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Arne Duncan: Newspapers Shouldn’t Publish Teacher Ratings

March 25, 2012

Arne Duncan: Newspapers Shouldn’t Publish Teacher Ratings

You know, when I read something, anything that Arne Duncan says, or is quoted as saying, I just have to shake my head in dismay.  Duncan’s words are so far removed from his actions that it would be better if he didn’t say anything at all.

I encourage my readers to view the story below by Stephen Sawchuk over at Education Week.  Follow me below for some comments interspersed with the article.  Also, I encourage you to take the link above and read the comments section to the article, there is some great common sense there.

Publishing teachers’ ratings in the newspaper in the way The New York Times and other outlets have done recently is not a good use of performance data, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview yesterday.

“Do you need to publish every single teacher’s rating in the paper? I don’t think you do,” he said. “There’s not much of an upside there, and there’s a tremendous downside for teachers. We’re at a time where morale is at a record low. … We need to be sort of strengthening teachers, and elevating and supporting them.”

That is not exactly a stinging criticism from Duncan is it?  Is that how he makes all of his decisions “not much of an upside there.”  Duncan was never a teacher, and having never been a teacher Duncan should have never been elevated to the highest education post in this nation.  Truthfully, I think this is Obama’s worst decision, well – maybe no financial prosecutions might be worse, but for teachers, Duncan is just a terrible choice for Ed Sec.

So how does this square with Duncan’s famous endorsement, in 2010, of the Los Angeles Times’ controversial project to publish a database of teacher “value added” ratings?

Duncan told me that while that project highlighted important data that at the time had been collected and unused by the district, its publication was “far from ideal.” 

“What I was reacting to in L.A. was this mind-boggling situation where teachers were denied access to this data. The only way they could get it was through the newspaper,” he said. “There was clearly some level of dysfunction [in the district], that this was the only way they could get it.”

In Los Angeles, the city teachers’ union still hasn’t come around to using the data in a districtwide evaluation system, but such a system is now being piloted in some schools with teacher volunteers.

Duncan’s comments opposing the mass publication of this information echo others in the field—including philanthropist Bill Gates and Teach For America’s Wendy Kopp. While both are generally bullish on the use of such data as a component of teacher evaluations, they argue that its mass publication amounts to a shaming of teachers.

However, Duncan indicated he supports the judicious disclosure of this data to school principals and to parents.

“My question would be at some point, if you have not just a low value-added score but three or four years [of low evaluations]—are we informing parents? Are we going to do something about it?” he said.

It is comments like the one I put in bold above which frustrate me.  Duncan knows, or should very well know that VAM assessing of teachers has no validity and that it is impossible to account for all the randomness which occurs each and every day in our students’ lives.  Poverty, drugs, violence, money, lack of money, dating, boyfriends, girlfriends, caring for sick parents, living in foster care…and I could go on and on.  But that doesn’t matter to Duncan, even top professors such as Linda Darling-Hammond (who should be in Duncan’s position) have come out against VAM, but Duncan still clings to this farcical tale…why?

He underscored that any such sharing should also be a comprehensive look at teacher performance, not just test-score related measures, and that all of these discussions will have to be worked out carefully with the various players.

“Having those thoughtful conversations with principals, teachers, parents, with strong union leaders, that’s the way we’re going to get there. … It’s hard, it’s candid, but I think it’s important. When [the information ] is being used in meaningful ways, that’s the opposite from the newspaper putting everything out there.”

Duncan’s thinking on this matter seems to have evolved over time. But it isn’t likely to calm his fiercest critics, many of whom are likely to accuse the education secretary of trying to have it both ways.

It’s also worth noting that states are all over the place in whether they’re even allowed to give parents (or others) access to teacher evaluations. Their open-records laws regarding personnel evaluations are exceptionally murky. An Education Week analysis of these laws conducted by Amy Wickner, a research intern on EdWeek’s library team, found 18 states plus the District of Columbia in which access to teacher evaluations is theoretically permissible, though it’s not at all clear whether that means just the final rating or various components of the system.

Here is one fantastic comment thread from the article above.  I think this is worthy of sharing:

What if we publish student scores and grades in the newspaper? After all, if tax money is invested in their education; shouldn’t the public be aware of the performance of our investment or lack thereof? A teacher’s salary is public information. Currently, New York and Los Angeles have published the performance ratings of its classroom staff. Therefore, every tax-paying citizen in those areas has concrete evidence regarding the waste of their income, and broken down by individual. I believe we should take this idea one step further. Publish the scores and grades of all students. The public could track every dollar spent on every student. We can identify areas where we can save money where students perform at high levels, and look to reduce waste where students fail. We could calculate how failure calculates into taxpayer waste. But wait.

What if this idea is too harsh? 

What if publishing scores embarrasses a student?

What if the scores do not take into consideration disabilities or handicaps?

What if the student consistently stays after school for extra help, but still can’t grasp concepts?

What if the student sacrifices time with friends or family to work with a teacher?

What if the student stayed up all night studying and is exhausted at the time of the test?

What if the student was having a “bad day” at the time of an evaluation?

What if the student is experiencing or coping with a loss?

What if the student is in a state of grief?

What if the student is the unfortunate target of an unfair teacher?

What if the student hasn’t been identified as possessing a learning disability?

What if the student has not been provided the resources or direct instruction required for success?

What if the student is addicted to drugs or alcohol or is overcoming an addiction and is in rehab?

What if the student has a parent in prison?

What if the student’s parents are addicted to drugs?

What if the student is a criminal?

What if the student is on parole?

What if the student was the victim of a rape?

What if the student was the victim of molestation?

What if the student has to work to help support the family?

What if the student was abandoned and moves from one foster home to another?

What if the student’s parents frequently move from state to state and the student has no time to adjust?

What if the student is not a citizen or doesn’t speak or read English?

What if the student can’t read?

What if the student doesn’t subscribe to the theory of evolution or scientific thought and refused to take any tests?

What if the student doesn’t want to go to college?

What if the student is pregnant, in a gang, or just got beat up by the school bully?

What if the student is the school bully?

What if the former teacher was asked to retire early, and was replaced with a new and inexperienced teacher who didn’t quite have a deep instructional familiarity with the curriculum?

What if a drastic reduction of school funding resulted in the loss of paraprofessional classroom aids?

What if a club, extracurricular program, team, or coach was cut and now the student is uninspired to attend school, much less study?

What if the student is told he/she has to take certain classes, but the student would rather work in the family business?

What if the published scores hurt the student’s opportunity for a scholarship?

What if the student who is at the bottom of the list is really at the top of the class?

What if members of the press stalk the student with the lowest scores?

What if parents request their child be removed from classes with “that child?”

What if parents call for the student’s expulsion for draining taxpayer dollars?

What if publishing these scores leads one to suicide?

What if we only evaluate students without offering advice or guidance for improvement?

What if we become increasingly concerned with results but not enrichment, empowerment, or improvement?

What if we expected teachers to deal with these issues?

What if?


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