February 17, 2012
Contrasted against each other, this week’s two pieces of teacher evaluation news put some education reform groups in a tough spot.
As a deadline on a teacher evaluation deal neared, the groups anxiously supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s work to add weight to test scores for assessing teachers. But in the middle of those negotiations, a court decision on the release of the city’s teacher data reports reminded the public of the pitfalls of relying too heavily on data-driven metrics. Research into the reports had revealed a wide margin of error and instability from year to year.
So, for the most part, groups were mum about the legal ruling, which paves the way for a data dump of two-year-old “value-added” ratings for 12,000 city teachers.
The exception was Educators 4 Excellence, an upstart advocacy group that says it has support from thousands of city teachers. Although they are usually a thorn in the side of the United Federation of Teachers because of disagreement over senior-based layoffs and teacher evaluations, the two groups struck common ground on this issue.
E4E co-founder and co-CEO Evan Stone sent over an email Wednesday saying he was “disappointed” with the court’s decision to let the release go forward and said he thought making the ratings public would do little to boost the issue of improving teacher quality.
“While we strongly support teachers receiving quality feedback about their performance, including how much they’re helping their students progress on state tests, publicizing these results on the front page of newspapers will not help improve teacher effectiveness,” Stone said in a statement.
Stone’s comments, while not as sharply worded, echo the sentiments of UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Principals union head Ernest Logan piled on criticism of the decision as well yesterday.
“To rely on these reports to make a public judgment call about a teacher is unfortunate, especially considering that the reports are derived solely from problematic state exams that were administered several years ago,” Logan said in a statement.
E4E is the only reform-oriented group that I reached out to on Wednesday that had someting to say about the ratings’ release. Both TNTP and Teach For America, alternative certification programs whose combined alumni body totals more than 10,000 teachers currently working in the city school system, declined comment. TFA is not an organization that regularly comments on policy news, but TFA CEO Wendy Kopp has been outspoken in opposing the release of similar ratings in Los Angeles. Democrats for Education Reform, the hard-charging political action committee that supports data-driven teacher evaluations, also declined.
“I don’t think anyone supports this,” said Sean Corcoran, the New York University researcher who studied the city’s value-added algorithm and found they lacked reliability.
Corcoran said the prospect of publishing the ratings put teacher groups such as E4E, TNTP, and TFA in an uncomfortable position.
“It puts them all in a bad place,” Corcoran said. ”If you can believe in these kinds of data measures, why are you not willing to stand behind them in a more public way?”
The teacher rating release decision came at a delicate time. All of the reform groups have supported a state bid to toughen teacher evaluations that is based in part on a value-added system that is similar to the one once used to devise the city’s teacher ratings. To come out against releasing the information might sound like a vote of no confidence at time when they are on the brink of striking an evalaution deal.
Stone, who applauded Cuomo’s deal yesterday, added in his statement that E4E still supported a more comprehensive evaluation system.
“What will help is finally implementing a meaningful teacher evaluation system that assesses educators based on a variety of measures and that provides support and professional development to help them help their students,” he said.