badly by the system, which often considers them to be interchangeable parts. In one chapter of Below C Level I defend seniority precisely because of that sort of inhumane treatment, even though seniority is, in many ways, an impediment to progress.


  4. Here’s more from my interview with Dennis Van Roekel, continuing the conversation about teacher performance:

    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: I think student performance is part of my practice. And, as I said to you before, if I’m not using my student learning to impact my practice as a professional, that’s what I ought to be held accountable for.
    MERROW But how do I know whether you’re using it? By watching you? Or seeing how your kids do on tests?
    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL Well, I think if … when you actually use good, formative assessments, then you cooperatively and collaboratively, with your colleagues, figure out what to do differently.
    MERROW But there’s a bottom line. At some point your kids have to show they know geometry, right?
    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL Absolutely.
    MERROW And … and can I look at that and say, oh, look at Dennis’ kids, they really know geometry. He gets a $10,000 dollar bonus? Or not?
    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL I would hope the goal of the system would be that all the geometry students in our school do that. And that I’m held accountable, along with my colleagues, to get our students there. Not individuals. It’s … it’s the wrong model. We want every single student to succeed.

    And this excerpt is about how teachers are compensated. One size fits all…

    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: In any compensation (system), I’ve worked on this a long time, there are two really important questions. One is, what do you want to pay for? Is it skills? Knowledge? Responsibility? The second thing is whatever you decide to question one, how are you going to measure it? And once you know the answer to question one, and have a way of measuring it, then you have a compensation system. Right now, in fifty states, in over the last fifty years, they’ve pretty much have all kind of moved to the same place. Why is that? Why are they using what they use now? Nobody’s telling them to. There’s no law, or regulation, or requirement. Yet at over fifty years, with over 90,000 school districts, or excuse me, 15,000 school districts, they’ve moved to the same compensation system. There must be a reason. I believe it’s because it works.
    MERROW Do you defend the current system. You and I get paid based on how many years we’ve been teaching and how many graduate credits we have?
    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL Well, actually when that … what was before that, they paid differentiated based on gender. Men got paid more than women. Relatives of school board got paid more than non relatives. Elementary got paid less than high school. So they did … they (inaudible) research at the time. And what they are based on research is … and you’ve got to
    remember, when that started, many of the teachers didn’t have a college degree. They found that based on research, as you got more education, you were better at your skill and you improved with time.
    MERROW So you defend the current system?
    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL I believe it works, yes.


    • ArchieRocks / Thanks for your new VLOG! It goes to show that you really dervsee the level of success that you’re getting right now because you’re humble, you love your fans, and you really care for others. Marius does inspire all of us in a way that makes us realize that somehow, whatever we’re going through in life, it really pays to keep the HOPE alive. We will surely include Marius in all our prayers. Thanks David for sharing his story.


  5. As a newer teacher, I am working in the next year on differentiation and responsive teaching. It seems that there are lessons from good teaching that can be applied in this larger arena. We know that students do best in a rich and supportive learning environment. We as teachers also need a rich and supportive learning environment.

    No one improves by being belittled and labeled failing.

    The expose’ approach to looking at student test scores ignores the good of the community. These are our teachers, our neighbors. These are our children. How does this LAT article improve the situation – the whole situation? If your answer is that now we have data, then that ignores the impact on people of being labeled. I am not advocation for avoiding labels in the name of self-esteem, but asking that we consider the effect of labels on the functioning of the whole community.


    • Again, I called out the administrators who should have acted to help those struggling teachers get better or moved to get them out of the classroom.


  6. Very well stated, John. For sure, poor progress in learning is an indication of a situation needing further review. For sure, the desire of parents to have their children in certain teacher’s classes and not in other teacher’s classes is an indication of a situation needing further review. While I’m now relating to grandchildren in K-12 schools, I do remember that these same items were present when our own children were in K-12. Indeed, we felt it so important that we chose to have our children in a private school – because we “knew” that the students ranked in the middle as our kids were would not have much attention, attention that went to the top honors section and the kids in the bottom section; in the private school, the girls were challenged to get better, resulting in honors classes toward the end in both cases.

    What is sad to report is the following: [1] though there were close to 20% of the kids in our older daughter’s class that left public education where our daughter did, no one from the school system thought it important that they find out why this was happening; and [2] even worse, my wife and I did nothing to get the message out in the community’s interest and only made plans to have the younger daughter follow her sister.

    As John writes, there is ample information to at least ask questions further. I would hope that the names used are of teachers with multiple indicators of lack of success – as I mentioned in an earlier post. Also as noted, both administrations and unions are fully at fault for NOT at least acknowledging the troubling information, investigating it further, and doing something about it.

    My colleagues in higher education are just as much at fault. Can we honestly say we’ve done anything to really improve our efforts with students?

    As I’ve been advocating and am trying to do something related to it, education is broken for sure. There is no magic pill or bullet to fix things easily. What is needed is acknowledgement that things can improve AND the broading and deepening of the dialogue, planning, implementation, and assessment efforts necessary to deal with the problem. The good news is that there are good people such as John and many others [such as those contributing to this discussion and others] that acknowledge the problem, are working to improve things, and will continue to do so. The bad news is that all too many – including far too many in important positions – who see their only job to be pointing out problems that somehow translates into not doing anything else [you / they are bad / wrong and so I’ll just remain negative and on the sidelines]. Paraphrasing very liberally, “if we are not investigating and expecting to need change, we should expect things to deteriate” and “nothing in the way of significant improvement can happen without expecting some missed steps or wrong steps.” Join the effort, express your conserns as part of the effort to improve, and learn from mistakes with the knowledge that such mistakes can be learning experiences leading to better outcomes.


  7. Reality check to all – do you really think we can have excellent teachers for every student in this country? We don’t have that kind of excellence when it comes to doctors, lawyers, CEOs, presidents or generals, who are all paid considerably more.
    Now, lets focus on the real problem, why are there poor schools and rich schools in the same communities where the same tax dollars are available? Solve that, and you will live up to the ideals of no child left behind. End of debate.


    • Fascinating that some commentators ramble on and on about what needs to be done and then comes along Hellen Harvey and in a short set of sentences says most of what needs to be said to add clarity the issue.


    • Money is not the ultimate deciding factor here. Some of the poorest schools do the best jobs with their students. The thought that throwing more money at the problem will somehow fix it is absurd. How many teachers went into the profession for the money?


    • So in the meantime we shouldn’t do anything about a flawed rating system, ineffective teachers and lazy or cowardly administrators? You are kidding, right?


    • So in the meantime we shouldn’t do anything about a flawed rating system, ineffective teachers and lazy or cowardly administrators? You are kidding, right?


  8. Could it be that this entire conversation has really little to do with either value-added assessments or the Times’ story? Isn’t really about power–which group has the power to define the language, content and character of teaching? I think so. The power to define is indeed, real power. With the growing concentration of wealth centered in a handful of powerful corporations, foundations, and news media, there’s a move to also concentrate power over our heretofore public institutions. Public education has become the first of many coming battles.


  9. Brian, there is no doubt in my mind at least that good teachers and administrators identify concerns; if nothing is done, raise the level of effort. All professions have whistle-blowers naming names when nothing is done. My caution for the teachers and all others is the evidence; poor student outcomes are at least part for sure. I guess on balance too many teachers are allowed to slide – including in higher education. I hope the evidence supports the naming of names with appropriate subsequent consequences; if not, shame on the paper for doing so. BUT naming names has never been limited to teachers AND naming names is never automatically bad.


  10. John Bennet and John Merrow – I agree to a point. Let me ask you though, – what percentage of the problem is “bad teachers?” 90% of education’s problems are teachers? 80% … 40%? 5%? 1%??? – is it important to have an idea how much of our education problem is about teacher quality?

    What percentage of the problem is poverty? health? language? lack of school experience of parents? Other?

    Is it like 95% a teacher quality problem and everything else combined is only 5%? Think about that. Are there other issues that we are not focusing on that would have a huge impact, but we focus mainly on teachers and reduce THEIR concerns about what would help to being whiners instead of listening and supporting? What’s your take?


  11. Education is the new commodity, ripe for marketing and entrepreneurship (Tom Vanderark is just one example).

    Teachers are merely the scapegoats for failed society–our failure shows up most prominently in young kids.

    Now those in power are using a symptom, and that’s what failing schools are–a symptom of a much larger problem, as a means to secure funding and a market for their corporate well-being.

    Until we can be honest with ourselves about our failures–and they are myriad: poverty, racism, classism, worsening economic disparity, environmental fouling, hunger, I could go on, right?–we will do nothing to improve the lives of our neediest children.

    Educational disparity is man-made and it’s cause is poverty. All the rest is bullshit.


  12. Are the annual tests the sum total of a teacher’s worth and the only thing of value they impart to their students?

    I think not.

    My high school biology teacher (Biology Teacher of the State, by the way, so, there’s the quality–regrettably, in those days before “true value” was determined by the “bubble tests”) was spectacular, in every way. One of the students in the class a year younger than mine had died suddenly. All that day, his desk had a single rose on it which she had placed there with sympathy, respect, and love. She sent out a questionaire about 20 years later asking what part of her biology course had had the greatest effect on their lives. The most-often-given response, was, of course, the rose.


  13. I take issue with the “everyone knows who the good teachers are” assumption. I understand the LA times has compiled their value added analyses for all, or many of the teachers in the district. I know the teachers that are commonly considered to be the best, and I can’t wait to compare common knowledge with statistics. I suspect some underachieving, politically savvy shmooozers will be exposed at the same time some hard-working wallflowers will be brought to light.

    My solution: install video and audio equipment in all classes, all the time. Create a panel made up of the best teachers and administrators, from other schools, and have them do evaluations. Combine this with the value added testing and I think even the most reactionary union organizer (A. J. Duffy) would acknowledge that this would give some idea of what the teacher was doing.


  14. The idea that everyone agrees on who’s a bad teacher is simply false. Those whom I think are fantastic might be dismissed by others because their classrooms are looser, more student-directed, and less likely to produce kids who’ve memorized enough facts to do well on a multiple-choice test. And some teachers whose classrooms are tightly controlled and look exemplary to outsiders (in part because of high test scores) are so repugnant to me that I would fight to keep my children out of their classes.

    But let’s pretend we could agree on the criteria. Even so, for every dozen kids who are harmed by having a bad teacher, a thousand kids are harmed because of the way accountability pressures turn good teachers INTO bad teachers. And the rhetoric offered here by Merrow, Wiggins, and others fuels those pressures and does immense harm, even though I’m sure that’s not their intention.


  15. John,

    After reading your piece, reading the comments section, and then re-reading your piece to give you the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but feel that your claim that you don’t want to see teacher accountability reduced simply to fill-in-the-bubble standardized testing rings very hollow.

    You write: “But is it wrong to speak the truth? Is it wrong to call out ineffective teachers? That’s the debate going on…”

    Here, your wording endorses the idea that the results of standardized tests are “the truth” and that failing to raise students’ test scores on fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice standardized tests should brand teachers as definitively “ineffective” and deserving of being “[called] out”—a phrase that suggests that teachers with students whose test score don’t go up sufficiently deserve to be embarrassed and exposed as frauds.

    You do not ask: ‘Is it wrong for a newspaper to publish a teacher’s test results and to consider those scores as part of the equation of whether that teacher is effective?’

    Why not?

    Later, you claim: “Let’s be clear about one thing: the Times is most definitely NOT breaking new ground when it tells us that some teachers are effective and others are not.”

    Here again, you are uncritically endorsing the writers’ supposition that rising scores definitively equals “effective” teaching.

    Another poster has already highlighted the strained and strange logic that allows you to state: “I firmly believe that just about everyone in any school can tell you who the really good teachers are in the building,” while you also seem to “firmly believe” (to the extent that you recommend universal subscription to the Los Angeles Times) the story’s assertion that Value Added data proves that some teachers who students, parents, and principals believe are highly effective—presumably because of their track record of fostering positive human relationships with kids—are in truth, “ineffective” failures who deserve to be, in your words, “[called] out”.

    Then there is this gem—a false concession. “I worry that it [the Value Added system] could be a step backward if it merely heightens the significance of scores on bubble tests, but that’s a risk worth taking.” This old debater’s trick reminds me of when Bill O’Reilly use to agree that “mistakes were made in Iraq” without specifying what any of those mistakes were or who should be held accountable for them being made in order to confirm his fair and balanced credentials before returning to his hawkish talking points. I apologize for comparing you to Bill O’Reilly but how can we believe that your “worry” is sincere? When can we expect a multi-part Learning Matters series on the critics of high stakes testing like Alfie Kohn or Richard Rothstein (to name just a few). Or a piece that “turns over some rocks” and looks at the money making scam that is the “test-prep industry”, or the revolving door between government and the education industry—perhaps a story on Sandy Kress and others of his ilk. I might take your claim that you are skeptical about bubble test if you brought even one of those stories to The NewsHour. Also, you never really explain why this form of analysis and the tests that create the scores that lead to this analysis are so trust-worthy as to be “worth the risk”. I assume your “worth the risk” claim is meant to serve as another “it’s better than doing nothing” red herring designed to distract attention from the many flaws of the Value Added approach.

    Still later, you write: “One phrase in one sentence early in the piece is the key, in my view: “year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall.””

    Your faith in their claim that the students with higher test scores on fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests “learn far more” again undermines your claim that you do not want those types of test to become the end-all-be-all of education. Might the younger teacher in the piece do more test prep? Might he be better at teaching his students tricks to “beat the test”? What if he spends far more time doing reading and math worksheets and multiple choice practice lessons at the expense of social studies, science, art etc.? What if those are the reasons for the differences in scores? I can’t prove they are, but nothing in the article proves that they are not either. How then can you be so certain that the students in the class with higher test scores are necessarily “[learning] far more”?

    Finally, you do call out administrators for not assisting and, if necessary, removing “ineffective” teachers and trumpet this as proof that you are not attacking teachers. But again, you criticize administrators for not firing teacher simply because of those teachers’ students’ scores on standardized tests. Most disgracefully, you write: “That’s the central point: the adults in charge have known of the damage that some teachers are doing—and have done nothing, or nothing effective anyway, about it.” So at this point, you are not only asserting that Mr. Smith and other teachers who have students with low and stagnant test scores are “ineffective” but that he and others like him are doing “damage” to the lives of the young people to whom they have dedicated their professional lives. And you lament the ‘ad hominem’ attacks directed your way in these comments!?! That’s chutzpah.

    To put it mildly, your argument in this blog post is uneven, at times contradictory, and completely unconvincing. If you were in my rhetoric course I’d have to tell you that your logic, to throw your own words back at you one last time, is ‘below c level’.

    Ron Boyd


    • I resonated with your point about teachers who may do more test prep. . .

      If I were to passionately focus on improving test scores. . .because fill in the bubble standardized tests are a meaningful assessment of learning, I could earn more money if my students did well (learned more), and I would avoid public humiliation. . .

      Then, first off there would be only reading and math subjects. I would find and analyze the last 10 previous years of tests to try to determine, in an exhaustive way, what the next one would “cover”, and then design the entire curriculum around those skills and facts. Multiple-choice test taking strategies would also be a major part of the curriculum. The classroom would be teacher-centered, and very, very, very disciplined.


  16. I hadn’t seen the actual dead-trees L.A. Times that carried the original article (Sunday, 8/15) until today, when my husband came home from a trip with a copy. It’s really horrifying, with big pictures of the shamed teachers.

    And then there’s the “those Latinos are just too stupid to know who the good teachers are” pullquote (graphic element in display type, for those non-newspaper copy editors in our reading audience): ” ‘Mi nino, all his teachers are good. He never had a problem. Everything is OK.’ — Maura Merino, whose son was in the fifth-grade class of a teacher whose students have consistently fallen behind.” (The entire section within the double quotes is the text of the display type.) How did they forget to add “ay caramba!” …?

    So how does the repeated insistence by the defenders of this atrocity that “everyone knows who the ‘bad’ teachers are” jibe with the “Latina mom too dumb to know her child’s teacher is failing” pullquote?


  17. Also, a New York City teacher-blogger is calling for stoning the failed teachers to death, and an L.A. teacher activist is planning to make up T-shirts with a scarlet “T.”


  18. John,

    I will not be eagerly reading your next post to see how you engage readers in productive discussion. I believe statements like “everyone knows who’s good and who’s bad”–and the thinking associated with absolute labels–keeps minds closed and polarizes us all.


  19. The issue to me is much less about whether results should be public than whether or not teachers get the support they need to be effective. I came to teaching from business, and the biggest difference between industry and education is the degree to which people are set up for success. Sure there are some teachers, as there are folks in any profession, who won’t be successful no matter what support they get. But in my experience coaching teachers the past ten years, most teachers are significantly and measurably more effective when they receive high quality job-embedded coaching and training. Hold teachers accountable? Sure, as long as we hold schools accountable for providing them the support they need and deserve to be successful–just as management did when I worked in business.


  20. In my previous life as a soldier, a commanding officer shared with us the three most important characteristics of any successful relationship, enterprise, or endeavor:
    1) Communication
    2) Communication
    3) Communication
    Since the commanding officer shared this, the subliminal message was that communication starts with quality leadership.

    Education is failing because we are not communicating: among teachers, between teachers and administrators (school and union), and among teachers, administrators, and parents. Value-added-measurement would not be such a Pandora’s Box if all the previous parties had communicated this data responsibly. It also seems we’ve lost sight of how we use data.

    If the temperature gauge in my car moves toward ‘H’ it does not mean necessarily that my engine will seize imminently; maybe my coolant is low or needs replacing. Data is a window we use to help see what’s really happening. If my value-added numbers moved in an adverse direction the next step is to discern why. Is it my instruction? Classroom management? Assessment? If this data’s been readily available and teachers need a newspaper article to find it we have a communication breakdown, which ultimately is a leadership breakdown.

    The Lakers are perennial contenders and champions because of leadership (Dr. Jerry Buss, Phil Jackson, Mitch Kupchack) Southwest Airlines remained profitable during our oil price hikes because of leadership. Apple is Apple because of Steve Jobs. Education’s biggest deficit is quality leadership; if leaders fail to communicate properly, dysfunction and disorder will flourish, and this value-added mess manifests this perfectly.

    Show me schools or districts with disturbing value-added data and I’m looking next at the leadership. When parents (customers) and teachers (employees) demand and expect quality leadership our education ship will steer towards a more successful course.


  21. There’s a difference between making the results publicly available and making a big point of publicly shaming teachers by name in the newspaper. My 19-year-old belatedly heard about the Times’ assault on teachers and commented: “You mean they published teachers’ pictures and said ‘this is a sh*tty teacher’? That’s the kind of courageous, boundary-crossing journalism that will save newspapers from the Internet.”


  22. Amen to what Peter has written. I am going to continue this in my post for this week. I will try to answer the critics and add some information on new developments in what I believe to be one of the central issues facing public education.
    Hope you will join me…


  23. Perhaps we should be certain that those who perform the evaluations are qualified to do them. I was evaluated by a supervisor who could not even tell you what a good teacher looked like when she saw one. I asked her to demonstrate what she would like to see in my presentations – she refused because she had no idea. She had no classroom control when she was in the classroom. She was promoted to administration for misdirecting a grand jury investigation away from questionable activities the (then) superintendent was involved with.

    One such administrator was an alcoholic, swinger, who was usually drunk and chasing the women (at times in his school office), yet he received the annual, county-wide administrator of the year award for his “efforts.” All the others who did likewise and covered for the (then)superintendent were promoted to positions in school administration, whether they were remotely qualified or not and all received promotions to higher-level positions before the (then) superintendent moved on. Yet, these are the people deciding who are good teachers and who are not. It took nine years to finally get rid of that incompetent principal and even then, he was demoted back to the classroom where he receives satisfactory evaluations himself. And for my supervisor – she still has her job, even though some of her duties have been taken from her. And those who tried to right the wrong? They were pressured into submission, quitting or transferring, using in part, those same evaluations.

    Perhaps we need to start at the top down before we put so much emphasis on subjective evaluations that may or may not be remotely accurate.


  24. I have issue with posting the evaluation as well as using test scores for the evaluation.

    First, you don’t see the evaluation of policemen, firemen, or school administrators, let alone the evaluations of banking corporation heads. Why would you post evaluations of teachers? This is a personal and personnel issue. I agree that teachers should be able to see the results of the test scores of their past students.

    Second, most teacher evaluation programs take the average test score of the entire class into account and not the individual growth of each student. You can not compare one fifth grade classroom to another as the class make up in each is entirely different. One class could have just a few English Language Learners while the second class could have several very low students along with English Language Learners and learning disabled students who will be in a grade or to below instruction wise. The teacher in the second class could be very effective and raise the individual student scores showing those students have growth, but come the overall scores from classroom one to classroom two, shows a negative to that second classroom teacher.

    This also does not take into account the family crisis that one student is experiencing, or the medical emergency that another is worried about especially if it is happening the week of those high stake tests. These students will not be concentrating on the test.

    The public will very likely not want their child in the second class teacher’s room. Those individual students showed growth, but not according the average and then the comparison.

    Finally, do we want parents coming in to dictate to principals which teacher their child should get? This is exactly what is going to happen. Does the second classroom teacher get fired because parents don’t like the evaluation? It’s not very fair when each student is learning and showing growth which demonstrates a very effective teacher.


    • Yea Cheryl!
      I can’t believe it took 92 posts and over two weeks for someone to mention the student demographic differences from class to class — let alone school to school or district to district! It is crazy to compete against each other or some imaginary, ever-moving bar. Yes, we should look at student growth and test scores can be a PART of that equation but it only makes sense when it is drilled down to the individual student level.

      As for teacher evaluation and effectiveness, I recently started working as a PAR (Peer Assistance Review) Coach for the high school teacher in our district. Some teachers are required to be there and some are volunteering. ALL of them are interested in being better teachers and ALL of them are unhappy with their current working environment. No one TRIES to be ineffective or unhelpful! What they are looking for is a supportive, structured, honest opportunity to reflect on their practice and improve their teaching. Expand PAR and give veterans a real chance to improve before throwing them under the bus.



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  26. Frustrating conversation. So many smart, thoughtful people. If it’s frustrated perhaps it’s because the title of the whole thing is “Proof that teachers matter” a statement that needs as much proof as “Proof that plants need sun.”


  27. I agree that there is a high tolerance for mediocrity, and I would add that this high tolerance for mediocrity and lack of real effort and achievement is a national security issue. However, this an attitude endemic in contemporary America. It is in the school system because the rest of our culture believes it, not because the school system promotes it. Indeed, teachers fight it every day, all of Don Quixotes tilting at windmills that will eventually chew us up and spit us out. The only things that keep us going are seeing the lights go on in our students’ eyes, and the collaboration with our peers. These last rewards are about to be extinguished, too, as we are forced to make sure our students score well on ridiculous tests and the resulting pay-for-performance mentality puts us in competition with our peers. Who wins then?


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