Devaluing Students + Valuing Adults = No Value Added

There’s a heated debate in the world of education about value-added teacher evaluation systems. DCPS is one of the first district’s in the nation to attempt a value-added teacher evaluation system that is connected to merit based pay for teachers. Founder Jason Kamras decribes the system like this: “And through this regression formula [a statistical tool for studying relationships between multiple variables] we can figure out that on average, kids like this tend to end up here. Then we can calculate how did your kids actually end up, and then we compare the two. And that’s it. That is essentially what it comes down to.”

It’s interesting to me that this model is being considered innovative and revolutionary. Alfie Kohn argues that a value-based teacher evaluation is not actually encouraging better teaching, but rather causing the public to believe that “uniformity was synonymous with quality.” He continues by saying: “There are far more good teachers who are being turned into bad teachers as a direct result of these policies.” Is this system of teacher evaluation worth the risk of losing excellent teachers who are changing students’ lives because they are trying to conform and fit their unique teaching style into a regression model?

Kohn continues by saying: “everyone who declares that we ought to reward good teachers and boot the bad ones is assuming that all of us agree on what “good” and “bad” mean.” By implementing a value-added teacher evaluation system, districts and schools are valuing standardized test scores over students’ individual learning experiences and pretending that each student experiences teachers the same way. I haven’t ever heard a student say, “I want to be in Mrs. Smith’s class because she is going to raise my test scores,” but rather students want to be a in particular teacher’s class because, “(S)he is fun and crazy and isn’t boring!” Students crave an educational experience that engages and challenges them. Parents, principals, and district employees, in other words adults, are the people who are supporting value-added teacher evaluation systems because they are failing prey to the political propaganda that our schools are “failing.” Adults are forgoing students’ voices and students’ experience in the race to have their students finish first. As a result, we are adding value to adults and subtracting value from students.

We are treading on dangerous ground. If we continue to invest in systems that value adults and devalue students, what are value are we adding to students’ educational experiences? We don’t need a regression model for that computation: devaluing students + valuing adults = no value added.