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Thompson: Gates Scholar, Tom Kane, Continues the Fight to Prove He Is Right

Tom Kane’s Climate Change and Value-Added: New Evidence Requires New Thinking, in Education Next, continues his recent, obsessive meme. Kane keeps arguing that he was right and those who oppose value-added evaluations are wrong.

Kane starts by criticizing the polarization of the debate over value added. Even as he does so, Kane must understand that the evaluation model he favors can only function if it is trusted. But, both sides have long ago staked out their positions. The opportunity to persuade educators that VAMs are trustworthy is ancient history.

Kane continues to fight in the same old way over arcane statistical controls and theories that have no relevance in regard to real world policy. He acknowledges that value-added estimates for teachers are volatile and then replies, “for many purposes, such as tenure or retention decisions, it is not the ‘year to year’ correlation that matters, but the ‘year-to-career.’”

No! What matters for individuals is the “year to year” correlation of their value-added score to their actual effectiveness in their annual evaluations.

Why would top teachers remain in the inner city when VAMs give them an unknown but signficant chance PER YEAR of having their careers damaged or destroyed due to circumstances beyond their control? Why would we risk the humiliation of being placed on a Plan for Improvement, being on the chopping block, and facing constant indignities for a second year under a VAM which misfired in its “year to year” correlation with actual effectiveness? After one of those inexplicable drops in the annual estimates of their effectiveness, accomplished teachers will likely look at that first “Below Satisfactory” evaluation, tell their principal to take this job and shove it, and transfer to a lower-poverty school.

Kane then changes the subject back to himself, and Doug Staiger, who “found that of those teachers who were in the bottom quartile of value-added in a single year, 55 to 65 percent were in the bottom quartile over their careers.” But, again, they cannot determine how much of that low value-added is due to the teacher, as opposed to the circumstances in the teacher’s school. Neither can they estimate how many teachers’ careers will be destroyed by the failures of those statistical models.

In the last part of his special pleading, Kane continues to misrepresent the policy implications of other value-added studies, while studiously avoiding the words “sorting” and “peer pressure,” and the way they render VAMs useless for annual evaluations of individuals. He then compares those who disagree with his reading of research by his fellow advocates of test-driven accountability as climate change deniers.

So, as new evidence emerges, we can anticipate more of Kane’s tried and true method of blaming everyone else for the defeat of his grand theory. He will continue to employ weird metaphors, such as comparing his opponents to climate change deniers, dieters without scales, or professional football coaches with the power to draft the nation’s top talent and pay them millions of dollars. Kane will likely then keep up his practice of ignoring policy issues and criticizing educators who do not see the glory of his vision. But, the next batch of research, whether it supports or refutes Kane’s hypotheses, will likely be accompanied by another of his laughable new analogies.-JT (@drjohnthompson)


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