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Thompson: Data-Driven Accountability; What Is It Good For?

War Data-DRIVEN accountability makes sense for enforcing the Voting Rights Act, fighting Medicaid fraud, or a war on other criminal conspiracies. It also makes sense when numbers have been proven to reflect physical reality or numbers are used to make sure that other numbers are accurate. Data-DRIVEN accountability is appropriate for deterring threats to society, but to improve teaching and learning we need data-INFORMED accountability and evidenced-based decision-making. We need accountability devised "with teachers" not done "to teachers."

Teachers can't accept a test-driven evaluation where metrics indict an educator as ineffective, meaning that the teacher (or principal) must then prove himself innocent. Many "reformers" believe that teachers already stand indicted for a conspiracy to destroy students, as is illustrated by Eduwonk.  Randi Weingarten could not have made herself clearer,

 but Terri Grier (and Andrew Rotherham) pretended not to hear her. The Houston superintendent claimed his new evaluation system, which added test score growth as the 34th way to fire teachers, was consistent with Weingarten’s speech.

With friends like that, Randi doesn’t need enemies as she tries to persuade the rank-in-file to experiment with risky new reforms. She made it clear, however, that "my full proposal calls for rigorous and regular reviews, conducted by trained expert and peer evaluators and principals. Other elements of the new path forward that I envision include a fresh approach to due process for teacher misconduct cases, and providing teachers with the tools, time and trust they need to do their jobs. One of the most important elements of my proposal--apparently another part of my plan overlooked by Superintendent Grier--was a call for new labor-management relationships in which teachers and administrators can collaborate on the reforms needed in public education."

A Houston School Board member commented on Eduwonk providing a link to his anti-union rhetoric on Twitter. He also provided a link to the one-sentence change in policy allowing termination for "insufficient student growth as reflected by value added scores," but not to any possible definitions, safeguards, procedures, or trust-building process to protect good teachers caught up in the primitive net (that was supposedly designed to catch the small number of incompetents.)

Following the links further, I discovered that Grier had begun the use of growth models in North Carolina with the "Mission Possible" schools, but that project used test score growth for incentives (which were earned by 24% of the eligible teachers.) According to an independent study of the pilot, when Grier left, "the program hasn’t significantly changed student achievement." The pilot would have been more likely to succeed "had it fully engaged teachers and the local teachers’ association." The program also "needs sustainable funds" and to increase student performance "communication is the key." After a brief acrimonious term in San Diego, Grier has brought his crusade to Houston. Presumably, he hasn’t been there long enough to consider the case of the Dallas teacher who was terminated for low test scores but reinstated by the State Education Commissioner because they did not account for variable work conditions at schools.

And that gets us back to the heart of the matter. When reformers have already indicted teachers for miserable schools, they seem to forget the right of Americans to confront their accusers. RttT is bound to spawn a wave a teacher termination cases that will be thrown out by the courts, making the termination process more "glacial," thus prompting new cycles of retribution. But it should also produce new collaborations like those unveiled by reformers within the unions. .


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