As someone who ran call centers for fifteen years, I can attest to the necessity of objective measures in analyzing performance and mission success. For tasks where direct and constant supervision is impossible, the development of performance metrics is critical to determine whether an organization accomplishes its tasks regularly and reliably, and which employees succeed or fail individually. This applies in education, perhaps especially, where teachers inevitably make the determination of success or failure with little or no supervision at all, and therefore their own success or failure, except for test programs that measure student achievement objectively rather than in an entirely subjective manner.
The Los Angeles Times apparently agrees. They began performing comparative analyses of student test results based on teacher assignments and discovered that the LA Unified School District has a significant number of teachers holding back student progress. For this, the teachers union has called for a boycott of the newspaper:
The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.
“You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.
So what metric should people use to evaluate teachers? Parents of LAUSD students have discovered over the years that they can’t rely on report cards to determine the quality of teachers. That lesson gets underscored in the Times’ review of the database:
After a single year with teachers who ranked in the top 10% in effectiveness, students scored an average of 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math than students whose teachers ranked in the bottom 10%. Students often backslid significantly in the classrooms of ineffective teachers, and thousands of students in the study had two or more ineffective teachers in a row.
What. A. Shock. Students with effective teachers perform better on tests, while students with ineffective teachers lose ground. Next thing we’ll hear is that water is wet.
Was this an innovative use of the database? Not exactly, as the Times reports, but the district has refused to do it themselves. Does anyone wonder why?
The district has had the ability to analyze the differences among teachers for years but opted not to do so, in large part because of anticipated union resistance, The Times found.
At least the Times has proven that right. It did lead to some interest among teachers, though:
The paper received nearly 500 reader comments on Sunday’s article. And nearly 300 teachers submitted e-mails to The Times to ask for their own value-added scores.
Many teachers were highly critical of The Times’ decision to publish educators’ names and their results. One teacher called it “a disgrace.” Others, however, said it would foster a healthy discussion.
Like it or not, teachers in public schools are public employees. They get paid by taxpayer funds. They have to be accountable for their performance to the public. The union seems to disagree with this concept, however, and wants to intimidate the Times into silence in order to prevent that kind of accountability.
Good managers know that objective measures are not the end-all, be-all of employee evaluation. The selection of students in classrooms likely impacts aggregated test scores for individual teachers, at least in short-term analysis. Competent administrators would take a number of issues into account when making their assessments of faculty and staff. However, deliberately ignoring the one significant tool in providing objective measurements isn’t good management; it’s spinelessness. Parents and taxpayers deserve better performance and better accountability.