Breaking News from Tennessee: Another Lawsuit Challenging Value-Added Use for Elective Teachers

Just announced late this week, in an article in The Tennessean and another in Chalkbeat Tennessee, is that the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), the state’s largest teacher’s union, filed a lawsuit against the governor, state education commissioner, Tennessee Board of Education, the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, and the Anderson County Schools Board of Education. They are challenging the use of state test scores to conduct teacher evaluations for teachers of non-state-tested grades and subject areas (i.e., elective teachers), and they are doing this with the full support of the National Education Association (see here).

While in Tennessee the state uses tests to test grade 3-8 grade students in mathematics, science, English, and social studies, two teachers in particular are part of the lawsuit charging that because they taught physical education and visual arts, one did not receive a bonus and the other lost her tenure eligibility, respectively, because test scores of students they did not teach in said subject areas were incorporated into their teacher evaluations.

Recall that this is the state that really lead the nation in terms of its adoption and implementation of value-added systems, thanks in large part to the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which is now more popularly known as the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS), but that was also the main reason the state was one of the first to win federal Race to the Top funds in 2010 landing a total of $501 million. The TVAAS is also being named as part of the problem in this lawsuit in that this is also the system being used to measure growth for these out-of-subject-area teachers. This growth counts for 25% of these teachers’ value-added.

The main problem, as per TEA’s General Counsel Rick Colbert, is that “These [and many other] teachers are [being] evaluated in part based on state assessment scores from students they do not teach and may have never met.” Also according to Colbert, “Depriving someone of those interests on the basis of something they have no control over is arbitrary, and therefore not due process.” This problem is amplified considering that,  “more than half of Tennessee’s public school teachers — about 50,000 — teach non-tested subjects” throughout the state, according to TEA’s President Barbara Gray.

This is actually the third lawsuit contesting the use of the TVAAS. As written into the article in Chalkbeat Tennessee, “The first two suits, filed last March, contested the methodology of TVAAS – which TEA officials say is imprecise – for teachers whose students are tested. Those cases are [still] pending in federal court in Knox County.”

You can read this particular lawsuit in its entirety here.

Jesse Rothstein on Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Tenure

Last week, released via the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreund wrote a piece titled “Teacher tenure has little to do with student achievement, economist says.” For those of you who do not know Jesse Rothstein, he’s an Associate Professor of Economics at University of California – Berkeley, and he is one of the leading researchers/economists conducting research on teacher evaluation and accountability policies writ large, as well as the value-added models (VAMs) being used for such purposes. He’s probably most famous for a study he conducted in 2009 about how the non-random, purposeful sorting of students into classrooms indeed biases (or distorts) value-added estimations, pretty much despite the sophistication of the statistical controls meant to block (or control for) such bias (or distorting effects). You can find this study referenced here.

Anyhow, in this piece author Ehrenfreuend discusses with Rothstein teacher evaluation and teacher tenure. Some of the key take-aways from the interview and for this audience follow, but do read the full piece, linked again here, if so inclined:

Rothstein, on teacher evaluation:

  • In terms of evaluating teachers, “[t]here’s no perfect method. I think there are lots of methods that give you some information, and there are lots of problems with any method. I think there’s been a tendency in thinking about methods to prioritize cheap methods over methods that might be more expensive. In particular, there’s been a tendency to prioritize statistical computations based on student test scores, because all you need is one statistician and the test score data. Classroom observation requires having lots of people to sit in the back of lots and lots of classrooms and make judgments.
  • Why the interest in value-added? “I think that’s a complicated question. It seems scientific, in a way that other methods don’t. Partly it has to do with the fact that it’s cheap, and it seems like an easy answer.”
  • What about the fantabulous study Raj Chetty and his Harvard colleagues (Friedman and Rockoff) conducted about teachers’ value-added (which has been the source of many prior posts herein)? “I don’t think anybody disputes that good teachers are important, that teachers matter. I have some methodological concerns about that study, but in any case, even if you take it at face value, what it tells you is that higher value-added teachers’ students earn more on average.”
  • What are the alternatives? “We could double teachers’ salaries. I’m not joking about that. The standard way that you make a profession a prestigious, desirable profession, is you pay people enough to make it attractive. The fact that that doesn’t even enter the conversation tells you something about what’s wrong with the conversation around these topics. I could see an argument that says it’s just not worth it, that it would cost too much. The fact that nobody even asks the question tells me that people are only willing to consider cheap solutions.”

Rothstein, on teacher tenure:

  • “Getting good teachers in front of classrooms is tricky,” and it will likely “still be a challenge without tenure, possibly even harder. There are only so many people willing to consider teaching as a career, and getting rid of tenure could eliminate one of the job’s main attractions.”
  • Likewise, “there are certainly some teachers in urban, high-poverty settings that are not that good, and we ought to be figuring out ways to either help them get better or get them out of the classroom. But it’s important to keep in mind that that’s only one of several sources of the problem.”
  • “Even if you give the principal the freedom to fire lots of teachers, they won’t do it very often, because they know the alternative is worse.” The alternative being replacing an ineffective teacher by an even less effective teacher. Contrary to what is oft-assumed, high qualified teachers are not knocking down the doors to teach in such schools.
  • Teacher tenure is “really a red herring” in the sense that debating tenure ultimately misleads and distracts others from the more relevant and important issues at hand (e.g., recruiting strong teachers into such schools). Tenure “just doesn’t matter that much. If you got rid of tenure, you would find that the principals don’t really fire very many people anyway” (see also point above).

Gene Glass v. Chetty and Kane

Following the Vergara v. California decision now two weeks ago (see three recent VAMboozled posts about this court decision here, here, and here), one of my mentors and still friends/colleagues – Gene Glass, Regents’ Professor Emeritus at ASU – wrote the following on his twitter and Facebook account about Raj Chetty’s and Tom Kane’s testimonies, testimonies that played key roles in the judge’s (unfortunate) decision ruling teacher tenure as unconstitutional.

Testimony in Vergara by Harvard profs. Does anybody–other than Judge Treu–really believe these guys?! Amazing! — These dudes must be in love with their production functions. How anyone but a know-nothing judge could buy this stuff is amazing to me. A bad teacher costs a class of 28 kids $1.4 Million in life-time earnings. Really? What do a couple of lousy economists cost society?

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Glass then followed up with a comment: “Aristotle in Nichomachean Ethics: “We must not expect more precision than the subject-matter admits.” (Chp. 3)…after which a Facebook friend replied…”Aristotle was 2.13 times more effective than Plato at teaching Aristotle’s ethics.” Funny!

Anyhow, somebody else at The Becoming Radical seemed to come across this post and wrote another blog post around it titled, “The Very Disappointing Teacher Impact Numbers from Chetty.” To read more about what this author has titled the now “very famous” but still “mostly hypothetical” Chetty et al. study and what their numbers ACTUALLY mean, even if true and accurate in the real world, click here.


A Tennessee Teacher, On the TVAAS and Other Issues of Concern

Check out this 5-minute video to hear from a teacher in Tennessee – the state recognized for bringing to the country value-added models and VAM-based teacher accountability – as she explains who things are going in her state of Tennessee.

Diane Ravitch, in her call to all of us to share out this and other videos/stories such as these, writes that we should help this video, now with over 100,000 views, reach every parent and teacher across the country. “We can be the change,” and social media can help us counter the nonsense expressed so well herein.

“Students” Suing the State of California over Teacher Tenure

As per a recent article in the New York Times, “nine public school students [emphasis added as I use students loosely] are challenging California’s ironclad tenure system, arguing that their right to a good education is violated by job protections that make it too difficult to fire bad instructors. But behind the students stand a Silicon Valley technology magnate [David Welch] who is financing the case and an all-star cast of lawyers that includes Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general of the United States [and George W. Bush’s former Solicitor General], who recently won the Supreme Court case that effectively overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.”

It seems, also, that Students Matter, the organization founded by the aforementioned David Welch is leading the lawsuit. See, for example, the Students Matter’s “Vergara v. California Trial Tracker” that automatically pops up on their homepage when/if you visit, that also makes explicit their overly simplistic, slanted, and divisive position and goals: “Californians shouldn’t have to choose: we can create an education system that gives every child a passionate, motivating and effective teacher and gives effective teachers the respect and rewarding careers they deserve. A statewide lawsuit filed by nine brave kids, Vergara v. California challenges the laws that handcuff schools from giving every student an equal opportunity to learn from effective teachers.”

As per the Times, and more fairly put, “At issue is a set of rules that grant permanent employment status to California teachers after 18 months on the job, require a lengthy procedure to dismiss a teacher, and set up a seniority system in which the teachers most recently hired must be the first to lose their jobs when layoffs occur, as they have regularly in recent years.”

In addition, John E. Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and “a staunch opponent of tenure rules and ‘last in, first out’ seniority for teachers,” testified on the side of the plaintiffs, while also noting, however, that “good administrators don’t grant due process rights to ineffective teachers.” Inversely, and as per a recent blog on The Huffington Post, is that the California Teachers Association is arguing that “the lawsuit is both destructive and unnecessary, because reform efforts are already underway to make it easier to dismiss teachers.”

Regardless, and while whatever is decided in the Los Angeles Court will likely be appealed to the State Supreme Court, this is certainly “one-to-watch” as funders/backers are certainly putting teacher employment laws to the test, not only in California but all of America’s public schools. While tenure has been eliminated in some states, including DC (the source of many other posts on this blog), this is the first lawsuit to take on large states with large urban districts with largely “blue” political histories. This is also the first lawsuit to claim that in the state of California students are being “hurt” by teachers who are protected by their employment laws.

Most concerning for readers of this blog is that without teacher tenure, increased reliance will be placed on teacher-level estimates derived via value-added measures to determine which teachers should be terminated and when. But this will be done, as evidenced here and elsewhere (largely in the research literature), in highly arbitrary, inconsistent, invalid, unfair, idiosyncratic, and prejudiced ways, particularly as teachers will no longer be protected under such teacher tenure systems, losing as well their due process rights to (often rightfully) defend themselves against unfair human capital decisions based on such systems.

Tennessee’s TVAAS Not to Be Tied to Teacher Licensure

Victory in the state of Tennessee. The state board of education “stepped away” from its policy requiring that learning gains (i.e., value-added as determined by its TVAAS system) serve as the overriding factor in whether teachers can work (i.e., can be licensed) in the state of Tennessee. To read the article in The Tennessean click here, and to see the announcement put out by the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) click here):

As per the latter announcement, the state board of education voted this past Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, to “rescind the portion of the licensure policy that would use TVAAS as a factor in license renewal and advancement.” While this “does not affect the entire [TVAAS-based] policy the board voted on in August of last year,” the vote to rescind the use of TVAAS for just this purpose is a victory for teachers in Tennessee.

This all came after TEA President Gera Summerford and General Counsel Rick Colbert shared with the board a presentation titled: “The Trouble with TVAAS.” I believe some of what was shared (albeit likely in condensed form) can be found in three parts on YouTube: Part I (30 minutes), Part II (11 minutes), and Part III (14 minutes).

Their next step? Passing the “Educator Respect and Accountability Act of 2014,” which would “prohibit [more generally] the use of standardized test scores in the renewal or advancement of teacher licenses.”

Reformers reactions? They “downplayed the vote, characterizing it as a small and appropriate tweak before the policy takes effect in 2015.” All else is still in progress, as per the aforementioned article in The Tennessean. “Tennessee is moving forward with other ways to use the scores….[and d]istricts must submit their pay plans to the state for approval by this spring.”

NY Teacher of the Year Not “Highly Effective” at “Adding Value”

Diane Ravitch recently posted: “New York’s Teacher of the Year Is Not Rated ‘Highly Effective” on her blog. In her post she writes about Kathleen Ferguson, the state of New York’s Teacher of the Year who has also received numerous excellence in teaching awards, including her district’s teacher of the year award.

Ms. Ferguson, despite the clear consensus that she is an excellent teacher, was not even able to evidence herself as “highly effective” on her evaluation largely because she teaches a disproportionate number of special education students in her classroom. She recently testified on her and other teachers’ behalves about these rankings, their (over)reliance on student test scores to define “effectiveness,” and the Common Core to a Senate Education Committee. To see the original report and to hear a short piece of her testimony, please click here. “This system [simply] does not make sense,” Ferguson said.

In terms of VAMs, this presents evidence of issues with what is called “concurrent-related evidence of validity.” When gathering concurrent-related evidence of validity (see full definition on the Glossary page of this site), it is necessary to assess, for example, whether teachers who post large and small value-added gains or losses over time are the same teachers deemed effective or ineffective, respectively, over the same period of time using other independent quantitative and qualitative measures of teacher effectiveness (e.g., external teaching excellence awards like in the case here). If the evidence that is presented points in the same direction, evidence of concurrent validity is supported, and this adds to the overall argument in support of overall “validity.” Inversely, if the evidence that is presented does not point in the same direction, evidence of concurrent validity is not supported, further limiting the overall argument in support of overall “validity.”

Only when similar sources of evidence support similar inferences and conclusions can our confidence in the sources as independent measures of the same construct (i.e., teaching effectiveness) increase.

This is also highlighted in research I have conducted in Houston. Please watch this video (of about 12 minutes) to investigate/understand “the validity issue” further, through the eyes of four teachers who also had similar stories but were terminated due to their value-added scores that, for the most part, contradicted other indicators of their effectiveness as teachers. You can also read the original study here.

Diane Ravitch on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Perfect timing for the launch of this blog!

Check out the new video in which Jon Stewart interviews my friend/colleague (and VAMboozled! blog advocate and supporter) Diane Ravitch, about her views on holding teachers accountable using students’ large-scale standardized test scores. Hear also her views about tests in general, the Common Core, teacher tenure, the public education system, her new book “Reign of Error,” etc.

The Daily Show!