The national debate about the future of American public education – the “education reform” debate that has taken shape over the past 10 years – has two major parts. One is essentially about privatization of our public school systems – either though for-profit charter schools (unlike those we have in New Hampshire) or by using publicly-funded vouchers to send children to private schools (like our New Hampshire voucher plan).
The other part of the debate is all about how best to hold schools and teachers accountable for educational results. This often has a corporate tone, as in, “Show me the improved scores or you will be fired (if you’re a teacher) or shut down (if you’re a school).” In this form, evaluation is not directly concerned with curriculum questions and can become a club to beat on teachers. At the other end of the spectrum, teacher evaluation can be integrated with curriculum as a tool for coaching teachers and improving schools.
That debate on how teacher performance should be evaluated has arrived in New Hampshire.
First, the New Hampshire Department of Education is about to publish it’s “Model Educator Support and Evaluation System” (as reported on NHPR). Teacher evaluation is a key part of the department’s application to the U.S. Department of Education asking to waive the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Our department of education clearly takes the “coaching” approach to evaluation, but it will be important to assess any teacher evaluation legislation proposed this year on that same scale of corporate vs. coaching.
Then, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization gave New Hampshire’s education policies an F grade in its recent report. Ms. Rhee is clearly an advocate of the corporate approach, as you can see in the Frontline documentary about her. Although the report is political advocacy, not really a contribution to education policy, it will undoubtedly be used as fodder in the New Hampshire education debate.
And, finally, House Education Committee members Rep Rick Ladd (R, Haverhill) and Rep. Ralph Boehm (R-Litchfield) have submitted a Legislative Services Request to draft a bill “relative to teacher evaluation systems.” We will track that here when there is something to track.
How should we think about all this?
Although there are many components to teacher evaluation, the heart of the matter is what’s called the “value added modeling,” or VAM. Our own Scott Marion, of Rye, is a nationally respected practitioner in teacher and student evaluation and VAM. He works with departments of education across the country, including our own here in New Hampshire. With some guidance from Scott (but any errors are my own), I’ll do a series of posts to help make VAM and the debate about it accessible to parents and the rest of us.
Value added modeling is a way of analyzing student test scores to attribute a student’s progress to specific teachers. This is a new discipline, still very much in development. If it were a drug, it would be in the testing phase, pre-FDA certification. But it is in use in a number of districts around the country.
The VAM debate is, first, about whether it works at all. Then, what kinds of tests can effectively be used for this kind of teacher assessment? Even then, many wonder how reliable can VAM ever be. And, finally, the most visible part of the debate is over how much weight VAM results should carry in a teacher’s evaluation. Many knowledgeable practitioners seem to feel that VAM should be limited to 20-25% of a teacher’s total evaluation, with classroom observation, peer review, student feedback and other factors comprising the rest. But many advocates and school districts, particularly those who subscribe to the corporate style of evaluation, propose evaluation plans that rely on VAM for as much as 50% of the teacher’s evaluation.
If you want to go a step deeper now, here is a good place to start: a 20 page piece by Henry Braun, published by the Educational Testing Service, called “Using Student Progress to Evaluate Teachers: A Primer on Value-Added Models.”