Saturday, December 11, 2010

Your child, the draft pick 1

The LA Times has published two more stories about Value-Added Teaching (VAT). I don't live in LAUSD, but I can't resist a good statistical analysis.

The latest story includes a valid point from a critic of VAT.
Jesse Rothstein, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley who has been critical of the value-added approach, says the preliminary results didn't answer some of his key concerns, such as how results are affected by the way students are assigned to teachers.
Consider the corollary.

If we grade teachers by the VAT methodology, then our children immediately become draft picks. If teachers become coaches with public accountability, then shouldn't they also be able to pick their team players?

I spent an hour browsing the teacher comments on the LAT VAT database. They raise some troubling questions.

One teacher asked to see the data pertaining to him. He wrote that, according to the LAT database, he was more effective raising the math scores of his students than the writing scores. The data that he has received show the opposite effect. He asked if the database had mixed him up with another teacher or if they were using different years' data.

Another teacher said that he was proud to be of average effectiveness given the difficult circumstances of his job. After retiring from the military, he went back to school to become a school teacher. He taught at a very low-performing south LA school nearly entirely composed of poor Latino students.

He claimed that the principal assigns him a disproportionate number of disruptive young males because of the perception that he is better equipped to deal with them than the female teachers. The amount of time he can spend on teaching is curtailed by the time he spends on discipline. He works much harder to maintain classroom control than the other teachers. He wants the other teachers to take their fair share of the difficult students.

It's not all black and white. He said that if he, an ex-marine, feels physically threatened by some of these students, he understands why they are not assigned to female teachers. (He mentioned that many of the students and/or their family members are involved in the drug trade or fleeing the violence of the drug trade to the south and many carry weapons to school.)

If his pay is reduced and the other teachers with easier class rosters get raises, he will quit the profession.

This reminds me of stories from two school teacher friends.

One taught English learners at the elementary level. One year, she taught at an urban school with 300% turnover during the school year. How is that possible? She explained that no student from the beginning of the year stayed for the entire year. On average, they stayed only a few months and then followed their migrant farm worker parents.

Furthermore, her district required home site visits for all students. Because she had such high turnover, she had to do many more home visits than teachers who were assigned students from more stable homes. That's how she learned most of her students had parents who followed their crop. (Migrant farm workers can be skilled workers who specialize in certain crops and they move north and south with the need for their skills.)

She mentioned how difficult it was to maintain classroom control. At that time, there was a much publicized study showing how teachers focused ~80% of their time on the boys and only 20% of their time on the girls. She said that, if someone put a camera in her classroom, they would find her near average in that respect. There were a handful of boys that were a total drain on her time, energy and a real drag on the rest of the classroom. They would climb anything if you turned around for a minute.

Years later, I read studies linking prenatal exposure to organophosphates (insecticides) to ADHD, particularly in boys. I wondered if the boys in her classroom were exposed in utero through their farmworker parents.

She also learned that most of her students' parents were not literate in any language and that they lived in crowded homes with no books or reading matter of any kind. How could her students be judged by the same yardstick as kids from middle and upper-middle class homes. Our kids grow up in incredibly print-rich environments. (I, like several friends, can't even remember a time I couldn't read at least a little bit.)

Should teachers be financially penalized or rewarded for difficult assignments?

As a parent, do you want your child to be in a classroom with kids with severe ADHD, suffering from PTSD or carry weapons to school?

Lots of questions, no easy answers.

To a large extent, parents have been voting with their feet. We have seen an exodus from troubled schools/neighborhoods that has bid up the housing prices of areas that enjoy above average schools and safety and below average chemical residues. But what do we owe the children left behind? Or the teachers willing to serve those areas?


  1. Rosa15:29

    I just wanted to say - these discussions always assume the target audience has average or above-average kids, but I'm the one with the severe ADHD kid.

    Middle class home, educated parents, near-model daycare situation - my child absorbs nearly all of the teacher's aide time, because of his ADHD. He may or may not grow out of it, and join the average-to-above-average group in middle or high school (he's actually already there, academically).

  2. @Rosa
    My child is not the best behaved, either. It's not clear to Bad Dad or myself whether she goes early or late in the draft rounds.

    To be fair, pushy/problem parents can also make a student a less desirable draft pick.

  3. Rosa12:47

    And teaching style, and older siblings' reputation - there's a ton of stuff (my mom taught 6th grade for many years.)

    I'm just struck, lately, by the audience assumption that it's always "those kids" taking resource from "our kids". I was a gifted kid and also one of "those kids" a lot of the time, too.

  4. @Rosa, my youngest is also a problem child at times. He is also very gifted, and fortunate this year to have a teacher who sees the gifted side more so than the other side. His last 2 teachers only saw the negative.

    As a blogger, I understand the impulse to address the audience in a way that assumes the best of them. How much of a turnoff would it be to be addressed as if my child were the problem child (even if he sometimes is). On the other hand, I hear you--not a lot of compassionate voices for those parenting the less-easy children. I think goodmombadmom does a decent job of trying to balance the perspectives.


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