OP-ED | Legislate Based On Research, Not Hyperbole
Earlier this week, Rae Ann Knopf of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform wrote an op-ed opposing raised bill SB 1097, urging Connecticut to “stay strong” in support of the so-called Big Six corporate education reform agenda. Other than a lot of dramatic hyperbole, she neglected to actually say much about what was the matter with the bill.
I’ll be a bit more specific about one of the good things the bill does — it delays the implementation of a costly, inadequately tested teacher evaluation system for which there is a large body of research showing the negative impact on both student learning and teacher collaboration and instruction — not to mention morale.
One hopes our legislators have been paying attention to the experience of our neighbors in New York as they listen to advocates from the Big Six (ConnCan, CCER, CBIA, CAPSS, CAS, and CABE). According to March report by the New York State School Boards Association and based on an analysis of data from 80 school districts, the districts outside the state’s five largest cities expect to spend an average of $155,355 on the state’s new evaluation system this year.
That’s $54,685 more than the average federal Reach To the Top grant awarded to districts to implement the program.
“Our analysis . . . shows that the cost of this state initiative falls heavily on school districts,” says Executive Director Timothy Kremer of the New York State School Boards Association. “This seriously jeopardizes school districts’ ability to meet other state and federal requirements and properly serve students.”
At a time when Connecticut’s towns and cities already face the potential for significant state aid reductions based on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget, is it any wonder that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities testified in favor of delaying a system that is proving costly and problematic elsewhere?
That’s before we even get to the whole question of whether this is the best way to evaluate teachers or to most effectively spend our tax dollars to educate our children. Meanwhile we just allow policy to be dictated to us by Washington and various billionaire funded foundations (Gates, Walton, Broad).
JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), recently penned a must-read editorial, The Danger of Misguided Evaluations.
“In a January survey of NASSP and NAESP members, nearly half of respondents indicated that 30 percent or more of their teacher evaluations are now tied to student achievement,” Bartoletti wrote. “There is no research supporting the use of that kind of percentage, and even if the research recommended it, states don’t have data systems sophisticated enough to do value-added measurement (VAM) well.”
Bartoletti continued, “Still, the test-score proportion on evaluations will increase at a time when we predict that test scores will decrease. These evaluation systems will be put in place just as the Common Core State Standards assessments roll out in 2014. This volatile combination could encourage many teachers and principals to leave the profession or at least plan their exit strategies. I don’t want to attribute a malicious intent to anyone, but if policymakers were going to come up with a plan to discredit and dismantle public education, it’s hard to think of a more effective one.”
It’s ironic that corporate education reformers talk about “the children” and “stakeholders,” but what they really mean is themselves — it’s about money, not children.
Take in contrast, the town of Madison, where an innovative educator with a capital “E,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice, was concerned by the emphasis on test scores in the evaluation plan and worked with all the interested parties — parents, teachers, and community members — to create a more meaningful, research-based evaluation system that truly reflects the educational goals of the community.
Madison strives to “develop students’ capacities to think critically and creatively, to put ideas into action, to collaborate purposefully, and to act ethically and with resilience.”
The Madison committee did an extensive review of current research and literature regarding the Value Added Model (or MET, as the Gates Foundation, which has spent a bundle promoting the idea, prefers to call it) and found that the research shows that using such an approach in teacher evaluations has a negative impact on both student learning and teacher instruction. What’s more — and here’s where I really admire the people of Madison for taking a stand and only wish I could get Greenwich to do the same — “essential skills, such as critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and ethical and responsible decision-making, which are the highest priorities of the Madison Public Schools, are marginalized in pursuit of higher test scores.”
It’s about time legislators stopped listening to propaganda and started paying attention to research. Otherwise, we’re just going to pour more money down the drain without really serving our children or preparing them to live as educated, effective, employable, and ethical citizens in 21st century society.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.