Adding Value?

OK, I’m confused. All these people keep talking about ‘value added’ as a means of rating teachers. If a teacher is shown to improve student test scores more than the average teacher does, there is added value in that teacher’s classroom. I’ll buy that, though with reservations. Implied is the notion that there’s real value in raising scores on standardized tests, something I’m not sure of (performance on such tests generally only indicates how well one will perform on that test—not always how much one knows or has learned). What I don’t understand is what the people so excited about ‘value added’ plan on doing with their ‘information.’

All I see (and the fault may be in my vision, I admit) is a desire to use ‘value added’ to get rid of bad teachers and replace them with good ones.

What I don’t see is where the good ones are supposed to come from.

At least, I don’t see the ‘value added’ people talking about renewed emphasis on teacher training, on mentoring, or on other programs that can produce good teachers—and improve the ‘bad’ ones. It’s as though they assume there are plenty of good teachers waiting in the wings. Sure, they point to things like Michelle Rhee’s New Teacher Project and Teach for America, but what do these things do? Do they really train teachers, or do they assume that teaching is something anyone can just do, given a little bit of preparation?

The latter, it seems to me.

The New Teacher Project claims, “We specialize in developing alternate route teachers by leveraging their existing content expertise and life experiences while grounding them in rigorous, standards-based instructional practices.” To me, that reads, “We bypass teacher training with the excuse that knowledge in a field and having lived a few years is sufficient when concentration is on teaching to the test.”

That’s not what we need.

Diane Ravitch tweeted yesterday, “Can’t improve education if teachers have less education and less experience.” She’s absolutely right.

Yes, there are times, when situations are dire, when no trained teachers are available, when alternatives need to be used. They are not, however, adequate as replacements for careful and considered training over time—on-the-job training will never really be enough (and I say that as one who had to learn on-the-job). Teaching requires study, and that is best done before one begins teaching.

Compound that with the fact that our teachers are leaving the field almost as soon as they enter it, for the most part, few making it their career. Most are leaving within the first five years.

If you are not making teaching your career, but expect you might be leaving the field as soon as something else comes along, you won’t be putting into it the kind of effort that makes a good teacher.

The real ‘value added’ in education will only come through teacher education and teacher experience, with a support system encouraging both the learning (continuing even after initial teacher training) and the staying.

Which is why I am confused. Why are we talking about ‘value added’ in terms of students, when what we really should be focusing on is adding value to teachers—through providing better training and the support that will encourage them to stay in the field.

It must be, then, that the ‘value added’ people are actually interested in something else….

Which is why I am confused. What, exactly, could their real agenda be?

Certainly, it is not improved education.