Recently, I described how unreliable value-added testing is when used to determine teacher performance. Whenever I write about that subject, inevitably someone raises the suggestion, either in comments or email, of developing a better method of evaluating teachers, such as more frequent tests. But I think that’s missing the point–or, more accurately, the flawed assumption underlying the value added testing movement (aka ‘education reform’).
The basic assumption the reformers make is that most teachers could perform considerably better, if given proper incentives. And that assumption strikes me as utterly flawed. Think back to your own experience. If you’re old enough (sorry to depress you), you probably don’t remember many of your teachers–only the good or bad ones. But in many subject areas, you did learn the material. Most teachers, even if not of the caliber featured in movies starring Edward James Olmos, did their jobs. They all can’t be in the top ten percent–the Lake Wobegon Effect applies to teachers as well as students.
If you want some figures backing that up, keep in mind that U.S. students in schools with a poverty rate of less than ten percent are the best in the world according to the international PISA exam. Students in schools with ten to twenty five percent poverty are very competitive (and outclass countries with comparable poverty rates). Many teachers seem to be doing their jobs. Students at schools with high levels of poverty do score poorly, but maybe that has something to do with poverty?
When teaching is at fault, the issue isn’t often poor individual instruction, but curriculum and pedagogy. Let’s not even broach the subject of the incomplete teaching of biology (it would be nice if the reformers showed up for that fight). Value-added testing and performance-based hiring and firing won’t fix those problems. Real educational reform that focuses on teaching will.
Of course, the backdrop to all of this is the staggering number of households that qualify as low-income. But austerity and one percent inflation are more important, I guess…