Ohio's Value-Added System Rates Teachers, Doesn't Consider Poverty

In response to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's new series, "Grading the Teachers," the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries sent this letter to the paper stating that blaming school teachers for gaps in scores on standardized tests is not the way to go.

(Here are the articles in the series thus far: Ohio teachers graded by controversial 'value-added' measure, based on students' progress and Teacher pay and 'value-added' ratings seem largely unrelated.)

Posted with permission:

Fifty years ago Johns Hopkins sociologist James S. Coleman documented the most powerful factors affecting student achievement: the socio-economic background of children’s families and the concentration of poverty in particular communities.

Two years ago Duke economist Helen Ladd wrote: “Study after study has demonstrated that children from disadvantaged households perform less well in school on average than those from more advantaged households. This empirical relationship shows up in studies using observations at the levels of the individual student, the school, the district, the state, the country.”

A year and a half ago Stanford educational sociologist Sean Reardon documented that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. Reardon documents a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality achievement gap between very wealthy and very poor children, a gap that is 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975.

Surely we can agree that poverty should not be an excuse. But blaming school teachers for gaps in scores on standardized tests, as the Plain Dealer does in “Grading the Teachers,” is not only cruel to the teachers singled out when scores are published—for example, Euclid’s Maria Plecnik, a previously highly rated teacher who will leave the profession this year— but foolish as public policy. Who will want to teach in our poorest communities with the system of Value-Added Measures that the Plain Dealer acknowledges, “do not account for the socioeconomic backgrounds of students as they do in some other states.”

Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville critiques the logic of those who would blame school teachers: “Some want to make the absurd argument that the reason low-income youngsters do poorly is that, mysteriously, all the incompetency in our education systems has coincidentally aggregated around low income students. In this view, all we need to do is scrub the system of incompetency and all will be well.”

Blaming teachers certainly gets the rest of us off the hook. If we can just fire teachers, we won’t have to fund schools equitably or adequately. We won’t have to address the impact of economic and racial segregation or the shocking 22 percent child poverty rate in America, the highest in the industrialized world.

Ms. Jan Resseger
Minister for Public Education and Witness
Justice and Witness Ministries

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