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Thompson: Goldhaber On The Future Of Research

AEI_logoDan Goldhaber’s Teacher Quality Research Over the Next Decade, presented at The American Enterprise Institute on “Teacher Quality 2.0,” is a hopeful sign that research by non-educators may become more reality-based.

Goldhaber makes a plausible argument that value-added models work at the elementary level, at least in comparison with other ways of evaluating teachers. But, he cites evidence that value-added might not work quite so well at the high school level.

So, Goldhaber asks if less emphasis would have been placed on the value-added of individual teachers if research had focused on high schools rather than elementary schools.

I certainly hope that the answer would be “Of course!”

In his constructive paper on the next era of research to improve instruction, Goldhaber starts by asking how teachers will respond to value-added and, later, to technology and various reorganizations of the schooling process.  He asks all the right questions about the unpredictable ways - constructive and destructive - that teachers’ practice could be altered.

But, instead of asking whether educators will make good choices, we should ask how administrators will respond to these changes.

Goldhaber rightly wants to know more about the different ways that future teachers will diagnose and then address individual student needs.  He thus seems to assume that teacher’s instructional choices drive schooling.  In the real world, it is the bosses’ choices, not the employees’ judgments, that mostly explain how schools operate.

Near the end of the paper, Goldhaber doubles back and asks the governance questions that, I believe, will be far more determinative than the workers’ responses to evaluations, technology, or the reorganization of schools. Unfortunately, he mostly addresses the same old Reform 1.0 issues.  For instance, he speculates on whether management should use value-added to influence the distribution of teacher talent.

But, to get back to Goldhaber’s important questions, we can’t assume that policy-makers will be rational and/or benevolent. For instance, the way that teachers use online technology will be greatly influenced by whether those marvelous tools are supposed to be used to increase learning, or to lower costs, or to play statistical games to make accountability numbers look good.

Goldhaber concludes, “My guess is that making significant progress at scale will depend a great deal on policymakers being very purposeful about figuring what is working, and, importantly, what isn’t.”

Well, in that case, we’ve lost already.

But, if research on 2.0 reforms is thoughtful and well-grounded in evidence, and if we can repudiate this top-down approach to governance, our democracy can better thrash out bottom-up solutions. -JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


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Now that schools will be required to evaluate teachers using student test scores, all of the people who have been making money calculating statistics and running investigations now say it won't work.

The first real proof that the statistics were wrong happened when Bill Gates came out in favor of multiple measures. He had hired his own private army of statisticians to do the classroom observations and compare that to the value-added scores. When the team looked at all of the data, they warned Gates that the value-added measures were all over the place. Junk Science. Reformers hailed that carefully worded report as evidence of the importance of using student test data, but you did not hear much from the researchers after that was published. They knew better. Since then, Bill Gates has quietly slipped away from that conversation, hasn't he?

Now Goldhaber says value-added may not work for high school teachers. That is like the Soviet Union announcing that Brezhnev may have a head cold when he is in fact already dead. Next year, they will notice some unusual patterns in the elementary school results. The year after that, they will start talking about why teachers are so inconsistent in their teaching from one year to the next. Five years later, the Gates team can publish a book like Robert McNamara apologizing for not telling the truth when they knew it.

Anyone who wants to save their reputation should speak up now.

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