Thursday, September 02, 2010

Teacher effectiveness is news worth reporting

The WSJ sends kudos to the Los Angeles Times for its series publishing the data on the city's teachers' effectiveness by using the "value-added" metric measuring the level at which students enter a teacher's classroom compared to their level when they leave. Have they learned anything in that year granted that students come in with varied backgrounds in learning. Predictably, the teachers unions are raising a fuss about the Times series. They don't want it to be public how effective individual teachers have been.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told ABC News that she objects to the Times publishing the database because it's an "unreliable" gauge of teacher effectiveness and shouldn't be used "in isolation of everything else." And the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the local union, is upset enough that it is planning a protest outside of the Times building later this month.

But no one is arguing that student test scores be the sole basis for determining whether a teacher is doing a good job. What proponents, including L.A. school district officials, have said is that value-added assessments should be a part of any evaluation.

Currently, less than 2% of teachers are denied tenure in L.A., and teacher evaluations don't take into account whether students are learning. Ms. Weingarten prefers to continue a system of meaningless teacher assessments that almost never result in an instructor being fired for performance. So she wants to shoot the messenger for telling readers things they clearly want to know.
Exactly. And not only the readers should want to know such information. The teachers and school administrators should want to know that information. Those who are measured as not helping students to progress should want to know that so they can work on changing what they're doing. If a student is not learning after a year in that teacher's classroom, that should be important information. If a teacher can spend a year with a student and not help that student make progress, something is wrong and no one should be satisfied with such results. I certainly would want to know such information if there were metrics for the history courses I teach. At least I have the results from the Advanced Placement tests that my students take.

The fact that the teachers' unions want to shoot the messenger simply reveals, yet again, that their concern has little to do with student learning compared to their main focus on job protection. That is what unions do, but for some reason we have given way too much deference to teachers' unions as spokesmen for education in general. We don't go to the UAW to find out what cars should be produced, why should we go to the teachers' unions to find out about the best education policies? They don't even want information on education effectiveness.