Value-Added Caution

Lots of attention in the discussion around teacher quality focuses on value-added data and the ability to determine a teacher’s effectiveness from a single test score.

More recently, a study by researchers at Harvard has received lots of attention because it purports to indicate that replacing a bad teacher with a good one has significant lifetime impact on student earning potential.

Unfortunately, it seems none of the media fawning over this study know how to use a calculator.

So, I break it down here:

This is the study that keeps getting attention around teacher quality and student earning potential. It was even mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union back in 2012.  It keeps getting cited as further evidence that we need to fire more teachers to improve student achievement.

Here’s the finding that gets all the attention: A top 5 percent teacher (according to value-added modeling or VAM) can help a classroom of students (28) earn $250,000 more collectively over their lifetime.

Now, a quarter of a million sounds like a lot of money.

But, in their sample, a classroom was 28 students. So, that equates to $8928.57 per child over their lifetime. That’s right, NOT $8928.57 MORE per year, MORE over their whole life.

For more math fun, that’s $297.61 more per year over a thirty year career with a VAM-designated “great” teacher vs. with just an average teacher.

Yep, get your kid into a high value-added teacher’s classroom and they could be living in style, making a whole $300 more per year than their friends who had the misfortune of being in an average teacher’s room.

If we go all the way down to what VAM designates as “ineffective” teaching, you’d likely see that number double, or maybe go a little higher. So, let’s say it doubles plus some. Now, your kid has a low VAM teacher and the neighbor’s kid has a high VAM teacher. What’s that do to his or her life?

Well, it looks like this: The neighbor kid gets a starting job offer of $41,000 and your kid gets a starting offer of $40,000.

Wait, what? You mean VAM does not do anything more than that in terms of predicting teacher effect?

Um, no.

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Perhaps there’s a lot more to teacher quality and teacher effect than a “value-added” score. Perhaps there’s real value added in the teacher who convinces a struggling kid to just stay in school one more year or the teacher who helps a child with the emotional issues surrounding divorce or abuse or drug use or any number of other challenges students (who are humans, not mere data points) face.

Alas, current trends in “education reform” are pushing us toward more widespread use of value-added data — using it to evaluate teachers and even publishing the results.

I can just hear the conversation now: Your kid got a “2” teacher mine got a “4.” My kid’s gonna make 500 bucks more a year than your kid. Unless, of course, the situation is reversed next year.

Stop the madness. Education is a people business. It’s about teachers (people) putting students (people) first.

I’m glad the researchers released this study. Despite their spurious conclusions, it finally tells us that we can and should focus less on a single value-added score and more on all the inputs at all levels that impact a child’s success in school and life.

As Kentucky considers teacher evaluation “reform,” caution should be used when deciding what (if any) role value-added scores will play in new evaluations.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Kentucky’s Investment in Schools Drops at Wrong Time

Well, it’s never really the right time to decrease your investment in schools, but Kentucky has seen its investment in schools decrease at a time when the economy is in greatest need of improvements in education.

That’s the conclusion drawn by the Kentucky Center on Economic Policy in this study.

As Commissioner Holliday and Stu Silberman have argued, the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is a critical one for Kentucky schools.

With a decrease in per pupil spending of nearly $500 since 2008, Kentucky can ill afford NOT to invest additional dollars in schools this session.

It’s an election year, so maybe that will motivate lawmakers to do the right thing and start getting education dollars moving in the right direction again.

Yes, revenue and budget priorities are tricky issues — but nothing is more important than keeping Kentucky’s schools moving forward.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport

Beshear Backs Science

While legislators focus on appeasing the most conservative elements of their constituencies, Steve Beshear took a stand for science and high standards in education this week as he decided to implement new science standards despite objections from a General Assembly Committee.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Beshear made the right call.

It’s troubling that legislators would vote to impede rather than improve new, higher standards that will benefit all Kentucky kids.

Perhaps more troubling, these legislators would rather score political points than tell their constituents the truth about the standards, their meaning, and their importance.  That might require leadership.

 

 

As Kentucky Considers Charter Schools, Ohio Offers Important Lessons

Kentucky is one of a handful of states that has zero charter schools.  As legislators return to Frankfort in 2014, though, it seems another push is underway for the state to allow at least some charter schools, most likely in Louisville (JCPS).

The argument for charters is two-fold.  1) Families should have a choice.  Period.  Rather than being offered a limited set of options from district schools, families should be allowed to choose another option.  A publicly-funded charter school may offer that option.  And choice is good, no matter if the charter is actually any better than the traditional schools students may attend.  This argument has some degree of appeal, especially for those students and families who are situated in struggling schools.

2) Charter schools are good because they serve economically disadvantaged students BETTER than district schools.  If Kentucky adds charter schools, student achievement will improve over time and more students will be better-served by the offerings of the school system.

The advantage of having not yet adopted charter schools in Kentucky is that we can see what other states have done and what works and what’s not working.

If number 2 above is true, then it would be hard to argue against charters.  However, if number 2 is false, it’s difficult to adopt charter schools simply on the basis of choice alone.

So, what is the experience in other states?

I’ve written before about Tennessee, a state that has had expanding access to charter schools for the past 10 years.  Yes, it’s true that a very small percentage of TN students currently attend charter schools — but it also seems likely that Kentucky would follow a similar path — a gradual scaling-up of charter schools.  It’s likely to be some time before more than 5% of Kentucky students attend charters.  So, Tennessee is instructive if for no other reason than it has had charter schools for 10 years now and yet it’s students, even in the big cities where charter schools exist, perform at a lower level than Kentucky’s on NAEP assessments AND on the ACT.  So, education “reform” hasn’t moved the numbers substantially in Tennessee.

Moving in the other direction from Kentucky, northern neighbor Ohio has had charter schools in its “Big 8″ school districts for 16 years now and has expanded charter schools to 37 other low-performing districts.  After 16 years, this report shows some pretty disappointing results.

87% of students in a public charter school in Ohio attend a school that earned a grade of D or F on ability to meet state standards.  What’s more, 93% of charter schools in Ohio scored a D or F in high school graduation rate — 20 points WORSE than the public schools in the Big 8 districts. So, kids attending charter schools were significantly less likely to graduate than there non-charter peers in big city districts.  And that’s with accountability measures in place that closed the lowest-performing charters.

Urban poverty is a complex problem.  Educating students in that environment is also complex.  Simply adding charter schools, even with accountability provisions, doesn’t solve the problem.  A small number of charter schools are working in Ohio’s big cities.  And so are the district schools.  It seems like the wiser course of action to investigate what’s working at those schools and apply it to JCPS.  Likewise, Tennessee offers 10 years of empirical data.  Looking to schools that have success stories and finding out what works makes a lot of sense.  If state laws need to be changed or tweaked to allow more district-level innovation, that makes sense, too.  Adding a layer of charter schools, especially when the numbers say they offer no better educational future than existing district schools (and are sometimes worse) does not make sense.

The problem with experiments in public education is that those receiving the treatment are our children.  If the charter school where they attend middle school is a failed experiment, and it closes after three years, they’ve lost middle school.  Time they cannot get back.  Kentucky would be better served to increase its investment in and support of existing schools while adopting proven strategies based on evidence.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport