“VAM with a Vengeance” on the Ballot in Missouri

On this election day, the state of Missouri is worth mentioning as it has a very relevant constitutional amendment on its ballot for the day. As featured on Diane Ravitch’s blog a few days ago here, this (see below) is “the worst constitutional amendment to appear on any state ballot in 2014.”


“It ties teacher evaluation to student test scores. It bans collective bargaining about teacher evaluation. It requires teachers to be dismissed, retained, promoted, demoted, and paid based primarily on the test scores of their students. It requires teachers to enter into contracts of three years or less, thus eliminating seniority and tenure.

This is VAM with a vengeance.

This ballot resolution is the work of the far-right Show-Me Institute, funded by the multi-millionaire Rex Sinquefeld. He is a major contributor to politics in Missouri and to ALEC.

The Center for Media and Democracy writes about him:

‘Sinquefield is doing to Missouri what the Koch Brothers are doing to the entire country. For the Koch Brothers and Sinquefield, a lot of the action these days is not at the national but at the state level.’

‘By examining what Sinquefield is up to in Missouri, you get a sobering glimpse of how the wealthiest conservatives are conducting a low-profile campaign to destroy civil society.’

‘Sinquefield told The Wall Street Journal in 2012 that his two main interests are “rolling back taxes” and “rescuing education from teachers’ unions.’

‘His anti-tax, anti-labor, and anti-public education views are common fare on the right. But what sets Sinquefield apart is the systematic way he has used his millions to try to push his private agenda down the throats of the citizens of Missouri.”

“Highly Regarded” Teacher Suing New York over “Ineffective” VAM Scores

According to a recent Washington [Blog] Post written by Valerie Strauss, in New York a 17-year veteran and current 4th grade teacher, recognized by the district superintendent as having a “flawless” teaching record and being “highly regarded as an educator,” is suing the state of New York over her VAM scores that have just placed her in the “ineffective” teacher category. This is, and will prove to be very important for her and perhaps other teachers’ in general, or who might also engage in similar legal actions elsewhere.

In this case, though, the teacher’s “students consistently outperform state averages on math and English standardized tests,” and the superintendent signed an affidavit on her behalf saying “her record is flawless” and that “she is highly regarded as an educator.” In addition, he noted “[her] classroom observations have consistently identified her as an exceptional educator,” among other praises.

So, “[h]ow is it that a teacher known for excellence could be rated ‘ineffective’?” One guess: VAM.

“[T]he New York State Growth Measures [i.e., New York’s version of VAM] ‘actually punishes excellence in education through a statistical black box which no rational educator or fact finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.” For example, “[i]n 2012-13, 68.75 percent of her students met or exceeded state standards in both English and math. She was labeled “effective” that year. In 2013-14, her students’ test results were very similar but she was rated “ineffective.” This likely occurred because she did not “grow” her students as much the second year as compared to her comparison group of peers, although any system that can be used to rate the same teacher “effective” one year and “ineffective” the next should raise eyebrows, naturally. As per the lawsuit, “This simply [and obviously] makes no sense, both as a matter of statistics and as a matter of rating teachers based upon slight changes in student performance from year to year.”

This is certainly one to watch, and I look forward to other teachers following her lead as this is something likely to ultimately be won in the courthouse. Onward!