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Steve Lunetta: In defense of school accountability

Posted: August 14, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 14, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

“People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins and in order to buy wins, you need to buy your runs.”

— Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in “Moneyball”

In the 2011 film about the Oakland As, general manager Billy Beane is forced to confront a cold, hard fact. His organization did not have the resources to compete with rich organizations for ballplayers.

Clubs like the Yankees and Red Sox stole his players by simply offering them more money.

In response, Beane had to create a new paradigm for evaluating talent that made his organization a winner yet cost-effective. He thought in terms of scoring runs, not hitting homers.

We see the results of his thinking today — the Oakland Athletics have the best record in major league baseball and have been contenders nearly every year.

Our education system could learn a lesson from Beane.

Recently, much noise has been coming from the education community about the Value Added Method or Value Added Modeling that is used to assess the effectiveness of teachers.

In a nutshell, Value Added Modeling uses a statistical tool to look at a student’s past test scores and estimate how that child should score at the end of the next school year.

The actual test value is compared to the estimate, and the increase or decrease is attributed to the teacher’s effectiveness.

Supporters say this normalizes out factors such as economic standing, race and innate intelligence.

Critics say that it does not account for things such as tutoring or significant life changes in the students’ lives.

Like Beane’s sabermetric system, Value Added Modeling is an attempt to evaluate talent and accomplishment to determine if a teacher has been effective.

A recent column in The Signal by Jason Stanford used such inflammatory phrases as “snake oil,” “junk science” and “10 pounds of hooey in a 5 pound bag.” Stanford appears to be singing the chorus of many in the education community.

Let’s look at this closer.

For the casual observer, it seems like every time we try to evaluate the effectiveness of education, educators immediately attack, calling such evaluations impractical and flawed.

Standardized testing is a routine target of such criticism. Tests like the SAT have been criticized as “racist” or “culturally biased” in the way they ask questions.

Frankly, I have never understood how solving a math equation can be “culturally biased,” but that is beside the point.

I think the real issue here is that people don’t like to be evaluated. Teachers don’t want non-teachers (or anyone) looking at their work and determining if they have been effective.

It is an intrusion and distracts them from their real job — educating kids. Or so they say.

Here is a hard truth: we all get evaluated. Business owners are assessed by their customers. Reviews are done routinely of employees.

It’s often painful but extremely valuable. Unless we go through this process, we never improve. We never identify areas of weakness (or “opportunity”) and seek to become better.

I am routinely reviewed and welcome it as an opportunity to obtain feedback on my performance. I have tried over the years to take the information and grow into a more effective manager of people and a better employee.

Teacher’s unions seem to be opposed, on principle, to this process.

Stanford goes on to say that unions played a big role in stopping much of the support for Value Added Modeling.

Well, isn’t that special? These unions are against an assessment tool for making overall teaching more effective and creating better-prepared students.

Much like the recalcitrant talent scouts in “Moneyball,” they were unwilling to listen to anything new that would make them more competitive.

Stanford further criticizes the Value Added Modeling tool by claiming that “teachers account for only 1 to 14 percent of the variability in test scores.”

Hogwash. A good teacher can change a child’s entire direction and attitude toward learning.

I have used this column in the past to point out amazing teachers in our local schools. For Stanford to make this claim is not only ridiculous, but offensive.

By his logic, if teachers have so little impact, let’s cut teacher salaries in half and eliminate benefits. We can hire high school graduates and give them canned curricula to read from.

For, as Stanford infers, the influence that a teacher has is minimal.

Is Value Added Modeling a completely accurate and effective tool? It’s hard to say, but what I have learned over the years is that we take new tools and improve them to make better choices.

Being evaluated is not enjoyable. However, we cannot let teacher unions eliminate the fair evaluation of whether our education system is being effective.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and stands in awe of Billy Beane. He can be reached at sluntta63@yahoo.com.

 

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