Eva Moskowitz held her last education committee hearing yesterday. She leaves the Council January 1. Probably by coincidence, the hearing was on teacher quality. She asked witnesses to discuss what distinguishes excellent teachers from their peers and how to measure teacher quality using indicators such as where the teacher went to college, their undergraduate GPA, or their number of absences. Oh, please.
The director of UFT Teacher Centers, Aminda Gentile, testified, “These questions have nothing to do with creating a highly qualified teacher workforce. A system that builds and supports its teacher workforce creates good teachers and good teaching.” Aminda suggested that teacher quality was a matter of how the system develops its teachers, not how it picks them. “Let me rephrase your question,” she told Eva. “It’s not how do we identify good teachers but how do we grow good teachers.” Touche!
The DOE sent Human Resources head Betsy Arons, who, as the Staten Island Advance reported, talked about the Department’s plans to launch a new high-tech system to track student test scores next year, one that will “make it easier for administrators to monitor student achievement and evaluate teacher performance.” Eva lauded this development as a way to get “more accountability in the school system, especially in the areas of teacher performance and quality.” Pfef!
This tracking system, sometimes called “value-added assessment,” or “value-added modeling,” is cutting-edge, in that it tracks student performance over time and links that back to the value that a teacher adds to the child’s established cognitive growth curve. It’s interesting, all right but as a big RAND study concluded two years ago, it’s just not ready for prime time. Too many statistical kinks.
That conclusion seems to have filtered down to a lot of school systems and governors who have played with the idea of paying teachers based on student performance and other quality measures but then put the plan on hold. A new Issue Paper by the Education Commission of the States and Teaching Commission just came out. It is carefully neutral on merit pay and performance pay, but when you get to the appendices you see that in every state that has tried to change the teacher compensation system or bring in performance pay, the effort has either stalled in the Legislature or it’s been referred back to a task force (i.e., it was DOA when it got to the Legislature.)
Maybe Eva and other proponents would say the teachers’ unions blocked these bills. But in fact the only place that is trying performance pay on any scale at all is Denver, Colorado, and there it was the teachers union that wrote and championed the measure, taking a full five years to pilot and develop it. Performance pay may be a good idea in the abstract but in the implementation it’s a real bear. Klein thinks announcing things makes them so, but he’s mistaken.