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by Tom Louie
Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010 at 1:04 AM
This summary of a Public Radio forum takes on special relevance because of the recent tragic death of Rigoberto Ruelas, an excellent teacher who was rated "less effective" by the Los Angeles Times
Tonight there was a public forum on "Value-Added" evaluation of teachers at the Southern California Public Radio center in Pasadena. The host was KPCC host Larry Mantle, who was the first to interview Rigo's brother Alex last September 29. (Mantle's assistant, Karen, remembers taking Alex's call.) The panelists were Eric Hanushek, from the Hoover Institute at Stanford, and Richard Rothstein from the Economic Policy Institute. (The Economic Policy Institute did a critical report on Value-Added Measurement, which you can access at utla.net .) I managed to ask a question during the forum and mentioned Rigo.
The forum will be probably be broadcast on Larry Mantle's regular show on 89.3 KPCC at 11 a.m. next Monday, but unfortunately we won't be able to listen to it live because we'll be busy teaching! But the link to the show's soundfile will probably be made available online. (Larry Mantle's show is on weekdays 10-12.)
Mantle estimated that the live audience was 60-70% teachers, and he later complimented the audience on the written questions they submitted. "None of you should be fired!" he joked. I was there with Perias Pillay, a community college teacher who takes Miramonte students on Transit People field trips. I didn't see any other UTLA people there except Janet Davis from the Elementary Committee.
At first the debate seemed to be very agreeable and chummy. Rothstein and Hanushek agreed that Value-Added should not be the only means of evaluation (Rothstein said it should only be a "small part"). They agreed that most teachers do an adequate job. They agreed that the standardized tests that are currently used are not an accurate measure of student achievement. And they agreed that the teacher evaluation system is broken -- many principals simply do not have time to evaluate so many teachers, and Mantle mentioned that he has heard many teachers comment that the principals who evaluate them sometimes don't seem to know anything about instruction.
However, differences began to emerge later, for example when Hanushek expressed support for Michelle Rhee, the Washington, D. C., schools chief who fired hundreds of teachers and administrators, based at least in part on Value-Added. Hanushek also supported the Los Angeles' Times publication of teachers' names associated with their students' scores, about which more will be said later.
Dr. Hanushek further said that Value-Added evaluation tends to agree with "subjective" evaluation by administrators, as far as correctly identifying both the best and the worst teachers. (NOTE: This model does NOT work for Rigo, who had great administrative evaluations and poor VAM scores!) With the "middle" teachers, Hanushek admitted that Value-Added has problems.
From that point on, Hanushek's comments increasingly focused on the importance of getting rid of "bad teachers," and blamed the bottom 6-10% of teachers for ruining everything for the rest. To that, Rothstein retorted that if the bottom teachers were replaced, there would simply be a new worst level. "There is a curve to every occupation, including radio talk show hosts and journalists," he joked to Mantle.
Then it was question time. I managed to get picked first, and I asked: "In order to be fair, Value-Added must include the possibility for teachers to raise their scores. So, what more could Rigo have done?" Then I managed to list some of Rigo's accomplishments and hard work, even though I was under pressure to keep it short. Mantle, the host, was very much aware of Rigo's case, including how he bought a mattress for a student, and he put the question to the panelists: how is it possible that such a wonderful and dedicated teacher, who was doing so much for his students by all accounts and all subjective measures, could have his career judged by low Value-Added scores?
Hanushek answered first. He said it was "his understanding" that Rigo's Value-Added scores were "above-average," defending his theoretical model. (It would be impossible to get this information from the Los Angeles Times database, which has only five categories and does not compare teachers within those categories to each other!) He further questioned whether a teacher who is humanistically supporting students outside of class is also doing the necessary teaching inside the class.
Rothstein responded by uncompromisingly condemning the Los Angeles Times. He said they never should have published those scores, because they were publishing only part of the truth. The journalists themselves admitted that Value-Added scores did not show the complete picture, and so they were in effect saying, "We're publishing it, but don't pay attention to it." That brought the only sustained applause of the night.
During the forum, host Larry Mantle also took some pokes at UTLA President A.J. Duffy on the issue of teacher evaluation reform. Afterwards, I pointed out to Mantle that UTLA has been very supportive of Rigo's family, friends and colleagues.
Also after the forum, I politely asked Dr. Hanushek where he got the information that Rigo's Value-Added score was above-average, since that information was not available in the Times. He responded that he had some inside information that showed the distribution of scores among all teachers, and said he would email me his source. So I'll be waiting for that. :)
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