The Los Angeles teachers union may be correct to fight the publication of individual teachers’ value-added test scores. But they’re on the wrong side of history, writes Dan Willingham, who has long made a compelling, fair and utterly dispassionate case (he has no skin in the fight) that using value-added measures to evaluate teacher quality is “not ready for prime time.” He’s explained the problems in blog posts, and even in a YouTube video.
Clearly, to no avail. For those who have just arrived on the planet this morning, the Los Angeles Times over the weekend produced a blockbuster piece of reporting, based on years of test scores for 3rd through 5th grade teachers, enlisting a statistician to rate the effectiveness of individual teachers by name. The data, says the paper tells “which ones have the classroom magic that makes students learn and which ones annually let their students down.” Blogging at the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, Willingham responds:
“The writers of the Times article are either uninformed or disingenuous about the status of the value-added measures. They write ‘Though controversial among teachers and others, the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.’ The ‘others’ include most researchers looking into the matter.”
The L.A. teachers union is calling for a boycott of the paper. Good luck with that, is Willingham response. “When it comes to value-added measures, teachers and unions are right. The models aren’t reliable enough to evaluate individual teachers,” he observes.
“But right now that doesn’t matter much. The mood today is that something has to be done about incompetent teachers. We’ve seen that mood in districts in New York City and Washington D.C. and now we’re seeing it in Los Angeles. We’re also seeing it at the federal level. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the publishing of the individual teacher’s scores is just fine. The people who feel that something must be done are right. In most districts there is not a mechanism by which to ensure that incompetent teachers are not teaching.”
This is the time for the teacher’s unions to make teacher evaluation their top priority, Willingham concludes. “If they don’t, others will.”