by David Harte (not Gavin)


The L.A. Times recently published the findings of a study they conducted using a kind of statistical data analysis called “Value-Added,” that measures teacher performance. This kind of data is virtually ignored by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Currently, parents don’t have access to any meaningful information about teacher performance except word of mouth. Our kids get stuck with teachers about whom we know nothing except some loudmouth power-mom’s stupid opinion we overheard outside the bouncy castle at a birthday party. That’s no way to run a school system.

But is it fair to test teacher performance? There a lot of factors teachers can’t control. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the bad test scores of a poor kid with bad parents who doesn’t even speak English that well, should they? Value-added measures against the teachers’ individual students’ previous performance on standardized tests so things like crappy parenting, limited English skills, previous bad teachers and poverty don’t effect the results. It answers the question, “Do kids do better or worse when they have this teacher?” in a really clear way. Predictably, the teacher’s union (UTLA) hates this.

I have three kids who go to L.A. Public schools, I believe in public education and I have an immense amount of respect for people who choose to teach. Teachers work their asses off and many bring passion and excellence to the profession. They should be rewarded financially for how awesome they are. I also believe that unions often serve a vital function in protecting individual workers from being treated unfairly by large institutional powers. In spite of all that, it’s distressing to see the union objecting to using this data as part of teacher evaluations.

The goal of an education system is to educate students (duh), not to provide job security to teachers regardless of the quality of their work. Anyone who’s ever gone to school knows not all teachers are created equal. Some make you excited about history or science and some make you excited about sleeping through class. While the union has expressed the fear that value-added analysis will be used to punish ineffective teachers (like the 241 craptastic bozos who were fired in Washington, D.C.), it could also be used to financially reward excellent teachers. That’s an opportunity for the union to do something positive for its best and brightest members.

Yes, the  Bunker Hill headquarters of the LAUSD is packed with an excessive number of administrators pulling six-figure salaries, whose competence is questionable at best and whose job duties are ill-defined to the point of non-existence. Many, perhaps most, of them deserve to be fired. The people who created “value-added” should come up with a data set that can help us cure that problem. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Don’t try to change the subject.

Teachers should love this value-added analysis. It could protect them from fickle principals and incompetent administrators. “Don’t like me, Mr. Principal? Well my students do 11 points better on their exams every single year than they did before, so you can suck it.” Ninety percent of L.A. teachers get positive evaluations every year, That’s a strong incentive for teachers to like the status quo. But those evaluations are based entirely on the subjective judgement of their principal. That’s not very scientific and leaves a lot up to workplace politics. What if you’re a great teacher who doesn’t get along with an a-hole principal? You’re screwed? Value-added would cure that.

Principals should love this data too. They’ll be able to stock up on good teachers and not hire bad ones who happen to be good at job interviews. Administrators should love it too. It can help them raise test scores by having good teachers train new teachers or help teachers who are struggling. And administrators wouldn’t have to do to much of what they’re worst at – thinking about how to solve problems effectively.

The Times’ study showed that the best teachers aren’t all at the richest schools and the crappy teachers aren’t all in poorest schools. Quality of instruction varied more from classroom to classroom than between schools. That means it’s really important to measure teachers’ performance. Yes, that will suck for terrible teachers. But isn’t that better than abandoning students to spare incompetent instructors’ feelings? The union is afraid that the data will be used to punish ineffective teachers. The union should be more concerned with protecting good teachers from having their reputations tarnished by terrible ones. Protecting bad teachers is an unsupportable position that makes it look like the union doesn’t care about students or education.

Also, the study showed that “the right school” wasn’t as important as getting a good teacher. Teachers had three times more influence on kids’ academic performance than school did. But parents aren’t given access to data about individual teachers. That’s insane. Teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in student performance. I bet that’s a more powerful weapon for a union to wield in a contract negotiation than their current stance which amounts to, “Firing shitty teachers is mean.”

In a departure from conventional wisdom, a teacher’s experience, level of training and education weren’t what made them good or bad at their job. So why do we base teachers’ pay on those factors instead of effectiveness at improving student performance? What did make teachers effective was the degree to which they engaged their students. That’s not surprising, but if it’s the most important thing, shouldn’t we reward it?

Critics say value-added is flawed and will encourage teaching to the test rather than educating students. Okay, let’s come up with a better way to measure teacher performance. But until one exists, let’s use the best tool currently available – value-added.





  1. Ty Hardaway Says:

    It was interesting in that Times series that they actually published many of the teacher names. I was shocked but sort of relieved because it did provide information about who was considered a good teacher and shamed the rest, I suppose.

    But, over time, the good teachers end up at the good schools (and that’s what makes the good schools good anyhow).

    We’re on the same page. The AFG war costs could have made the United States the best educated citizenry ever except that a dumb population keeps the current political power in poser.

  2. K-size Says:

    They don’t seem to be too bother by teaching the children to state regulated tests… Personally, it seems that teaching to a “value-added” based test might do the kids (and teachers) a lot more good! Just sayin’…

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