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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 11/24/2010

Schools chief returns Race to the Top money -- for his teachers

By Valerie Strauss

A number of school districts in states that won money in the Education Department's $4 billion Race to the Top competition have decided they don’t actually want the money because, in most cases, officials think it is more trouble to accept it.

In Ohio, which won $400 million in the Race sweepstakes, more than two dozen districts and public charter schools say they think it will cost them more than they will get from the federal government to implement the required reforms, according to Sean Cavanagh at

And then there is the Jones County School District near Macon, Ga., headed by Superintendent Bill Mathews.

Mathews has decided not to accept $1.3 million in Race to the Top money -- the district’s share of Georgia’s $400 million pot -- for reasons including his refusal to implement a value-added assessment system for teachers, based on student standardized test scores. (The county had signed up for the money before Mathews became superintendent last year.)

Assessment experts say these systems should not be used to evaluate teachers, pointing to new research that indicates they are not reliable and error rates are unacceptably high, but they are supported anyway by the Obama administration. Many of these systems are seen by teachers as ignoring other factors beside a teacher’s influence that can affect a student's performance on a standardized test.

And that’s why Mathews decided not to accept the money and why the county school board went along with his recommendation.

Mathews was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the research doesn't bear out the effectiveness of these systems, and that implementing one would be too expensive. He said that educating children in the county’s public schools is a team effort by all of the adults in the building, and that singling out the teachers in this way would be wrong.

“My philosophy has always been that from the front door to the back door, from the secretary to the lunchroom worker, [everyone] is responsible for the student achievement of every child,” Mathews was quoted as saying. “We set our goals and if we meet our goals, we all celebrate.”

We’d all be a lot better off if there were more Bill Mathewses out there running our public school districts.


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 24, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
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You continue to missrepresent the experts on VAM.... from the very EPI study you site as evidence that the VAM should not be used:

"A review of the technical evidence leads us to conclude that, although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation."

Also- how come you didn't say anything about the Brookings Instiute research? That's not right or fair.

Posted by: mmccabe4724 | November 24, 2010 5:51 AM | Report abuse

She also left out this study:

“…our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement [that is, who do well at what Rhee and Kamras would call 'value-added scores'], on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes.

“Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value-added but positively correlated with follow-on course value-added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow-on related curriculum.

“Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value-added and negatively correlated with follow-on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value-added in follow-on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

“Similar to elementary and secondaryschool teachers, who often have advance knowledge of assessmentcontent in high-stakes testing systems, all professors teaching a given course at USAFA have an advance copy of the exam before it is given. Hence, educators in both settings must choose how much time to allocate to tasks that have great value for raising current scores but may have little value for lasting knowledge.

“Using our various measures of quality to rank-order professors leads to profoundly different results.”

“the correlation between introductory calculus professor value-added in the introductory and follow-on courses is negative, r=-0.68. Students appear to reward contemporaneous course value-added, r=+0.36, but punish deep learning, r=-0.31.”

Over at eduwonk, it sent Miss Rhee's chief defender into a snit:

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | November 24, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

@ phillipmarlowe:

Great Post. The eduwonk site was fun to visit for the first time too.

As I understand, the term "Wonk", was coined by the institutional government workers in Washington who keep it working, no matter who occupies the Capitol or the White House.

And "Wonk" spelled backwards is ...

Posted by: AGAAIA | November 24, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I particularly like the Air Force Academcy study (cited by philipmarlowe above) because the individual members of the student body are so similar to each other in ability, motivation and stability(unlike your typical high school) that the outcome of VAM would logically be more reflective of the teachers than it would be in other educational settings.

Posted by: efavorite | November 24, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I've got no problem with discussing the issues and giving thoughtful consideration to all the available research... with an understanding that there is a real difference between theory and practice. But let's do so without missrepresenting what the so-called experts are saying.

As for the Airforce Study- it's interesting- but I'm not sure the extent to which it is generalizable. Efavorite- a lack of diversity within a population is often a statistical problem, not something that makes it more valid. I've taken alot of stat classes but wouldn't call myself a statistician by any means, so I don't know the extent to which that's a problem in this current study.

One issue with VAM- is that the tests that are given should be vertically scaled. That means the test must cover mulitple years... In essence a test used to evaluate a 4th grade teacher should test must test 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade material. We then begin to get a real understanding of what a teacher has added to that student's learning. This current study seemed to use a "final exam" in the 1st year course as the measure of value-added of the professor. It seems to me you had some professors that "knew what was coming" down the road and incoporated that knowledge into what they taught the 1st year kids the first year. Their kids did more poorly on the final exam, but were better prepared for what they needed to know in the future. You had other less experiened (and untenured???) professors teaching directly to the test... they either didn't know what was coming or didn't care because they wanted to "look good."

What I like about this study- is that it perhaps shows the dangers of "teaching to the test" and the associated narrowing of the curriculum that it can occur. This does not mean we shouldn't test. What it means is we need to be very careful about how we make and use tests. Had the test used been vertically scaled, it may have revealed different results of teacher effectiveness.

The point here, is that there is a relatively consistent voice in academia saying tests should NOT be used to make high-stake decisions. To the extent that they are- this is particularly problematic. We shouldn't decide based on one test and one year of data that a teacher doesn't deserve to be a teacher. But it IS possible to use this data as part of a braoder and more compreshenive evaluation system.

If people on all sides of this issue would stop and think about what that comprehensive evaluation system would look like- a system that would recongize differences in teaching ability- a system that likewise recongizes their are multiple variables that impact student achievement, we could get down to the important business of improving our schools and creating lasting change.

Posted by: mmccabe4724 | November 24, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Air Force Academy has a rather homogeneous student body, yes, but also a very large group of rightwing religionists and prosyletizers. Good prep and demeanor in class, but the possibility of backroom beatings for nonbelievers.

Posted by: axolotl | November 24, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

AX - I assume you are an Air Force Academy graduate who now teaches there to make such sweeping statements with good authority.
Oh, I remember now. You never have any data to support anything you say, even when requested here. Why not give us all a rest and stay off for a few months/years?

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | November 24, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

mmccabe - I doubt the AF research is generalizable. I do think it's a good and probably rare example of a student body well controlled in many ways usually not possible. Students are of similar abilities and interests. They also live in the same conditions with similar eating and sleeping patterns. You can't say that about many high schools, if any.

THose conditions help isolate the teaching variable in ways that are usually not possible.

Posted by: efavorite | November 24, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Mmccabe, in the last paragraph of your 2nd post, it should be "there" instead of "their". But of course, I'm sure you blame your teachers.

Sorry ... just couldn't help myself.

Posted by: peonteacher | November 24, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Matthews is a smart man. He got a tiny piece of money to implement false reforms, and he was wise enough not to take the bait.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 24, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

At least they admit that they cannot achieve the goals and returned the money. Let another district that feels it can achieve the requirements and goals have the money. At least the residents of that community know what to expect from their school district.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | November 24, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

The AFA is a college. Students elect and pay to go there. It is not a high school, middle school, or elementary school. And they tend to take top-tier students. They do not have special education, limited English, or economically disadvantaged students. And lastly, all of the students can vote. Yes, I clearly see it now. This is a perfect example to support "value-added" models in teacher accountability.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 25, 2010 1:05 AM | Report abuse

dhume1 - did you read the AFA study? It does NOT support the value-added model.

In other words, even in a situation with so much controlled for, VAM doesn't work the way it's supposed to. It does not enhance knowledge - it just enhances scores in that one class.

Teachers with high VAM ultimately do not promote long term learning. Kids get high grades in the high VAM teacher's class that does not translate into more knowledge in the next course they take.

PLease read the study.

Posted by: efavorite | November 25, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Read it. However, I still think the study is a wash. I am certainly no fan of "value-added" methodologies, but this study will do absolutely nothing to help the cause. Wish it would but there are just too many non-comparative aspects associated with it. It is more like an allegory.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 26, 2010 12:03 AM | Report abuse

While I can understand Superintendent Mathews comments, and agree teachers should be evaluated using more than student test scores... was refusal of the funds the only option? In today's economy, can any school afford to say "No" to $1.3 million?

Compared to other states, Georgia is consistently ranked as one of the worst for education. Could extra funds help fix this problem? Could the problem be lack of teacher evaluations, letting poor teachers skate through?

Just a few months ago, the Jones County School District issued a press release outlining budget cuts... furloughs for teachers, cutting some teacher/administration positions, and eliminating Summer School were a few of the items listed.

I wonder, what is in the best interest of the students -- to refuse the money and cut programs, or to accept the money and keep programs?

Posted by: eect | November 30, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Until ALL teachers of all subject areas are paid and evaluated fairly, teachers should not be paid based primarily on student achievement. For instance, math teachers in Georgia are now struggling to make sense of the state's confusing overhaul and implementation of the math curriculum. The entire implementation of this new integrated curriculum was flawed from the first, so many high school students are stuggling now to pass and to graduate on time. Is this the fault of math teachers? do they deserve to be evaluated on student achievement?
Other courses of study in non-academic fields are not feeling the same pressure nor are the students being tested in those areas. Fair, no! Maybe the answer is to pay teachers of math and other critical areas more than teachers of other areas. This might offer an incentive for more teachers to remain teachers in critical fields. Mr. Matthews has the right idea--student achievement does not always depend on the teacher.

Posted by: fairpayforallteachers | December 1, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

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