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You Work with What You Have

I’ve read the August 30 briefing paper published by the Economic Policy Institute regarding the Value Added Model to assess teacher effectiveness.  The researchers are all respected professors at respected universities.

I’m only a practitioner, but I have spent about 25 years as a school administrator. I’ve done hundreds of classroom evaluations and worked with hundreds of teachers.  So I guess I was a little taken aback at a couple of the ideas expressed by this erudite group.

First of all, as an argument against value added, the researchers once again pointed to the discrepancy between kids from middle income families whose parents support them in school and kids from lower income families whose parents may not.  Having worked in poor schools and wealthy schools, I’m not sure how far that assumption will take you.  Again, I’m just a practitioner, but here’s what another practitioner said about her students:  “It doesn’t matter where they come from.  Your job is to teach the kids you have.” 

TeacherChild  She was a veteran of 30 years in a kindergarten classroom.  Her classes were large – 30-38 students.  About half every year came from the surrounding Amish settlements, and their expectations were to leave school after 8th grade.  They came to school not knowing their colors and unable to count to 10.  They had seen little if any television, and their world view was small.

“My job is to take them where they are and move them along a year, “ she said.  “That’s what I do.  That’s what teaching is.  No excuses.  You get what you get.  That’s what the job is.”

She’s not the only teacher who feels that way.  Another teacher said to me, “I can’t control their families.  I can only control my classroom.  So I do the very best with what I have.”

The unions would have us assume that all teachers are angry about parents having access to their students’ test scores.  Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe some teachers who work hard, who accept their assignments without excuses, and who make no negative assumptions about their students’ ability to learn are OK with value added.  I’m thinking there may be a lot of teachers quietly and efficiently doing what they were hired to do who don’t really care what the media says.



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