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February 24, 2012

Playing the shame game: should the New York Times publish teacher data?

by Carol Lloyd

Executive Editor

Any hour now the New York Times is supposed to publish the "value-added" data on 12,000 New York City public school teachers following a court ruling yesterday ordering the Department of Education to release the scores.

In the world of education politics, there's not much everyone agrees on. The teacher's union goes to the ends of the earth to protect teachers (even bad ones sometimes), while the scorched earth reformers like Michelle Rhee have made it their stock in trade to blame incompetent, negligent teachers for ruining our schools and damaging the lives of our school children one ill-planned lesson at a time.

But the plan to release the names of thousands of New York City's teachers - and how much they did or did not raise student test scores - has created some odd moments of assonance.  Yesterday Bill Gates, who has spent millions of dollars to investigate teacher effectiveness and improve the teacher evaluation process, wrote an editorial in the New York Times arguing that shaming teachers would do more harm than good. GothamSchools explained why they would not be publishing teacher data with names attached: the statistics don't stand up to scrutiny - with margins of error that you could drive a truck through. Ed reform blogger Alexander Russo quotes Teach for America's Wendy Kopp and a spokesperson from Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst speaking out against publishing teacher's names attached to their data.  

It's not the first time teachers have been forced to wear the scarlet number of value-added scores. In 2010 the Los Angeles Times published similar data for all public school teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District. Soon after that public shaming, one teacher who had been among those who felt demoralized by the airing of his low scores committed suicide.

Ostensibly publishing these scores should serve the public: people whose children attend our public schools. Do you want access to such information about your child's teacher?  Even if it might be wildly inaccurate? And if you object to the publishing of such information, would you refrain from using it to get insights about your child's teacher?   

Therein lies the rub. No matter how misleading I'm told the data is, I can imagine circumstances in which I'd take a peek. In fact, my kids have had teacher where I definitely would've looked. In those cases, I would've been too curious to keep from probing further than I really think is fair or right. In this era where data transparency is extolled as the highest virtue, it's worth remembering that sometimes it only exposes the worst in us. 


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Most people in the know acknowledge the error rate for this teacher data. Why would this shaming help? If the principal is good, he or she will be able to work with teachers who need help to improve. The Union can also help train teachers who need help. I would support the principal's ability to fire bad teachers after working to improve their performance fails.

Teacher effectiveness data should be posted every year in all states. There pay and continued employment should be tied to it.

In the real world if you are not effective at your job you do not get a pay raise and if you continue to be ineffective you loose your job.

States like Vermont would would benefit from this kind of open door free flow of information. As our schools keep things quiet and behind closed doors.

I am a teacher and I have a real job in the real world. I had to get real training to do my job, and a lot of it (more than most). The real world walks through my door every day. My students are dealing with real hunger and real abuse and real lack of parenting and have a hard time seeing a real value in education. Sure, I get the summers off (meaning I'm not required to show up anywhere at a specific time; I still do work for the coming year), but my father-in-law has a "real" job in a factory and he gets almost as much vacation time as I do (and he can take it whenever he wants; he also makes more money than I do). My job is challenging and my workload is intense. I work really hard, and to imply that my job is somehow "fake" is offensive. Have whatever political opinion you want, but my job is REAL, and it helps make the WORLD a better place.

In California, we already have had two rounds of data delivered by the LA Times. At my daughter's school we've had great teachers that didn't look so wonderful on paper, and only so-so teachers who look amazing--because they teach to the test. What bothers me about publishing the results is that teachers feel even more pressured to produce results--rather than teach and inspire children. Since the results were published, yes I looked, but the truly "great" teachers didn't necessarily have the best results--so I'm far less likely to believe it shows anything aside from their ability to teach to the test.

Whomever was brilliant enough to equate a teacher's salary with the level of work they do, as well as insist that our test scores should be matched up with the work we do on a day to day basis...OBVIOUSLY...is NOT in the education field. Moreover , it's disheartening that someone should be so simple minded to say that one day can evaluate a half a year's worth of commitment...far more invested than ELA and MATH...Furthermore, we are battling corrupt districts...with gross underfunding, high homelessness, no show parents, not enough books for each students, high absenteeism, ELL/LD, misplaced special Ed students that will not be properly placed because of lack of funding...this is the real world...that real teachers face everyday...and we plug on...still trying to shape the youth...yes, on the mint that we make! Most of that we spend on our class, whether for supplies or food for our students ...or how about buying them clothes or prom dresses ? Maybe Mr. Brilliant in Vermont has never experienced these issues where he/ she is but this is the real world...I, personallyj have no inhibitions about my scores being published because I work diligently everyday. They can only achieve their best...that is all I ask for. If the scores are subpar, I still tried my best...as did the millions of other teachers out there.

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