VAM “Heavyweights” Headed to New York

Last week I received an email from the New York State Education Commissioner inviting me to participate on a panel, to be held during a Learning Summit on Teacher and Principal Evaluation this Thursday, May 7, 2015, in the state’s capitol – Albany. This event is being hosted by the New York State Board of Regents, in conjunction with the New York State Education Department. Unfortunately, given the two-week notice and a prior engagement, I had to decline (as did others including Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and New York University’s Sean Corcoran, to name a few).

Regardless, recall that New York is one of our states to watch, especially since the election of Governor Cuomo and the state’s collective efforts to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system (see prior posts about New York here, here, here, and here). Accordingly, this event will also be one “to watch.” Also interesting “to watch” will be how much influence this panel of experts will actually have on New York’s teacher evaluation policy, for better or worse.

I write “for better or worse” in that, as per a recent article released by Chalkbeat New York — a news site covering educational change in New York schools — the “heavyweights” who will actually be making the trip to Albany “represent many sides of the contentious debates around how to rate [and evaluate] teachers.”

The experts on the pro-Cuomo side include:

  • Thomas Kane — the Professor of Economics from Harvard University who directed the $45 million worth of Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who has been the source of many prior (and not so positive) posts on this blog (see, for example, here and here), and who within the last couple of weeks wrote an op-ed piece praising Governor Cuomo for his state’s new teacher evaluation plans (see a prior post about this here). He in and of himself is “one to watch” in that he is not often one to support his pro-VAM claims with much evidence. Hopefully the panel will take note.
  • Catherine Brown — Vice President of Educational Policy at the Center for American Progress, which in general supports and endorses the use of VAMs.
  • Sandi Jacobs — former charter corps member with Teach For America (TFA) and current Vice President at the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), that according to Chalkbeat New York, is “an organization that has pushed states to adopt stringent evaluation systems that rely more on student learning measures.”
  • Leslie Guggenheim — Vice President overseeing New Teacher Effectiveness at The New Teacher Project (TNTP), the advocacy organization whose influential “The Widget Effect” report asserted that all teachers are being rated good or great (which should be impossible in a country not academically competing with Finland and Shanghai) because current teacher evaluation systems are preventing “us” from truly identifying exceptional teachers from their not-so-exceptional colleagues.

The experts on “the other side” include:

  • Jesse Rothstein — the University of California, Berkeley Associate Professor of Economics who has researched and written extensively about VAMs, who is most well-known for his work on how the non-random of sorting students into teachers’ classrooms biases VAM output (and accordingly distorts the validity of the inferences to be made as based on VAM output; see, for example, here, here, and here), who also analyzed Kane’s MET data and “found substantial differences in value-added scores for the same teacher when different tests were used,” who has engaged in other debates with Thomas Kane (see, for example, here), and who has also been the source of many prior posts on this blog (see, for example, here and here).
  • Aaron Pallas — Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University who, according to Chalkbeat New York, has “been critical of New York’s system and served as an expert witness in lawsuits brought by teachers unions challenging low teacher ratings.”
  • Stephen Caldas — professor at Manhattanville College who, according to Chalkbeat New York, “once called New York’s evaluation system “psychometrically indefensible.”

Nonetheless, “[i]t’s unclear what influence the researchers and policy analysts will have on the state’s work, given that much of the evaluation system has [already] been prescribed….[yet]…[o]fficials are required by law to collect public comment on how to design the regulations that will govern how a teacher’s performance in the classroom gets graded, a process that must be complete by the end of June.”

Do stay tuned.