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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

TN's Deal with the Devil, Part 2

Updated April 17.

See Part 1 here.

In 2010 Tennessee got a check from Race to the Top for $501 million.  TN quickly moved to do everything their successful grant application had promised: adopt Common Core, build even bigger data systems on top of the VAM system that had been in place since 1992, uncap charter school expansion, and create a teacher evaluation system based on VAM student test scores.

By November 2011, Tennessee's new system for using test scores to evaluate teachers had made big news in the New York Times.  Michael Winerip wrote:
The new rules, enacted at the start of the school year [2011-2012], require Mr. Shelton to do as many observations for his strongest teachers — four a year — as for his weakest. “It’s an insult to my best teachers,” he said, “but it’s also a terrible waste of time.”
Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

It didn't take long for Commissioner of Education for TN, Kevin Huffman, to begin making modifications that might save the new system from drowning in own weight of paper, as all teachers were required to be evaluated 4 times each year. Observations would count as half the evaluation score, as testing in one form or another would make the other 50 percent of a teacher's score.

At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, the state's corporate ed reform office, the Gates Foundation and SCORE (State Collaborative On Reforming Education) reported that there were wide discrepancies between some principal observation scores and teachers' student test scores.  

The solution provided by Huffman: re-educate principals to bring their observation scores in line with the lower ratings derived from test scores.  None of the Kevin Huffman's former TFA advisors suggested that the tests might be off, even though researchers had already established that TN's VAM system could be depended upon to produce incorrect scores for 25 percent of TN's teachers each year (at least those teachers with test scores to report):
One of the most egregious shortcomings of VAM for educational purposes is that 1 in 4 teachers is mislabeled when using three years of data.  It would take ten years of data, in fact, to get the error rate down to 12 percent (Schochet & Chang, 2010). 
By the end of 2014, teachers had documented how the VAM system in Tennessee is unfair, unreliable, and invalid.  They filed a federal lawsuit in early 2015 against the state, Governor Haslam, and Kevin Huffman.

Since 2011, SCORE has been headed up by lawyer, Junior Leaguer, and former state legislator, Jamie Woodson, who likes to take her mind off the challenge of spinning bad news into good by working around the stables of her horse farm in East Tennessee: "I just enjoy the sight, the smells and the sounds of horses and the labor that it takes to tend to them properly."  Umm.

As a legislator, Woodson was a sponsor for the bill that created charter schools in Tennessee, and she remains a loyal supporter of whatever it takes to replace public schools with charter schools across the state. Not surprisingly, Woodson acknowledges that SCORE's educational mission is the same as that to that of the Gates Foundation: "SCORE's mission is to ensure that every child graduates high school prepared for college or a career through its programs and activities. . ."

Earlier in 2015 SCORE released it annual report on the state's effort to be "First to the Top."  (See Part 1 as it relates to that fantasy.)  The report noted that the state had made progress in reducing the number of teachers whose evaluations are based on another teacher's scores.  Details will be shared in Part 3.

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