Teachers turn out in force for AirTalk's value-added debate

KPCC's teachers evaluation interactive
KPCC's teachers evaluation interactive

Educators, it turns out, don’t mind doing homework. At least the ones who showed up, outside of school hours, for AirTalk’s recent discussion about grading teacher performance. The November 11 event, held in KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum, drew a packed crowd mostly composed of teachers, past and present.

In conversation with Larry Mantle, education experts Erik Hanushek and Richard Rothstein explored the pros and cons of various methods used to judge teacher performance, including the hotly debated “value-added” approach, which relies on student test scores.

Rothstein, a research associate for the Economic Policy Institute, was firm in his opposition.

“We should not publish a partial truth, which, when published alone becomes a falsehood,” he said, drawing cheers and whistles from the crowd at KPCC.

“Until we are prepared to do the kind of holistic evaluation that everyone pays lip service to, we shouldn't be publishing part of the story because that has the effect of distorting not only the evaluation of teachers but ... it puts inordinate emphasis on the test scores and distorts the entire curriculum,” Rothstein added.

Check out KPCC's interactive on educators' responses to teacher evaluations.

Teachers unions across the country have been upset about what they call an over-reliance on test scores and the publication of value-added data. When Rigoberto Ruelas, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, committed suicide after his “less effective” rating was published online by the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Unified School District teachers marched en masse, demanding that The Times remove the data from its online database.

So far, the newspaper has refused.

Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, agrees that a more comprehensive evaluation approach would be ideal, but thinks the quantitative numbers can and should play a significant role in determining teacher effectiveness.

The problem is that the majority of teachers “are being dragged down by a small portion of the teaching force that is completely ineffective,” Hanushek said. “If we could replace the bottom 6 to 10 percent with an average teacher we would see the U.S. move from below average in the industrialized world on mathematics performance to near the top of the world.”