"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Against Evaluating Massachusetts Teachers Using Student Test Scores

I recently posted on the national push by the U. S. Chamber of Horrors put teacher evaluation by test score into every state, even the bluest states.  Corporate control is a post-partisan issue simply because the SCOTUS decision allowing unlimited political spending by corporations makes them necessary to any politician.  They own the game, and they will continue to own it until that decision is overturned or until we have a Constitutional amendment.

And so today the State Board of Ed passed in a hurried, confused, and insulting way a proposition to put in place a new evaluation scheme using test scores to evaluate teachers. By the way, the state board of Ed is so business friendly that they hate to be called the state board, preferring instead the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  No state, no board.  Both bad.  

The AFT chief dipdog was there to declare his victory in strong-arming the membership to support this travesty, and the MTA folks had some muddy rhetoric that could easily be read as supportive or non-supportive.  So a 60 day public comment period has begun, and I hope you you will have something to say.  I had a little bit to say today, using my three minutes in slightly shortened version of what you see below.

Statement at the MA DESE Meeting, April 27, 2011
Jim Horn

For the teachers who are growing our future today and can't be here, I speak against this latest plan by the Business Roundtable to further cripple our public schools, to more profoundly objectify our children, to pull apart the teacher-child relationship built on caring and trust.

This new corporate reform represents a well-funded form of bullying at the highest levels, not by elected officials or their appointees, but by unelected oligarchs whose hostile ideology threatens a takeover of public institutions in order to hold steerage of an economy whose jobs they have been shipped abroad, where children who can’t read or write work for slave wages to make the goods that Americans once made.

Corporate meddling in schools is nothing new.  At the turn of the 20th Century, efficiency zealots insisted that schools operate as efficiently as the Henry Ford’s new production lines.  Bolstered by the new psychometrics, and inspired by eugenics, those scientific managers kicked off the first orgy of tabulation in American schools, replete with scandalous IQ and achievement tests used to drive class wedges into the heart of the common school.

It took an economic depression and a world war to end that testing crusade, but it didn’t take long for a similar sorting machine to replace it, and another one after that with a new corporate label—accountability.  So for the past 30 years we’ve devoted enormous energies to more sorting the poor by testing, that deform children, debase our ethics, and blow up our public schools, thus leaving urban poor kids more intensely segregated in corporate welfare charter schools built on a chain gang pedagogy that accepts no excuses, not even hunger or homelessness.

Even so, public school teachers of the Commonwealth persist in their noble work of teaching children, and teaching them well despite the unending attacks in the media. 

In January, in fact, Governor Patrick announced that our 4th graders tied for first, and 8th graders tied for second on the most recent NAEP tests, having led the nation since 2005.  On the 2007 TIMSS international math and science test, our 4th graders ranked second worldwide and 8th graders tied for first.  If it weren’t for the bottom quintile of poor kids, in fact, most states’ schools would be ranked among the top countries in the world.

So what is the crisis to be averted this time by making test scores even more high stakes? Beneath the threadbare corporate veil of concern for achievement, we find here a transparent attack on teachers, on academic freedom, job security and autonomy, and on the teacher-student bond as teaching and learning give way even more to testing production.  To achieve these goals is essential, however, if children and teachers are to be molded to fit a global economy with fewer local options and more dead end jobs. 

One teacher recently interviewed spoke facetiously or cynically (it is hard to tell the difference these days) of how students may soon enter her classroom labeled as “pay cut” or “bonus.”  This is harsh, but the reality is that a model that explicitly ties children’s scores to monetary worth creates such an atmosphere. Even effective and empathic teachers will be aware of how individual students may influence their own family’s economic security. Tying teacher pay or job security to test scores will not make teachers more accountable for student achievement, but it will have a deadly impact on the now tenuous relationship at the heart of student learning and growth. 

This whole business of using value-added testing to evaluate teachers requires much more research before it can ever be done responsibly.  I urge you to heed the National Research Council findings instead of parroting papers by the New Teacher Project or Education Trust or NCTQ,  whose funders control both sides of the aisle of that same corporate jet fueled by tax credits.  Don’t turn children into Pay Cut Sally or Bonus Billy based on their socioeconomic status before they ever sit down at a desk.  This is bad policy that threatens to finish off the profession and to turn teaching toward a low-level child management occupation of last resort. 

When the disgusted Spanish philosopher Unamuno confronted the fascist General Milan Astray in 1936, he said:

         You will win because you have more than enough brute force. But you will not convince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right in the struggle. I consider it futile to exhort you to think of Spain.

I do not think it futile to exhort you to help preserve the teacher-child relationship in Massachusetts.  We are not yet a corporate dictatorship.  In the meantime, the teachers, parents, and other active citizens of the Commonwealth are not persuaded.  Reason and Right are lacking. We shall continue to stand for Reason and Right and to resist all else.


  1. According the National Research Council, more research definitely needs to be done, but not on the value-added measure itself. They suggested implementing more pilot programs so it can be used more effectively in evaluating teachers. They were clear in that they thought is was a useful measure, but that it should be part of a multifaceted evaluation program. Is the state of Massachusetts suggesting an evaluation program solely based on value-added?

  2. Alexandra,

    From the way you are mis-reading the NRC message, I would suggest you have a real future with Gates and Duncan as a point person in the ongoing misinformation campaign. Here's the relevant part of what the NRC Memo said:

    While the Council supports the further development of data collecting systems that can link students and their teachers, they see this “as essential for conducting research related to the full range of potential approaches for evaluating educators and for developing pilot programs for evaluation approaches that will one day become operational.”

    They expressed concerns that the department's proposal ”places too much emphasis on measures of growth in student achievement (1) that have not yet been adequately studied for the purposes of evaluating teachers and principals and (2) that face substantial practical barriers to being successfully deployed in an operational personnel system that is fair, reliable, and valid.”
    Source: http://blogcea.org/2009/10/14/national-research-council-issues-caution-on-value-added-assessment/