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Duncan Wants it Both Ways on Merit Pay

March 29, 2012

A recent article in Education Week indicates that Arne Duncan NOW believes that it is a mistake to publish teacher’s “value added” rankings in the newspaper but still adheres to the belief that schools should inform parents when a teacher’s “value added” test results are poor over an extended period of time. The article’s penultimate paragraph suggests that Duncan’s critics will accuse him of “trying to have it both ways”… which ISN’T a criticism, it’s an accurate description of what is going on!

One of the conundrums of merit pay is that it categorizes “excellent” teachers from “un-excellent” teachers in the same way that “gifted and talented” programs identify “un-gifted and talented” students. Nothing can be more dispiriting to a child (or a child’s parents) than being classified as “un-gifted”… but there is a public identification associated with the classification of students whether administrators like it or not. Similarly, identifying and rewarding “excellent” teachers will result in a public disclosure of the list no matter how hard administrators try to contend the information is confidential… and if student test results can purportedly be used to rank teachers and districts DON’T publish the results or calculate them, enterprising parent organizations or media outlets WILL do it.

The real problem with all this is that “value added” analyses are completely unproven as a basis for evaluating teachers except on the grossest level. When student test results are interpreted in a granular fashion, they assume an exactness that does exists mathematically but not practically.  Until the USDOE abandons it’s illusion that value-added analysis is worthwhile we will continue to publicly humiliate teachers over nothing.

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