Is Weingarten Really Against VAM? Or Was Her Conversion “A Sham”?
In January 2014, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten finally stated that she is completely opposed to using value added modeling (VAM) as a component on teacher evaluations. As Audrey Amrein-Beardsley notes on her blog, Vamboozled:
…Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has (finally) expressed her full opposition against using value-added models (VAMs), the statistical measures of utmost interest on this blog, for teacher evaluation, accountability, and merit pay purposes. …
As background, Randi wrote the foreword to the only academic book that has been released on VAMs to date — Value-Added Measures in Education — written by now Tulane Associate Professor of Economics, Douglas Harris. In addition, Weingarten unfortunately wrote the foreword in support of Harris’s overall (and, in my opinion, highly misguided and prematurely enthusiastic) stance on VAMs, writing things like Harris “presents a convincing argument that value-added’s imprecision need not be a deal breaker as long as we understand where it comes from and how to account for it when these measures are used in schools. We cannot expect any measures of teacher quality – value-added or others – to be perfect.” Unfortunately, Weingarten co-signed Harris’s stance that VAMs are “good enough” for their current uses and utilities, mainly riding on the fact that they are better than the other test-based accountability options used in the past. For more about Harris’s book and his overall position, read a commentary I wrote in Teachers College Record in review of his book and his “good enough” stance.
As per a recent post on politico.com, Weingarten’s new mantra is that “VAM is a sham.” This is “a notable shift for the AFT and its affiliates, which have previously ratified contracts and endorsed evaluation systems that rely on VAM. [Emphasis added.]
In August 2010, Weingarten’s official stance as noted on the AFT website was that VAM was okay, just so long as it was not used “in isolation.”
So, in 2010, VAM was okay; in January 2011, Harris’ book with Weingarten’s foreword was published.
In 2014, Weingarten was fully, completely, decidedly against VAM… right?
Maybe not. Maybe a shakier method (if you can imagine), “student growth percentiles” (SGP), is just fine. As Wendy Lecker reports:
Connecticut uses an even more inaccurate method [than VAM] called Student Growth Percentiles (“SGP”). While VAM tries but fails to isolate a teacher’s small effect on student test scores, SGP does not even attempt to measure a teacher’s effect.
SGP tells us nothing about a teacher. Yet that is what Connecticut uses for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Though SGP is a portion of a teacher’s evaluation, it will likely be the determining factor because its volatility will make it the tipping point in a rating. [Emphasis added.]
On June 17, 2014, Weingarten spoke in Connecticut and endorsed Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy for re-election.
Malloy is decidedly “a worse than VAM” (again, if you can imagine) promoter. From a post I wrote on June 16, 2014:
Dannel Malloy is a corporate-reform-friendly governor.
He wholeheartedly promotes the flawed (let me add, worse-than) value added measures (VAM) method of rating teachers using student test scores. And what to do with an obviously failed VAM? Why, add more test scores. As civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker writes:
Fact: Connecticut’s (SGP) teacher evaluation plan, because it relies on student standardized test scores, is fundamentally flawed. Student test scores cannot measure a teacher’s contribution to student learning. In fact, the president of the Educational Testing Service recently called evaluation systems based on student test scores “bad science.”
Rather than admit failure, the Malloy administration is trying futilely to “fix” the fatal flaw. Last week, PEAC, the panel charged with developing Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system, working under the direction of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, approved a change which calls for more standardized tests to be included in a teacher’s evaluation. …
By adding more tests of the same skills in the same subjects, PEAC merely added more meaningless “noise.” This addition will not give us any better picture of how well a teacher teaches.
Worse still, adding more tests increases the focus on tests, increases the frequency of testing, and distracts us from considering the skills teachers should be helping children develop. And since Connecticut’s evaluation system completely ignores these non-cognitive skills, they will be de-emphasized in school. [Emphasis added.]
Interestingly, the post above is entitled, What Will Weingarten Say in Connecticut on June 17? I wrote a response on June 17 in which I note that it doesn’t matter what Weingarten said since the AFL-CIO endorsement went through as planned.
I was wrong.
Here is part of Weingarten’s justification for supporting Malloy, as noted in the New Haven Independent:
“Yeah, I don’t like some of the things he has said either,” Weingarten said. But Malloy has increased education spending, she noted. (Schneider’s note: Malloy has also increased charter schools to compete for that “funding.”) And she said Malloy has led Connecticut to become a national model of how to use new evaluations to improve the teaching workforce—without eliminating tenure. …
She was asked about Malloy’s remark in 2012: “In today’s system, basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”
“There are a lot of people who say things they shouldn’t say,” Weingarten said. She said she has discussed the remark with Malloy and he sounded “very regretful.” And she said Malloy didn’t end up eliminating tenure—he found a way to make it easier to fire tenured teachers based on poor evaluations, but he didn’t get rid of their right to due process, she argued. [Emphasis added.]
How does Malloy “make it easier to fire tenured teachers”?
He uses a faulty “worse-than-VAM.”
This does not seem to bother Weingarten, who considers Malloy’s SGP promotion as “part of a national model of how to use new evaluations to improve the teaching workforce.” Weingarten hails Malloy as a leader in this regard.
She thinks Malloy’s use of SGP is fine since he has not removed due process.
Weingarten thinks “worse than VAM” is fine.
Her January 2014 “full opposition” appears to have been cosmetic.