The 18th century poet and lyricist Robert Burns is known for the phrase: "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." The book Of Mice and Men credits its title to the poem. This book tells the story of two men who move from job to job, town to town, hoping to make it "big," only to find themselves often back where they started.
In the national narrative of education reform it can be difficult to discern which of the plans promoted by politicians or researchers will be able to improve the future of the American education system and which will simply "go awry." Foundations and organizations are crafting policy statements and reports that advocate one position or another, often with dire implications students, teachers, parents, and community members. While education reformers may genuinely have good intentions for students and communities, this effort to make it "big" is destined to fail, while leaving students to pay the price.
Recently, the results of teacher evaluation systems in New York City and Los Angeles have caused a flurry of anxiety across the country. Teachers worry about their livelihood, parents are concerned about their children's future, and community members point fingers of blame at each side. The Strategic Data Project and other organizations provide reports using this data, often called Value-added modeling (VAM), in which teachers are compared with prior test scores in order to discover how much they, in particular, influence student achievement. Sometimes their skill and experience is even summarized in one number or grade.
Advocates of VAM contend that it holds the key to determining which teachers should be retained and which let go, allowing better-qualified teachers to take their place. Organizations like The New Teacher Project create reports like the recent Irreplaceables, a piece emphasizing the need for more control over teacher hiring and firing in order to retain high-quality teachers, demonstrated by high VAM scores. Through reports like these, teachers are being unfairly compared using these metrics and demoralized in the process.
Read the rest of this article at Making the Grade.