More than 12,000 New York City Teacher Data Reports will be released today, after a judge ruled Tuesday against the United Federation of Teachers’ argument that disclosing the ratings violates the teachers’ privacy rights. The Teacher Data Reports look like this. The ratings are based on value-added scores. They do not include value-added as one of several measures of performance. Although this is likely to be misunderstood by the millions who will read these ratings, since news outlets will likely print names, ratings and probably the “what data is being used” chart that lists state test scores, years teaching, and “other factors that can influence student achievement.” Those are the measures used to calculate value-added, by itself just one measure, which is why it’s important that Bill Gates is jumping in to make the multiple measures argument.
Gates writes that “publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.” He goes on to say that making teacher reports public is doing it “on the cheap” and underestimates the resources it will take to really improve teacher quality. “Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment,” he concludes.
He has his own foundation’s research to point to–the latest Gates report on effective teaching shows that teacher evaluation systems are most valid and reliable when they incorporate multiple measures. And plenty of others to back him up on the idea that value-added, by itself, isn’t a good measure, that the measure is unstable and incomplete. And now, unsurprisingly, he is being applauded by the union and union-related orgs, who’ve been arguing from the start that publishing teacher ratings like this—or at all—is a bad idea. A blame or a shame game. Some think it’s ironic that the man who is funding the nation’s biggest push for new teacher evaluation systems is now trying to put on the brakes. I think it’s more likely a reasonable reaction to an impending train wreck. Gates knows that the whole teacher evaluation reform movement will ultimately fail if teachers don’t own it. And for teachers to own it, they need to see meaning in it. They need to know it’s relevant to their work, that it helps them do their job. If it is a high-stakes distraction, a PR blitz every spring when results are released, it won’t work.
Here at Education Sector, we’re analyzing results right now from a national survey of public school teachers. Teachers are saying that evaluation is improving, that it is more meaningful (we first asked in 2007). They are also warming to value-added as a measure of performance. What do we do with this? We could help teachers to understand what value-added scores mean (and what they don’t), how they can be incorporated into an assessment and development system, and what this system would mean for the evaluation and improvement of their work, and for their students’ performance? This is happening in a lot of places, which explains why teachers nationally think evaluation is getting better. Another thing would be to publicly report on a single measure (that the city is not even using anymore in this way). This, I’m certain, will cool off any spark of support we might be seeing among teachers (let’s see what NYC teachers say about it). As for the public and parents’ right to know, they deserve not only transparency but also our best attempt at accuracy. And we know this isn’t it.