Of all the facets of Rheeism, the one that always made the least sense to me is evaluating teachers based upon the standardized tests of students. Even if you believe that the teacher union busters sincerely want to improve education for children, all that basing employment on standardized test scores means is that any teacher who can get out of teaching poor children will get out of teaching poor children. Why risk your job teaching poor kids when you can teach middle class or wealthy kids who you know will do fine on standardized tests? But try telling that to the Rheeists. Luckily, there is finally some real pushback on this ridiculousness. Rachel Cohen:
The Houston teachers union scored a legal victory in May when a federal judge found that the Houston school district’s system of evaluating teachers violates due process rights. The lawsuit centered on the system’s use of value-added modeling (VAM), a controversial statistical method aimed at isolating a teacher’s effectiveness based on their students’ standardized test scores.
United States Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith concluded that the metric’s impenetrability rendered it unconstitutional. Because, he wrote, teachers have “no meaningful way to ensure” that their value-added ratings are accurate, they are “subject to mistaken deprivation of constitutionally protected property interests in their jobs.” More specifically, he continued, because the school district denies its teachers access to the computer algorithms and data that form the basis of each teacher’s VAM score, it “flunks the minimum procedural due process standard of providing the reason for termination ‘in sufficient detail to enable [the teacher] to show any error that may exist.’”
It’s unclear whether the Houston school district will now negotiate a settlement with the teachers union or end up back in court, but either way, the decision comes at a significant time for the test-based accountability movement, which has faced a number of legal and political challenges over the past several years. The outcomes of the court battles have so far been a mixed bag: Teachers challenging VAM have scored some wins, lost other big cases, and a few major suits are still pending. Outside the courtroom, states have begun implementing the new federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act—which imposes far less pressure on the states to use VAM or similar measures than what they faced during the Obama administration.
Donald Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has also signaled she’s less interested in using test scores to define school performance.
Donald Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has also signaled she’s less interested in using test scores to define school performance. (“I’m not a numbers person in the same way you are,” she said in March, in response to a question about measuring school success. “But to me, the policies around empowering parents and moving decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.”) Considering all this, some experts have gone so far as to say that regardless of what ends up happening in the judicial system, the political momentum for using test-based accountability measures is all but over.
Never forget that Barack Obama holds enormous responsibility for the neoliberalization of American education. Demand accountability from all Democratic candidates, from school board to president, to support teacher-friendly initiatives to improve education, such as fighting poverty and providing teachers more pay and resources.