Thompson: Wake Up and Smell the Roses
When economists view schools simply through the prism of an algorithm, it is easy for them to remain oblivious to schools' complexity and diversity. Eric Hanushek in "Waiting for 'Superman': How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools," made a big deal about the findings that teachers' value-added vary more within schools than across schools, as if that sound bite said anything about the quality of teaching in those schools. On the other hand, “Getting Teacher Evaluations Right,” by Linda Darling Hammond, Audrey Amrein-Beardsly, Edward Haertal, and Jess Rothstein showed that Houston’s value-added models are especially unfair for teachers with large concentrations of English Language Learners (ELL) and/or special education students. Even a principal’s decision to reassign a teacher to a different grade could end her career. Hammond et. al described an 8th grade teacher who had low test score growth, so the principal moved a 6thgrade teacher with high scores to that class. Afterwards, the formerly effective teacher’s scores were flat and the previously underperforming teacher had the highest test score growth in the school. In a letter responding to Darling-Hammond's Education Week Commentary, Anne Evans de Bernard, a principal with 37 years of experience, had a wonderful way of illustrating the "gerrymandering" within buildings, so "any range of scores imaginable" can be achieved. When teaching immigrants in the 1970s, she endured an annual ritual when scores were released. "The principal would march through the morning lineup and hand a rose to the teachers who had brought in the highest test scores. Invariably, the rose would go to teachers who taught the top-performing students."- JT (@drjohnthompson)image via.