The (Relentless) Will to Quantify

An article was just published in the esteemed, peer-reviewed journal Teachers College Record titled, “The Will to Quantify: The “Bottom Line” in the Market Model of Education Reform” and authored by Leo Casey – Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute. I will summarize its key points here (1) for those of you without the time to read the whole article (albeit worth reading) and (2) just in case the link above does not work for those of you out there without subscriptions to Teachers College Record.

In this article, Casey reviews the case of New York and the state department of education’s policy attempts to use New York teachers’ value-added data to reform the state’s public schools, “in the image and likeness of competitive businesses.” Casey interrogates this state’s history given the current, market-based, corporate reform environment surrounding (and swallowing) America’s public schools within New York, but also beyond.

Recall that New York is one of our states to watch, especially since the election of Governor Cuomo into the Governor’s office (see prior posts about New York here, here, and here). Accordingly, according to Casey as demonstrated in this article, this is the state to use to demonstrate how “[t]he market model of education reform has become a prisoner to a Nietzschean will to quantify, in which the validity and reliability of the actual numbers is irrelevant.”

In New York, using the state’s large-scale standardized tests in English/language arts and mathematics, grades 3 through 8, teachers’ value-added data reports were first developed for approximately 18,000 teachers throughout the state for three school years: 2007-2010. The scores were constructed with all assurances that these scores “would not be used for [teacher] evaluation purposes,” while the state department specifically identified tenure decisions and annual rating processes as two areas where teachers’ value-added scores “would play no role.” At that time the department of education also took a “firm position” that that these reports would not be disclosed or shared outside of the school community (i.e., with the public).

Soon, thereafter, however the department of education, “acting unilaterally,” began to use the scores in tenure decisions and began to, after a series of Freedom of Information requests, release the scores to the media, who in turn released the scores to the public at large. By February of 2012, teachers’ value-added scores were published by all  major New York media.

Recall these articles, primarily about the worst teachers in New York (see, for example, here, here, and here), and recall the story of Pascale Mauclair – a sixth-grade teacher in Queens who was “pilloried” in the New York Post as the city’s “worst teacher” based solely on her value-added reports. After a more thorough investigation, however, “Mauclair proved to be an excellent teacher who had the unqualified support of her school, one of the best in the city: her principal declared without hesitation or qualification that she would put her own child in Mauclair’s class, and her colleagues met Mauclair with a standing ovation when she returned to the school after the Post’s attack. Mauclair’s undoing had been her own dedication to teaching students with the greatest needs. As a teacher of English as a Second Language, she had taken on the task of teaching small self-contained classes of recent immigrants for the last five years.”

Nonetheless, the state department of education continued (and continues) to produce data for New York teachers “with a single year of test score data, and sample sizes as low as 10…When students did not have a score in a previous year, scores were statistically “imputed” to them in order to produce a basis for making a growth measure.”

These scores had, and often continue to have (also across states), “average confidence intervals of 60 to 70 percentiles for a single-year estimate. On a distribution that went from 0 to 99, the average margins of error in the [New York scores] were, by the [state department of education’s] own calculations, 35 percentiles for Math and 53 percentiles for English Language Arts. One-third of all [scores], the [department] conceded, were completely unreliable—that is, so imprecise as to not warrant any confidence in them. The sheer magnitude of these numbers takes us into the realm of the statistically surreal.” Yet the state continues to this day in its efforts to use these data despite the gross statistical and consequential human errors present.

This is, in the words of Casey, is “a demonstration of [extreme] professional malpractice in the realm of testing.” Yet educational reformers like Governor Cuomo as well as “Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, and a cohort of similarly minded education reformers across the United States, the fundamental problem with American public education is that it has been organized as a monopoly that is not subject to the discipline of the marketplace. The solution to all that ails public schools, therefore, is to remake them in the image and likeness of a competitive business. Just as private businesses rise and fall on their ability to compete in the marketplace, as measured by the ‘bottom line’ of their profit balance sheet, schools need to live or die on their ability to compete with each other, based on an educational ‘bottom line.’ If ‘bad’ schools die and new ‘good’ schools are created in their stead, the productivity of education improves. But to undertake this transformation and to subject schools to market discipline, an educational “bottom line” must be established. Standardized testing and value-added measures of performance based on standardized testing provide that ‘bottom line.”

Otherwise, some of the key findings taken from other studies Casey cited in this piece are also good to keep in mind:

  • “A 2010 U.S. Department of Education study found that value-added measures in general have disturbingly high rates of error, with the use of three years of test data producing a 25% error rate in classifying teachers as above average, average, and below average and one year of test data yielding a 35% error rate.” Nothing much has changed in terms of error rates here, so this study stills stands as one of the capstone pieces on this topic.
  • “New York University Professor Sean Corcoran has shown that it is hard to isolate a specific teacher effect from classroom factors and school effects using value-added measures, and that in a single year of test scores, it is impossible to distinguish the teacher’s impact. The fewer the years of data and the smaller the sample (the number of student scores), the more imprecise the value-added estimates.”
  • Also recall that “the tests in question [are/were] designed for another purpose: the measure of student performance, not teacher or school performance.” That is, these tests were designed and validated to measure student achievement, BUT they were never designed or validated for their current purposes/uses: to measure teacher effects on student achievement.

BATs, TNTs, and Others, Oh My

One of the most powerful benefits of blogging, in my opinion, is that I am able to connect with people from all over the country, who may have different backgrounds, but who share in the common mission to improve the field of education. I am honored to join a growing community of concerned citizens, parents, teachers, principals, scholars, and the like, in advocating for better education for all.

That being said, there are two grassroots organizations, in particular, that deserve recognition for their efforts in this area. They have also compelled me to fully endorse their movements—the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) and the TNT: Teaching Not Testing—A New Narrative for Education (Las Cruces, as based on my recent visit – see prior posts here and here).

The BATs, founded by Fordham Professor, Mark Naison, and long-time educator and activist, Priscilla Sanstead, is a grassroots organization made up of more than 50,000 educators, parents, and concerned citizens. Dr. Naison first described the group as a group “…for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.” The group has held strong to that original mission has since grown into a force with which to be reckoned. They organize and support various education rallies, meet with public officials and policymakers, and fight to have their voices heard.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the BATs and get involved. Here are some helpful links: here is the BAT Website, here is the BAT Facebook Group, and here are the BATs on Twitter: @BadassTeachersA.

The TNT: Teaching, Not Testing–A New Narrative for Education (Las Cruces), is another organization that I hope you will check out and also support. TNT is an action-oriented group made up of parents, educators, and community members who are interested in countering the current high-stakes testing reform movement. Linda, a TNT member said, “We like to make stuff happen. Talk is good, but action is necessary. We’ve got some serious strategies planned to counter this reform movement, both statewide and locally. We’re definitely one to watch, and would like to share our trials and victories with any other group fighting this same good fight.”

Otherwise, she described the group as: “…a group of concerned parents, students, teachers, and administrators who seek to offer a new narrative for education. We want to have a voice in bringing the high-stakes testing movement to an end. Teachers and students are the ones who suffer the most. We will have testimonial videos in the near future from students and retired teachers sharing their personal experiences about high-stakes testing. Current teachers and administrators live in fear of reprisal since approximately 50% of their evaluations are dependent on test scores. In addition, teachers have to sign a statement [in New Mexico] whereby they “will not disparage” the test. This group is committed to giving teachers a voice again and hopefully help to restore their dignity and respect as professionals.

You can check out TNT using the following: via the TNT Facebook Group or TNT Las Cruces on Twitter: @TNT_Las_Cruces

Thank you to those who continue to fight the good fight. Our students and teachers deserve our support, and together, we may actually be able to create the change our educational system so desperately needs.

Playing Fair: Factors that Influence VAM for Special Education Teachers

As you all know, value-added models (VAMs) are intended to measure a teacher’s effectiveness. By comparing students’ learning and the value that educators add, VAMs attempt to isolate the teacher’s impact on student achievement. VAMs focus on individual student progress from one testing period to the next, sometimes without considering past learning, peer influence, family environment or individual ability, depending on the model.

Teachers, administrators and experts have debated VAM reliability and validity, but not often mentioned is the controversy regarding the use of VAMs for teachers of special education students. Why is this so controversial? Because students with disabilities are often educated in general education classrooms, but generally score lower on standardized tests – tests that they often should not be taking in the first place. Accordingly, holding teachers of special education students accountable for their performance is uniquely problematic. For example, many special education students are in mainstream classrooms, with co-teaching provided by both special and general education teachers; hence, special education programs can present challenges to VAMs that are meant to measure straightforward progress.

Co-teaching Complexities

Research like “Co-Teaching: An Illustration of the Complexity of Collaboration in Special Education” outlines some of the specific challenges that teachers of special education can face when co-teaching is involved. But essentially, co-teaching is a partnership between a general and a special education teacher, who jointly instruct a group of students, including those with special needs and disabilities. The intent is to provide special education students with access to the general curriculum while receiving more specialized instruction to support their learning.

Accordingly, collaboration is key to successful co-teaching. Teams that demonstrate lower levels of collaboration tend to struggle more, while successful co-teaching teams share their expertise to motivate students. However, special education teachers often report differences in teaching styles that lead to conflict; they often feel regulated to the role of classroom assistant, rather than full teaching partner. This also has implications for VAMs.

For example, student outcomes from co-teaching vary. A 2002 study by Rea, McLaughlin and Walther-Thomas found that students with learning disabilities in co-taught classes had better attendance and report card grades, but no better performance on standardized tests. Another report showed that test scores for students with and without disabilities were not affected by co-teaching (Idol, 2006).

A 2014 study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching points out another issue that can make co-teaching more difficult in a special education settings; it can be difficult to determine value-added because it can be hard to separate such teachers’ contributions. Authors also assert that calculating value-added would be more accurate if the models used more detailed data about disability status, services rendered, and past and present accommodations made, but many states do not collect these data (Buzick, 2014), and even if they did there is no real level of certainty that this would work.

Likewise, inclusion brings special education students into the general classroom, eliminating boundaries between special education students and general education peers. However, special education teachers often voice opposition to general education inclusion as it relates to VAMs.

According to “Value-Added Modeling: Challenges for Measuring Special Education Teacher Quality” (Lawson, 2014) some of the specific challenges cited include:

  • When students with disabilities spend the majority of their day in general education classrooms, special education teacher effectiveness is distorted.
  • Quality special education instruction can be hindered by poor general education instruction.
  • Students may be pulled out of class for additional services, which makes it difficult to maintain progress and pace.
  • Multiple teachers often provide instruction to special education students, so each teacher’s impact is difficult to assess.
  • When special education teachers assist general education classrooms, their impact is not measured by VAMs.

And along with the complexities involved with teaching students with disabilities, special education teachers also deal with a number of constraints that impact instructional time and affect VAMs. Special education teachers also deal with more paperwork, including Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that take time to write and review. In addition, they must handle extensive curriculum and lesson planning, manage parent communication, keep up with special education laws and coordinate with general education teachers. While their priority may be to fully support each student’s learning and achievement, it’s not always possible. In addition, not everything special education teachers do can be appropriately captured using tests.

These are but a few reasons that special education teachers should question the fairness of VAMs.


This is a guest post from Umari Osgood who works at Bisk Education and writes on behalf of University of St. Thomas online programs.

More Bullying in New Mexico, Now of District School Boards

Following up on a recent post about “New Mexico UnEnchanted” and a follow-up post about how the state’s Public Education Department (PED) is also “Silencing [its] Educators” requiring them to sign contractual documents indicating they will not “diminish the significance or importance of the tests” in the state, it now seems the PED is also attempting to usurp the power and authority of its state’s local school boards. More specifically, the PED is actively seizing power and authority over local school districts’ teacher evaluation systems, and in this case the extent to which sick leave is to be used to hold teachers accountable for their effectiveness.

In New Mexico, courtesy of the PED, all school districts are to include teachers’ absences due to sick leave and personal leave when holding teachers accountable for their effectiveness every year. While teachers’ collective bargaining agreements stipulate that such teacher absences should not be part of teachers’ evaluations, the state has overruled such stipulations. “If a teacher misse[s] a week of school during the year because of serious illness or surgery, or because of their child’s illness, they [are to] automatically receive a low evaluation rating, according to PED rules.”

The main issue here occurred when the school board of the Las Cruces District – the state’s second largest district – passed a resolution that contradicted the state’s above-mentioned plan as pertinent to the teacher attendance component. The PED chief Hanna Skandera, thereafter, threatened a takeover of the school district by the state, after which the school board rescinded its resolution.

In an article released last week written by “New Mexico Senate Democrats [about] PED Bullying [in] Las Cruces Public Schools,” democratic senators are arguing that the PED is “overstepp[ing] its legal authority” in a state in which such “bullying tactics” have no place in educational policy. “This is unwarranted intrusion and interference in the matters of an elected local school board, and it is wrong.”

According to Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez, “PED is tearing up legal contracts to force teachers not to use sick leave they have bargained for successfully. PED’s action is big government telling elected local officials what to do. Ordinary citizens of New Mexico, and especially all those who regularly decry the intrusion of big government into our lives, should be very upset about what the Governor’s Public Education Department [PED] has done.” He added, “During the recent legislative session we passed, and Governor Martinez signed, a strong anti-bullying bill to clamp down on bullying in the school yard and online. I think next year we may need a bill to stop the Governor and state education bureaucrats from bullying local school boards.”

Even the pretty conservative editor Walt Rubel of the Las Cruces Sun News agrees that the “PED [is using extreme] Strong-Arm [aka bullying] Tactics Against [the] Local School Board.”

As written into this editorial, as per PED chief Hanna Skandera, “the powers and duties of the local board could be suspended by the state if the district “[fails] to meet requirements of law or department rules or standards.” Skandera added, “While this is surely an extreme and undesirable outcome, it may be a potential consequence should the Las Cruces School Board continue to act outside its authority and direct the [Las Cruces] superintendent to violate the law.” As per a PED spokesperson, in response to the school district backing down, “We are pleased with the outcome, recognizing the importance of working together toward a solution.”  

“Right!” – writes Editor Rubel. “The PED and the school board ‘worked together’ in the same way that a lion and an antelope work together to ensure that the lion remains well fed.”

“The problem for PED chief Hanna Skandera is that she has been completely unable to achieve buy-in from teachers, students and parents throughout the state for the reforms being imposed from Santa Fe by Gov. Susana Martinez. That was evident last month when hundreds of students in Las Cruces, and thousands throughout the state, walked out in protest of the first year of the new PARCC testing. They haven’t been able to win support for their reforms on the merits, so they have had to implement them by force and intimidation” and other similar bullying tactics.

Diane Ravitch v. Merryl Tisch on MSNBC

Diane Ravitch – former US Assistant Secretary of Education and current Research Professor of Education at New York University – recently went head-to-head with Merryl Tisch – Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents – about testing, or rather the “Testing Revolt” surrounding the opt-out movement, specifically, on MSNBC’s  “All In” host Chris Hayes. Click here to view the best version of the live broadcase I could find (via YouTube). Here are some of the highlights:

Chris Hayes compares opting out of high-stakes tests to opting out of immunizations, after which Diane responds that making such a comparison is completely inappropriate because “one has a scientific basis [and] the other has none.”

Merryl claims that the tests are diagnostic tools that are used to inform instruction and curriculum development, to which Diane responds about the inordinate numbers of hours students spend testing and how whatever formative value might come from such tests is grossly delayed whereas teachers do not receive results until well after their students have left their classrooms, which greatly limits formative potential.

Merryl has no response to that, that Chris aptly points out, but she defers rather to a peripheral argument that the public who spends $54 billion on education throughout the state has a right to what she did not term tests’ summative (i.e., opposite of formative) functionality.

Diane responds after a bit of redirection and explains how we test more than any other industrialized nation in the world, including the top 10 performing nations as per international exams. Interesting here, albeit not stated explicitly, is that we have been testing in this manner for over 30 years yet we still cannot break the top 10. Isn’t that an indicator in an of itself as our number one educational reform model  — increasing standards and attaching new and improved tests to measure and hold teachers and students to meeting those standards, over and over and over again — isn’t working?

Merryl ends by (falsely) explaining to parents they are inappropriately opting out because they have been trapped in a dispute caused by Governor Cuomo linking tests to teacher evaluation to which teachers unions are opposed. Diane was not given a chance to respond.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

No surprise, again, but Thomas Kane, an economics professor from Harvard University who also directed the $45 million worth of Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is publicly writing in support of VAMs, again (redundancy intended). I just posted about one of his recent articles published on the website of the Brookings Institution titled “Do Value-Added Estimates Identify Causal Effects of Teachers and Schools?” after which I received another of his articles, this time published by the New York Daily News titled “Teachers Must Look in the Mirror.”

Embracing a fabled metaphor, while not to position teachers as the wicked queens or to position Kane as Snow White, let us ask ourselves the classic question:”Who is the fairest one of all?” as we critically review yet another fairytale authored by Harvard’s Kane. He has, after all, “carefully studied the best systems for rating teachers” (see other prior posts about Kane’s public perspectives on VAMs here and here).

In this piece, Kane continues to advance a series of phantasmal claims about the potentials of VAMs, this time in the state of New York where Governor Andrew Cuomo intends to take the state’s teacher evaluation system up to a system based 50% on teachers’ value-added, or 100% on value-added in cases where a teacher rated as “ineffective” in his/her value-added score can be rated as “ineffective” overall. Here,  value-added could be used to trump all else (see prior posts about this here and here).

According to Kane, Governor Cuomo “picked the right fight.” The state’s new system “will finally give schools the tools they need to manage and improve teaching.” Perhaps the magic mirror would agree with such a statement, but research would evidence it vain.

As I have noted prior, there is absolutely no evidence, thus far, indicating that such systems have any (in)formative use or value. These data are first and foremost designed for summative, or summary, purposes; they are not designed for formative use. Accordingly, the data that come from such systems — besides the data that come from the observational components still being built into these systems that have existed and been used for decades past — are not transparent, difficult to understand, and therefore challenging to use. Likewise, such data are not instructionally sensitive, and they are untimely in that test-based results typically come back to teachers well after their students have moved on to subsequent grade levels.

What about Kane’s claims against tenure: “The tenure process is the place to start. It’s the most important decision a principal makes. One poor decision can burden thousands of future students, parents, colleagues and supervisors.” This is quite an effect considering the typical teacher being held accountable using these new and improved teacher evaluation systems as based (in this case largely) on VAMs typically impacts only teachers at the elementary level who teach mathematics and reading/language arts. Even an elementary teacher with a career spanning 40 years with an average of 30 students per class would directly impact (or burden) 1,200 students, maximum. This is not to say this is inconsequential, but as consequential as Kane’s sensational numbers imply? What about the thousands of parents, colleagues, and supervisors also to be burdened by one poor decision? Fair and objective? This particular mirror thinks not.

Granted, I am not making any claims about tenure as I think all would agree that sometimes tenure can support, keeping with the metaphor, bad apples. Rather I take claim with the exaggerations, including also that “Traditionally, principals have used much too low a standard, promoting everyone but the very worst teachers.” We must all check our assumptions here about how we define “the very worst teachers” and how many of them really lurk in the shadows of America’s now not-so-enchanted forests. There is no evidence to support this claim, either, just conjecture.

As for the solution, “Under the new law, the length of time it will take to earn tenure will be lengthened from three to four years.” Yes, that arbitrary, one-year extension will certainly help… Likewise, tenure decisions will now be made better using classroom observations (the data that have, according to Kane in this piece, been used for years to make all of these aforementioned bad decisions) and our new fair and objective, test-based measures, which not accordingly to Kane, can only be used for about 30% of all teachers in America’s public schools. Nonetheless, “Student achievement gains [are to serve as] the bathroom scale, [and] classroom observations [are to serve] as the mirror.”

Kane continues, scripting, “Although the use of test scores has received all the attention, [one of] the most consequential change[s] in the law has been overlooked: One of a teacher’s observers must now be drawn from outside his or her school — someone whose only role is to comment on teaching.” Those from inside the school were only commenting on one’s beauty and fairness prior, I suppose, as “The fact that 96% of teachers were given the two highest ratings last year — being deemed either “effective” or “highly effective” — is a sure sign that principals have not been honest to date.”

All in all, perhaps somebody else should be taking a long hard “Look in the Mirror,” as this new law will likely do everything but “[open] the door to a renewed focus on instruction and excellence in teaching” despite the best efforts of “union leadership,” although I might add to Kane’s list many adorable little researchers who have also “carefully studied the best systems for rating teachers” and more or less agree on their intended and unintended results in…the end.

Vanderbilt Researchers on Performance Pay, VAMs, and SLOs

Do higher paychecks translate into higher student test scores? That is the question two researchers at Vanderbilt – Ryan Balch (recent Graduate Research Assistant at Vanderbilt’s National Center on Performance Incentives) and Matthew Springer (Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education and Director of Vanderbilt’s National Center on Performance Incentives) – attempted to answer in a recent study of the REACH pay-for-performance program in Austin, Texas (a nationally recognized performance program model with $62.3 million in federal support). The study published in Education Economics Review can be found here, but for a $19.95 fee; hence, I’ll do my best to explain this study’s contents so you all can save your money, unless of course you too want to dig deeper.

As background (and as explained on the first page of the full paper), the theory behind performance pay is that tying teacher pay to teacher performance provides “strong incentives” to improve outcomes of interest. “It can help motivate teachers to higher levels of performance and align their behaviors and interests with institutional goals.” I should note, however, that there is very mixed evidence from over 100 years of research on performance pay regarding whether it has ever worked. Economists tend to believe it works while educational researchers tend to disagree.

Regardless, in this study as per a ResearchNews@Vanderbilt post put out by Vanderbilt highlighting it, researchers found that teacher-level growth in student achievement in mathematics and reading in schools in which teachers were given monetary performance incentives was significantly higher during the first year of the program’s implementation (2007-2008), than was the same growth in the nearest matched, neighborhood schools where teachers were not given performance incentives. Similar gains were maintained the following year, yet (as per the full report) no additional growth or loss was noted otherwise.

As per the full report as well, researchers more specifically found that students who were enrolled in the REACH program gained between 0.13 and 0.17 standard deviations greater gains in mathematics, and (although not as evident or highlighted in the text of the actual report, but within a related table) students who were enrolled in the REACH program gained between 0.10 and 0.05 standard deviations greater gains in reading, although these gains were also less significant in statistical terms. Curious…

While the method by which schools were matched was well-detailed, and inter-school descriptive statistics were presented to help readers determine whether in fact the schools sampled for this study were comparable (although statistics that would also help us determine whether the inter-school differences noted were statistically significant enough to pay attention to), the statistics comparing the teachers in REACH schools versus those not in REACH schools to whom they were compared were completely missing. Hence, it is impossible to even begin to determine whether the matching methodology used actually yielded comparable samples down to the teacher level – the heart of this research study. This is a fatal flaw that in my opinion should have prevented this study from being published, at least as is, as without this information we have no guarantees that teachers within these schools were indeed comparable.

Regardless, researchers also examined teachers’ Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) – the incentive program’s “primary measure of individual teacher performance” given so many teachers are still VAM-ineligible (see a prior post about SLOs, here). They examined whether SLO scores correlated with VAM scores, for those teachers who had both.

They found, as per a quote by Springer in the above-mentioned post, that “[w]hile SLOs may serve as an important pedagogical tool for teachers in encouraging goal-setting for students, the format and guidance for SLOs within the specific program did not lead to the proper identification of high value-added teachers.” That is, more precisely and as indicated in the actual study, SLOs were “not significantly correlated with a teacher’s value-added student test scores;” hence, “a teacher is no more likely to meet his or her SLO targets if [his/her] students have higher levels of achievement [over time].” This has huge implications, in particular regarding the still lacking evidence of validity surrounding SLOs.

Value-Added in the Courthouse

As I wrote in a recent post, I believe that the VAM “wars” will be won out in the courthouse, primarily given some of the key lawsuits currently underway across states (e.g., New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Texas), and despite the “landmark loss” last June with the “Vergara v. California” case.

In a recent article written by Emma Stone of The Washington Post, she also highlights how said “[c]ontentious teacher-related policies [are] moving from legislatures to the courts,” and how “[n]ow the largest unions in the country” are turning to the courts “to fight for one of their most pressing interests: An end to test-based evaluations they say are arbitrary and unfair.” This is ultimately “giving judges the chance to make decisions that could shape the way teachers are hired, fired and paid” well into the future.

Specifically highlighted in this article are the cases in New Mexico (click also here) and Tennessee (click also here and here), but there are two others still to watch in Texas (click here) and New York (click here). There is also another case in Florida in federal appeals court (click here).

As per Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT:) “There will be more challenges because things are not being seen as credible and fair…What we’ve gotten to is this routinized, mechanized displacement of human judgment, and that’s what I think you’re seeing — that is the underlying issue that is the root of this agita about evaluations.” She added “It’s ridiculous that we have to go to the courts,” but  education officials (really across states) and “other supporters of test-based evaluation are deaf to evidence that the evaluations aren’t working.”

As the counterpoint, Eric Hanushek – Economist, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the (conservative) Hoover Institution of Stanford University, and visible/active supporter of VAMs for teacher evaluation – responded that “[e]ssentially teacher unions don’t want any evaluation,” adding that  “[t]hat’s what [the unions are] angling for.”

I try to refrain from cursing (most of the time) but I’m tempted on this one…especially given an “academic” made such a non-academic comment given (most of) the current research on the topic and despite (and in spite of) the “growing number of groups” that have voiced research-informed skepticism about VAMs, in particular regarding their uses for teacher evaluation. These groups include, most notably, the National Academy of Education (NAE), of which Hanushek is a member, the American Statistical Association (ASA), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), to name a few.

The Silencing of the Educators: A Shocking Idea, and Trending

In a recent post I published titled, “New Mexico UnEnchanted,” I described a great visit I recently made to Las Cruces to meet with students, parents, teachers, school board members, state leaders, and the like. In this post, I also described something I found shocking as I had never heard of this before. Under the “leadership” of Hanna Skandera — former Florida Deputy Commissioner of Education under former Governor Jeb Bush and head of the New Mexico Public Education Department — teachers throughout the state are being silenced.

New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to “diminish the significance or importance of the tests” (see, for example, slide 7 here) or they could lose their jobs. Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts. At my main presentation in New Mexico, a few teachers even approached me after “in secret” whispering their concerns in fear of being “found out.” Rumor also has it that Hanna Skandera has requested the names and license numbers of any teachers who have helped or encouraged students to protest the state’s “new” PARCC test(s), as well.

One New Mexico teacher asked whether “this is a quelling of free speech and professional communication?” I believe it most certainly is a Constitutional violation. I am also shocked to now find out that something quite similar is occurring in my state of Arizona.

Needless to say, neither of our states (or many states typically in the sunbelt for that matter) are short on bad ideas, but this is getting absolutely ridiculous, especially as this silencing of the educators seems to be yet another bad idea that is actually trending?

As per a recent article in our local paper – The Arizona Republic – Arizona “legislators want to gag school officials” in an amendment to Senate Bill 1172 that will prohibit “an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district’s or charter school’s behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”

The charge is also that this is a retaliatory move by AZ legislators, in response to a series of recent protests in response to serious budget cuts several weeks ago. “Perhaps [this is] to keep [educators] from talking about how the legislature has shortchanged Arizona’s school kids by hundreds of millions of dollars since the recession, and how the legislature is still making it nearly impossible for many districts to take care of even [schools’] most basic needs.”

In addition, is this even Constitutional? An Arizona Schools Boards Association (ASBA) spokesperson is cited as responding, saying “SB 1172 raises grave constitutional concerns. It may violate school and district officials free speech rights and almost certainly chills protected speech by school officials and the parents and community members that interact with them. It will freeze the flow of information to the public that seeks to ascertain the impact of pending legislation on their schools and children’s education.”

As per a related announcement released by the ASBA, this “could have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of school and district officials” throughout the state but also (likely) beyond if this continues to catch on. School officials may be held “liable for a $5,000 civil fine just for sharing information on the positive or negative impacts of proposed legislation to parents or reporters.”

Time to fight back, again. If you are a citizen of Arizona (citizens only) and feel that the Arizona community (and potentially beyond) is entitled to the free flow of information and that free speech is worth protecting, click here to contact your legislators to oppose SB1172.

Calling all Teachers with Something to Say about NCLB’s Overhaul!

The week of April 13th the Senate Education Committee will begin to markup legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for the first time in more than a decade. This controversial law signed by President Bush in 2001 intended to make sure schools were doing a good job educating children, success was measured by test scores and funding was tied to success. The NCLB has angered parents and teachers alike and become a hot rod in the partisan education debate. A revamping of the NCLB could signal a new era in education in the United States and The Takeaway wants to know how teachers would change this legislation to benefit their students.

In case you’re not familiar with it: The Takeaway is an award-winning daily news show produced by WNYC in partnership with The New York Times and Public Radio International.  The show airs across the country on more than 200 stations, reaching upwards of 2 million listeners nationwide.

To share your thoughts on what should or shouldn’t be included in the overhaul of No Child Left Behind please send a voice memo to alternatively you can also leave us a voicemail at 877-8-MY-TAKE.

Please include in your response your name and location, what you teach and how long you’ve been teaching.

Amber (below) is happy to answer any additional questions and can be reached at

Amber Hall

Amber Hall | Planning Editor, The Takeaway