Monday, August 13, 2018

Back to School Lesson Planning

It's that time of the year! If you have not started back to school yet, you are about to! 

When educators think about preparing lessons for the upcoming year, we ask reflect upon the previous years and ask ourselves some questions: 

"What worked before?"

"What did not work?"

"What resources can I bring into my classroom that will interest the students?"

"How can I respect the different cultural backgrounds of my students?"

... and many, many more.  

We hope part of the reflections that you are doing include giving space to the intersections of teaching, learning, and race. 

Two amazing resources that were published this past year came from some amazing authors that are personal friends of ours. 

Teaching for Black Lives
Excerpt from the introduction:  We do not expect Teaching for Black Lives to end police violence against Black communities, stop anti-Black racism in schools, or end the school-to-prison pipeline. We do, however, see this collection as playing an important role in highlighting the ways educators can and should make their classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as well as sites for knowing the hope and beauty in Blackness. The ferocity of racism in the United States against black minds and black bodies demands that teachers fight back. We must organize against anti-blackness amongst our colleagues and in our communities; we must march against police brutality in the streets; and we must teach for Black lives in our classrooms. We call on others to join us in this fight.

 The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools
Excerpt: This is a book of hope as well as condemnation. The emphasis is on restorative justice and reconciliation. The graphic depictions of the history of racism and discrimination unite the struggles of resistance movements – including Black Lives Matter and the Badass Teachers Association. It is a call for the re-Imagining of public schools as places of racial justice that welcome every child in a society that recognizes the nation has an ethical responsibility to honor the civil rights of children and ensures that each child has the very finest education U.S. public schools can provide.

Ethnic studies is the critical analysis and study of the roles of race and culture on identity and experience. It teaches the histories and cultures of marginalized groups such as African Americans, Latinxs people, immigrants, and others. Curriculum also explores the ways people create power, justice and agency in their own lives, as well as in society and within political and economic systems.

 Doug Edelstein, retired, Nathan Hale High School (Social Equity Educators)

Below are several links to help you on your journey: 

Decolonizing Education Through Dismantling Hierarchies v

One Powerful Way to Institutionalize Racial Justice in Our Schools


The Benefits of Ethnic Studies Courses

Ethnic Studies In Seattle: A look inside the classrooms of antiracist educators

Our History Matters

Happy planning!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Is this A Tried And True Alternative To Charter Schools? by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig

Originally posted at:

Is there a tried and true alternative to the privately-controlled for-profit and non-profit charter schools? Yes. I previously blogged about community schools in the post California NAACP calls for the choice of community schools. I was honored to volunteer to be on the recent NEA taskforce to design a new policy statement about community schools. Here is the policy statement that passed at the NEA RA few days ago. There is occasionally some “confusingness” about the community schools model, so read the statement below for an outline of the model.
Policy Statement on Community Schools


Consistent with NEA’s core values that “public education is the gateway to opportunity,” and that “all students have the human and civil right to a quality public education that develops their potential, independence, and character,” and recognizing that opportunity gaps in our society have resulted in an uneven and unjust public education system where some communities have public schools that provide “individuals with the skills and opportunities to be involved, informed, and engaged in our representative democracy” and some do not, NEA believes all schools should use research-backed school improvement strategies designed to support a racially just education system that ensures that all students and their families have the support needed to thrive and grow. The Community School Model (CSM) has a strong track record of closing opportunity gaps, supporting a culturally relevant and responsive climate, and causing signifcant and sustained school improvement. NEA supports the use of the Community Schools Model in public schools where the local staff and community are supportive.

Public Community Schools: Public community schools are both places and partnerships that bring together the school and community to provide a rigorous and engaging academic experience for students, enrichment activities to help students see positive futures, and services designed to remove barriers to learning. Students engage in real-world problem solving as part of their curriculum. Community schools involve and support families and residents in the public school community and organize the wealth of assets that all communities have to focus on our youth and strengthen families and communities. Public schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone.
Community School Model: Any public school can use the community school model, which is intended to be tailored to the specifc needs of an individual school’s students, staff, families, and community members. The community school model advanced by NEA is based on Six Pillars of Practice as implemented through four key mechanisms.
Stakeholder: Stakeholder refers to anyone who is invested in the welfare and success of a school and its students, including administrators, educators, students, parents, families, community members, local business leaders, and elected officials such as school board members, city councilors, and state representatives. Stakeholders may also be collective entities, such as local businesses, organizations, advocacy groups, committees, media outlets, and cultural institutions, in addition to organizations that represent specifc groups, such as associations, parent-teacher organizations, and associations representing superintendents, principals, school boards, or educators in specifc academic disciplines.
Partners: Partner refers to external organizations and individuals that form informal and formal relationships with a school that is using the Community School Model to fll strategy needs. These organizations can include local businesses, advocacy groups, educator associations, parent-teacher organizations, religious organizations, schools, universities, nonproft organizations, and other types of organizations that local stakeholders determine fill a strategic need.
The Six Pillars include:
  1. Strong and Proven Culturally Relevant Curriculum: Educators provide a rich and varied academic program allowing students to acquire both foundational and advanced knowledge and skills in many content areas. Students learn with challenging, culturally relevant materials that address their learning needs and expand their experience. They also learn how to analyze and understand the unique experiences and perspectives of others. The curriculum embraces all content areas including the arts, second languages, and physical education. Teachers and ESP are engaged in developing effective programs for language instruction for English learners and immigrant students. Rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate are offered. Learning and enrichment activities are provided before and after the regular school day, including sports, the arts, and homework assistance. The needs of parents and families are addressed through English-as-a-Second-Language classes, GED preparation, and job training programs.
  2. High-quality Teaching and Learning: Teachers are fully licensed, knowledgeable about their content, and skillful in their practice. Instructional time focuses on learning rather than testing. Individual student needs are identifed and learning opportunities are designed to address them. Higher-order thinking skills are at the core of instruction so that all students acquire problem solving, critical thinking, and reasoning skills. Educators work collaboratively to plan lessons, analyze student work, and adjust curriculum as required. Experienced educators work closely with novices as mentors, coaches, and “guides on the side,” sharing their knowledge and expertise. ESP members take part in professional learning experiences and are consulted and collaborate when plans to improve instruction are developed. Together, educators identify the methods and approaches that work and change those that do not meet student needs.
  3. Inclusive Leadership: Leadership teams with educators, the community school coordinator, and other school staff share the responsibility of school operations with the principal. This leadership team ensures that the community school strategy remains central in the decision-making process.
  4. Positive Behavior Practices (including restorative justice): Community school educators emphasize positive relationships and interactions and model these through their own behavior. Negative behaviors and truancy are acknowledged and addressed in ways that hold students accountable while showing them they are still valued members of the school community. All members or the faculty and staff are responsible for ensuring a climate where all students can learn. Restorative behavior practices such as peer mediation, community service, and post-confict resolution help students learn from their mistakes and foster positive, healthy school climates where respect and compassion are core principles. Zero-tolerance practices leading to suspension and expulsion are avoided.
  5. Family and Community Partnerships: Families, parents, caregivers, and community members are partners in creating dynamic, fexible community schools. Their engagement is not related to a specific project or program, but is on-going and extends beyond volunteerism to roles in decision making, governance, and advocacy. Both ESP and teachers are part of developing family engagement strategies, and they are supported through professional learning opportunities. Their voices are critical to articulating and achieving the school’s overall mission and goals. When families and educators work together, students are more engaged learners who earn higher grades and enroll in more challenging classes; student attendance and grade and school completion rates improve.
  6. Coordinated and Integrated Wraparound Supports (community support services): Community school educators recognize that students often come to school with challenges that impact their ability to learn, explore, and develop in the classroom. Because learning does not happen in isolation, community schools provide meals, health care, mental health counseling, and other services before, during, and after school. Staff members support the identification of services that children need. These wraparound services are integrated into the fabric of the school that follows the Whole Child tenets. Connections to the community are critically important, so support services and referrals are available for families and other community members.
Public Community School Implementation: Implementation of the Community Schools Model requires that dedicated staff and structures use proven implementation mechanisms.
  1. Community School Coordinator: Every community school should have a community school coordinator that plays a leadership role at the school, is a member of the school leadership team, and is a full-time staff member. The CSC has training and specialized skills that supports building and managing partnerships in diverse communities, creating and coordinating an integrated network of services for students and their families, and optimizing both internal and external resources. The CSC connects students and their families with services in the community.
  2. Needs and Asset Assessment: The foundation for the community school model is a school-based needs and asset assessment that assesses including academic, social, and emotional needs and assets (including staff expertise and community supports of the school and surrounding community). The needs and asset assessment, facilitated by the CSC, is an inclusive process in which families, students, community members, partners, teachers, ESP, administrators, and other school staff defne their needs and assets. Problem-solving teams are established based on the needs determined in the needs and asset assessment.
  3. School Stakeholder Problem-solving Teams: Every community school should have teams of school staff and community stakeholders (families, parents) dedicated to solving problems that are identifed in the needs and asset assessment. The solutions identifed by the stakeholder problem-solving teams change the way things are done in and outside of school hours and, at times, involve partnerships with outside organizations and individuals.
  4. Community School Stakeholder Committee: The community school stakeholder committee (CSSC) coordinates between school staff, partners (organizations, businesses, town and city service providers), and stakeholders to ensure goals are achieved and obstacles are surmounted. The CSSC, which includes families, community partners, school staff, students, and other stakeholders from the school’s various constituencies, works in collaboration with the school leadership team and supports coordination across and among community schools within a school district.
The Role of the Association in Advancing the Community School Model

Awareness. NEA believes that there must be increased awareness among its members and the public about the large body of evidence that demonstrates the effcacy of the Community School Model in supporting racial justice in education and closing opportunity gaps to achieve measurable school improvement gains. NEA encourages schools and districts to use the community school model.
Advocacy. NEA has a responsibility to advocate for community school policies and procedures, legislation, and practices that will result in school improvement gains. As educators, NEA is in the best position to advance the adoption of community school policies.
There were a few amendments to the the statement designed by the taskforce, many of them were suggested by the the BAT teachers at the RA.

Amendment A-1

Amend page 5, lines 38 and 45 by addition:

Stakeholders may also be collective entities, such as local businesses, local unions, organizations, advocacy groups, committees, media outlets, and cultural institutions, in addition to organizations that represent specific groups, such as associations, parent-teacher organizations, and associations representing superintendents, principals, school boards, or educators in specific academic disciplines.
These organizations can include local businesses, local unions, advocacy groups, educator associations, parent-teacher organizations, religious organizations, schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, and other types of organizations that local stakeholders determine fill a strategic need.

Amendment A-2

Amend page 7, line 38 by addition:

Contract Integrity. NEA should ensure that decisions made by collaborative bodies do not abrogate the contractual protections of any NEA member.

Amendment A-3Amend page 5, line 47 by addition:

These organizations can include local businesses, local unions, advocacy groups, educator associations, parent-teacher organizations, religious organizations, schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, and other types of organizations that local stakeholders determine fill a strategic need and that align with NEA values.

Amendment A-4

Amend page 6, line 28 by deletion:

Negative behaviors and truancy are acknowledged and addressed in ways that hold students accountable while showing them they are still valued members of the school community.

Amendment A-5

Amend page 6, line 14 by addition:

Instructional time focuses on learning rather than testing and on the use of authentic assessment over high-stakes testing.

Amendment A-6

Amend on page 6, line 14 by addition:

Teachers are fully licensed, knowledgeable about their content, and skillful in their practice. Programs to hire, recruit, and maintain educational staff should focus on recruitment from surrounding communities and should strive for ratios that reflect student demographics. Instructional time focuses on learning rather than testing.

Amendment A-7

Amend on page 6, line 13 by addition:

Teachers are fully licensed, meet the highest standards that are established, maintained, and governed by members of the profession, knowledgeable about their content, and skillful in their practice.

Amendment A-8

Amend on page 5, line 45 by addition:

…can include local businesses, particularly locally owned businesses, advocacy groups, educator associations, parent-teacher organizations, religious organizations,…
Also, a shout out the community-based schools on the campus of Hawkins in Los Angeles. I recently had the opportunity to visit and came away impressed with their community-based efforts.

So let’s get to work and support community schools nationwide as an alternative to privately-controlled for-profit and non-profit charter schools.

Bio: Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and blogger. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento. He also serves as the California NAACP Education Chair.
In addition to educational accomplishments, Julian Vasquez Heilig has held a variety of practitioner, research, and leadership positions in organizations from Boston to Beijing. These experiences have provided formative professional perspectives to bridge research, theory, and practice.
His current research includes quantitatively, qualitatively examining how high-stakes testing, accountability-based reforms,and market reforms impact urban minority students. Julian’s research interests also include issues of access, diversity, and equity in higher education.
The sum of his scholarship is nearly 60 articles, reports and chapters. Of these, 30 are published and in-press peer-reviewed research. His work has appeared in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals such as Harvard Educational Review, American Journal of Education, Teachers College Record, Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Journal of Educational Administration. He has also published in five law reviews such as the Stanford Law and Policy Review and the Journal of Law and Education. Additionally, he has co-authored seven book chapters and four peer reviewed handbook articles
His work has been cited by the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, USAToday, Education Week, Huffington Post and other print and electronic media outlets. He has also appeared on local and national radio and TV including PBS, NBC, NBCLatino, NPR, Univision, Al Jazeera and MSNBC.
He has also conveyed invited testimony in state and national legislative bodies, spoken at more than 25 universities, and given prestigious addresses such as the Brodie Lecture and the Cambridge Forum.
He obtained his Ph.D. in Education Administration and Policy Analysis and a Masters in Sociology from Stanford University. He also holds a Masters of Higher Education and a Bachelor’s of History and Psychology from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
He blogs at Cloaking Inequity, consistently rated one of the top 50 education websites in the world by Teach100. Follow him on Twitter @ProfessorJVH.

Why the Handshakes Matter: The Violence of Whiteness in the Classroom by Ryan Williams-Varden

There are a couple videos circulating right now of teachers greetings their students as they come in the door. One is of a Black male teacher, Barry White, in Charlotte, North Carolina greeting his nearly exclusively Black students. The other is of a white female teacher, Jerusha Willenborg in Wichita, Kansas doing the same with her class of nearly exclusively Black students.  One of these is much more positive than the other! One is the expression of a shared experience and a shared culture. One is not. One is, probably, a well-intentioned attempt at building relationships that ends up doing what so many other white teachers do, perpetuate whiteness through appropriation and only serves to further entrench white supremacy in our schools. .
So let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. Nobody. Let me say that again, NOBODY is mad that Ms. Willenborg is trying to build with her students. That is, undoubtedly, a good thing. But that is not all that is going on here. Willenborg is doing more than greeting her students, she is sending messages—not just to her students, but now all of us– about race, whether she likes it or not.
First, the handshakes she is doing come from Black urban culture. That is not to say she can’t do them, but it is to say that doing them comes with a certain responsibility: unlearn whiteness. I can’t say this enough, those of us perceived as white need to be doing a massive amount of self-reflection and work around unlearning the ways we internalize and manifest whiteness therefore perpetuating white supremacy. Willenborg probably isn’t thinking about that though. barrywhitejr_1485864722832_7979681_ver1-0She just wants to make the kids feel good so she can teach them, I get that. Here is the thing though: Those smiles are coming with a message that all anybody has to do be like me, i.e. to relate to Blackness is shake up. They shake up, give her a forced and awkward hug and now trust me to teach you. The reality is  That is not how it works. Genuine relationships come from genuine self-reflection. It is impossible to have the type of meaningful relationships that teachers like Willenborg are trying to foster while remaining ignorant of the corrosive effects of whiteness.Without the understanding that whiteness is the equivalent of a Grand Canyon sized chasm between student and teacher. The reason that the kids in Mr. White’s class are way more geeked and way less awkward (besides the fact they don’t got to hug him) is because he is Black. That means no matter what there is shared experience. There may be difference too, he is a male who teaches females, that’s a difference, but there is a shared experience that Willenborg could never have.  That is why her handshakes come off as disingenuous and superificial. They are simply a facsimilie of a culture she is wearing as a costume for the moment.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe her classroom is full of anti-racist lessons and she is building up knowledge of self. That may be the case, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that in response to the video of Mr. White she asked her Facebook followers to share her video. She claimed she has been doing this for 3 years and in one true-colonizer fell swoop erases Mr. White and the hundreds and thousands of Black educators who been bulding relationships with kids long before she sat in the PD that taught her to greet her kids at the door and “relate” to them. captureWhat I do know is there is not a single picture on her Facebook with her and a person of color. It is hard to believe she is building authentic relationships with her kids if she doesn’t have meanigful relationships with Black people outside the school building. Say I’m wrong though, here is what else I know: if decolonization and justice was her pedagogy there is no way she would let a news station coverage to focus so narrowly on how she greeted her students. Furthermore, when we have unlearned whiteness we understand and resist the ways our skin color positions us to be a proxy for the system. Her attempted erasure of Mr. White and the work that he is doing is reprehensible. There is no reason to believe the handshakes are not a Trojan Horse smuggling into her classroom the violence of white supremacy.
Beyond that,  Willenborg is being used as an example of the benevolence of white people, the white savior archetype: Michelle Pfeifer in Dangerous Minds, Erin Gruwel in Freedom Writers and now Willenborg. It doesn’t matter her intentions. And that is the insidiousness of whiteness: Even with the best intentions we can commit acts of violence. We must do better.

Us, those with white skin and whiteness prescribed on us, must resist the temptation of warm fuzzy feelings, that savior shit is for the birds. If we truly want to be trusted. If we truly want to deserve to be in front of classrooms then we need to be courageous truth-telllers. Our curriculum should be rebellion 101. At every turn we need to be pointing out and speaking up. We need to be accomplices. We need to do way more than handshakes.
Bio - Ryan Williams-Virden is an educator and cultural worker from pre-gentrification Northeast Minneapolis. He writes about the intersection of race, class and gender as a way towards realizing his own liberation. You can catch him on a sunny day at the River with his wife, daughter, niece, brothers, parents, and dogs . You can also follow him on Twitter @Ryan612ne and @Riedk12

Top 10 Reasons You Can’t Fairly Evaluate Teachers on Student Test Scores by Steven Singer

Originally published at:

I’m a public school teacher.

Am I any good at my job?

There are many ways to find out. You could look at how hard I work, how many hours I put in. You could look at the kinds of things I do in my classroom and examine if I’m adhering to best practices. You could look at how well I know my students and their families, how well I’m attempting to meet their needs.

Or you could just look at my students’ test scores and give me a passing or failing grade based on whether they pass or fail their assessments.

It’s called Value-Added Measures (VAM) and at one time it was the coming fad in education. However, after numerous studies and lawsuits, the shine is fading from this particularly narrow-minded corporate policy.

Most states that evaluate their teachers using VAM do so because under President Barack Obama they were offered Race to the Top grants and/or waivers.

Now that the government isn’t offering cash incentives, seven states have stopped using VAM and many more have reduced the weight given to these assessments. The new federal K-12 education law – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – does not require states to have educator evaluation systems at all. And if a state chooses to enact one, it does not have to use VAM.

Meanwhile a teacher fired from the Washington, DC, district because of low VAM scores just won a 9-year legal battle with the district and could be owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay as well as getting his job back.

But putting aside the waste of public tax dollars and the threat of litigation, is VAM a good way to evaluate teachers?

Is it fair to judge educators on their students’ test scores?

Here are the top 10 reasons why the answer is unequivocally negative:

1) VAM was Invented to Assess Cows.

I’m not kidding. The process was created by William L. Sanders, a statistician in the college of business at the University of Knoxville, Tennessee. He thought the same kinds of statistics used to model genetic and reproductive trends among cattle could be used to measure growth among teachers and hold them accountable. You’ve heard of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) or TxVAAS in Texas or PVAAS in Pennsylvania or more generically named EVAAS in states like Ohio, North Carolina, and South Carolina. That’s his work. The problem is that educating children is much more complex than feeding and growing cows. Not only is it insulting to assume otherwise, it’s incredibly na├»ve.

2) You can’t assess teachers on tests that were made to assess students.

This violates fundamental principles of both statistics and assessment. If you make a test to assess A, you can’t use it to assess B. That’s why many researchers have labeled the process “junk science” – most notably the American Statistical Association in 2014. Put simply, the standardized tests on which VAM estimates are based have always been, and continue to be, developed to assess student achievement and not growth in student achievement nor growth in teacher effectiveness. The tests on which VAM estimates are based were never designed to estimate teachers’ effects. Doing otherwise is like assuming all healthy people go to the best doctors and all sick people go to the bad ones. If I fail a dental screening because I have cavities, that doesn’t mean my dentist is bad at his job. It means I need to brush more and lay off the sugary snacks.

3) There’s No Consistency in the Scores.

Valid assessments produce consistent results. This is why doctors often run the same medical test more than once. If the first try comes up positive for cancer, let’s say, they’re hoping the second time will come up negative. However, if multiple runs of the same test produce the same result, that diagnosis gains credence. Unfortunately, VAM scores are notoriously inconsistent. When you evaluate teachers with the same test (but different students) over multiple years, you often get divergent results. And not just by a little. Teachers who do well one year may do terribly the next. This makes VAM estimates extremely unreliable. Teachers who should be (more or less) consistently effective are being classified in sometimes highly inconsistent ways over time. A teacher classified as “adding value” has a 25 to 50% chance of being classified as “subtracting value” the next year, and vice versa. This can make the probability of a teacher being identified as effective no different than the flip of a coin.

4) Changing the test can change the VAM score.

If you know how to add, it doesn’t matter if you’re asked to solve 2 +2 or 3+ 3. Changing the test shouldn’t have a major impact on the result. If both tests are evaluating the same learning and at the same level of difficulty, changing the test shouldn’t change the result. But when you change the tests used in VAM assessments, scores and rankings can change substantiallyUsing a different model or a different test often produces a different VAM score. This may indicate a problem with value added measures or with the standardized tests used in conjunction with it. Either way, it makes VAM scores invalid.

5) VAM measures correlation, not causation.

Sometimes A causes B. Sometimes A and B simply occur at the same time. For example, most people in wheelchairs have been in an accident. That doesn’t mean being in a wheelchair causes accidents. The same goes for education. Students who fail a test didn’t learn the material. But that doesn’t mean their teacher didn’t try to teach them. VAM does not measure teacher effectiveness. At best it measures student learning. Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model. For instance, the student may have a learning disability, the student may have been chronically absent or the test, itself, may be an invalid measure of the learning that has taken place.

6) Vam Scores are Based on Flawed Standardized Tests.

When you base teacher evaluations on student tests, at very least the student tests have to be valid. Otherwise, you’ll have unfairly assessed BOTH students ANDteachers. Unfortunately standardized tests are narrow, limited indicators of student learning. They leave out a wide range of important knowledge and skills leaving only the easiest-to-measure parts of math and English curriculum. Test scores are not universal, abstract measures of student learning. They greatly depend on a student’s class, race, disability status and knowledge of English. Researchers have been decrying this for decades – standardized tests often measure the life circumstances of the students not how well those students learn – and therefore by extension they cannot assess how well teachers teach.

7) VAM Ignores Too Many Factors.

When a student learns or fails to learn something, there is so much more going on than just a duality between student and teacher. Teachers cannot simply touch students’ heads and magically make learning take place. It is a complex process involving multiple factors some of which are poorly understood by human psychology and neuroscienceThere are inordinate amounts of inaccurate or missing data that cannot be easily replaced or disregarded – variables that cannot be statistically controlled for such as: differential summer learning gains and losses, prior teachers’ residual effects, the impact of school policies such as grouping and tracking students, the impact of race and class segregation, etc. When so many variables cannot be accounted for, any measure returned by VAMs remains essentially incomplete.

8) VAM Has Never been Proven to Increase Student Learning or Produce Better Teachers.

That’s the whole purpose behind using VAM. It’s supposed to do these two things but there is zero research to suggest it can do them. You’d think we wouldn’t waste billions of dollars and generations of students on a policy that has never been proven effective. But there you have it. This is a faith-based initiative. It is the pet project of philanthrocapitalists, tech gurus and politicians. There is no research yet which suggests that VAM has ever improved teachers’ instruction or student learning and achievement. This means VAM estimates are typically of no informative, formative, or instructional value.

9) VAM Often Makes Things Worse.

Using these measures has many unintended consequences that adversely affect the learning environment. When you use VAMs for teacher evaluations, you often end up changing the way the tests are viewed and ultimately the school culture, itself. This is actually one of the intents of using VAMs. However, the changes are rarely positive. For example, this often leads to a greater emphasis on test preparation and specific tested content to the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or increasing student motivation. VAM incentivizes teachers to wish for the most advanced students in their classes and to push the struggling students onto someone else so as to maximize their own personal VAM score. Instead of a collaborative environment where everyone works together to help all students learn, VAM fosters a competitive environment where innovation is horded and not shared with the rest of the staff. It increases turnover and job dissatisfaction. Principals stack classes to make sure certain teachers are more likely to get better evaluations or vice versa. Finally, being unfairly evaluated disincentives new teachers to stay in the profession and it discourages the best and the brightest from ever entering the field in the first place. You’ve heard about that “teacher shortage” everyone’s talking about. VAM is a big part of it.

10) An emphasis on VAM overshadows real reforms that actually would help students learn.

Research shows the best way to improve education is system wide reforms – not targeting individual teachers. We need to equitably fund our schools. We can no longer segregate children by class and race and give the majority of the money to the rich white kids while withholding it from the poor brown ones. Students need help dealing with the effects of generational poverty – food security, psychological counseling, academic tutoring, safety initiatives, wide curriculum and anti-poverty programs. A narrow focus on teacher effectiveness dwarfs all these other factors and hides them under the rug. Researchers calculate teacher influence on student test scores at about 14%. Out-of-school factors are the most important. That doesn’t mean teachers are unimportant – they are the most important single factor inside the school building. But we need to realize that outside the school has a greater impact. We must learn to see the whole child and all her relationships –not just the student-teacher dynamic. Until we do so, we will continue to do these children a disservice with corporate privatization scams like VAM which demoralize and destroy the people who dedicate their lives to helping them learn – their teachers.

NOTE: Special thanks to the amazingly detailed research of Audrey Amrein-Beardsley whose Vamboozled Website is THE on-line resource for scholarship about VAM.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!