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How can teachers be effective in a system that doesn’t value them?

Keith-Willaims-160The Teacher Effectiveness Initiative has become the most recent attempt and buzz word for the privatization and corporate takeover of public education. The broader question that remains unanswered and unaddressed is school-wide and community effectiveness!

Those who are in control and who have the financial backing will maintain they have no control over the system and the conditions under which our students live; they have identified and targeted teachers as the single most important and crucial element in the public school system. Therein, everything that is wrong with public education is addressed by blaming teachers.

The term "Teacher Effectiveness" sounds great and is great; however, how effective can a teacher become within an ineffective system that does not value teachers nor listen to the voice and concerns of teachers. Teachers do not make the rules; teachers do not decide the curriculum; teachers do not establish educational policy/laws; teachers do not support the over reliance on testing students; teachers clearly do not support Tennessee's added-value model (Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System) as a means of codifying students nor teachers.

We believe that if given the opportunity, adequate community, school administrative and parent support, we could improve student achievement and the quality of life for all children.

Under the banner of "Teacher Effectiveness" and Race to the Top, our teacher evaluation model has included TVAAS as 35 percent of every teacher's evaluation, with an additional 15 percent as student achievement; this places student data as 50 percent of every teacher's evaluation.

The real issue is what is TVAAS?

What we know is that it is not a scientifically acceptable algorithm or standard for measuring student growth or teacher impact because it is a projection growth model reeked with flaws and discrepancies that no one has analyzed properly. We believe that the most effective way to measure a teacher's impact on student achievement is to assess students with pre-tests and post-tests as is the practice in Florida and New York.

Further, if the purpose of an evaluation system is to improve teachers, it must contain quality and timely feedback, professionally developed growth plans, adequate support and competent and varied observers.

The esteemed Transition Planning Commission, along with the Transition Steering Committee and Gates operatives, have recommended and support gutting incentives for teachers to pursue and receive additional pay for advanced degrees. According to the MET (Measure of Effective Teaching) study commissioned by Gates, there is no correlation between the student achievement of teachers with advance training and those with minimum qualifications. Again, this is a brainless concept that would only allow the district to restrict teacher salaries at the peril of undermining this profession and decreasing student effectiveness.

The findings of the MET project are suspect at best! You must know that initially, teachers were compensated to participate in this study. It does not address the various methods of added value used in the seven districts. It does not identify the demographics of each district's population used in the study. It does not address leadership effectiveness and the quality of the observers. It does not reference professional development for teachers. It contains no validity to its findings, its weighting of multiple-measures or its finding that student data should count up to 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

The only MET findings that I am in total concert with are the importance of multiple measures and the validity of content knowledge for teaching. The MET report states, "Teachers shouldn't be asked to expend effort to improve something that doesn't help them achieve better outcomes for their students. If a measure is to be included in formal evaluation, then it should be shown that teachers who perform better on that measure are generally more effective in improving student outcomes."

The content knowledge tests studied by the MET project did not pass their validity test because the teachers who performed better on the test were not substantively more effective in improving student achievement.

(Keith O. Williams is president of the Memphis Education Association.)

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