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Evaluating Hillary on Teacher Evaluations Clarifying How We Assess Teacher Performance

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I’ll admit, I had a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride on Twitter on Monday.

It all started when I saw this tweet, which made me angry:

However, when I saw this tweet, I was hopeful that maybe Hillary’s “huge break” with Obama’s education policies wasn’t all it was cracked up to be:

But my mood plummeted once again when I saw this tweet from Hillary’s long-time friend and supporter, Randi Weingarten:

That last tweet, of course, refers to Hillary Clinton’s comments during a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in New Hampshire. Clinton briefly touched on the topic of teacher evaluations when asked for her thoughts on the increased emphasis around testing under the Obama Administration:

“I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes. There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence. Now, there is some evidence that it can help with school performance. If everybody is on the same team and they’re all working together, that’s a different issue, but that’s not the way it’s been presented…”

Over the past few years, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has prodded states to adopt teacher evaluations that incorporate value-added measures (VAM) of student performance by tying them to both Race to the Top and waivers from No Child Left Behind. Teachers unions and their supporters have pushed back against the policy, claiming that VAM is unreliable and is strongly influenced by factors outside of the classroom, such as poverty.

So is Hillary right to be skeptical about incorporating using students’ test results in teacher evaluations? Here’s a few things to keep in mind about recent efforts to judge teacher performance:

I. Nobody evaluates teachers on the basis of test scores alone

Reform critics often make the claim that teachers are losing their jobs based on the outcome of a single test. That’s simply not the case. To my knowledge1 (and please correct me if I’m wrong), there isn’t a single state that evaluates its teachers on the basis of test scores alone. In most places, test results only account for a fraction of a teacher’s overall evaluation score, which otherwise rely heavily on the results of classroom observations by school administrators.

Moreover, teacher evaluation laws in most states stipulate that teachers can only be terminated after they’ve been rated “ineffective” on two or more annual evaluations. So, to be clear: No, teachers are not being fired on the basis of a single test score.

Actually, this should say, "We don't grade teachers solely on tests."

Actually, this should say, “We don’t grade teachers solely on tests.”

II. Clinton is correct that pay-for-performance schemes haven’t worked

It seems logical to imagine that school districts could be able to increase achievement by offering performance bonuses to teachers whose students beat expectations on annual standardized tests. However, Clinton is correct that numerous studies have shown that pay-for-performance schemes don’t lead to gains in achievement.

That being said, it’s important not to conflate performance bonuses with efforts to differentiate teacher compensation based on performance or other factors. Collective bargaining agreements often involve a fixed salary scale in which teacher pay is based on credentials and years of service. Unions have resisted efforts by some districts to adopt a more flexible compensation approach which can take into account other factors like prior performance, subject matter expertise, etc.

III. Studies show high value-added teachers make a difference

In contrast to Clinton’s assertion, there is evidence that teachers with high VAM scores have a long-term impact on student success. One of the most commonly cited studies on VAM comes from the economists Raj Chetty, Jonah Rockoff, and John Friedman, who tracked one million students from an urban school district from the 4th grade to adulthood to evaluate the accuracy of those measures, as well as determine whether high value-added teachers improve students’ long-term outcomes.

In terms of VAM’s accuracy, Chetty, Rockoff, and Friedman’s research determined the following:

“We find that when a high VA teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade taught by that teacher; when a high VA teacher leaves, test scores fall. Test scores change only in the subject taught by that teacher, and the size of the change in scores matches what we predict based on the teacher’s VA.”

The three economists also revealed that high-value added teachers had a significant, long-term impact on their students – an impact that persisted well into adulthood:

“We find that students assigned to higher VA teachers are more successful in many dimensions. They are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in better neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers. Teachers have large impacts in all the grades we analyze (4 to 8). Teachers’ impacts on earnings are also similar in percentage terms for students from low and high income families.”

Chetty, Rockoff, and Friedman showed high-value added teachers have a demonstrable impact on students.

Chetty, Rockoff, and Friedman showed high-value added teachers have a demonstrable impact on students.

IV. States haven’t always used VAM in productive ways

I support rigorous teacher evaluations that incorporate student performance measures, but some states have used VAM in ways that are ultimately counterproductive to the effort to ensure that every classroom has an effective teacher. Since a majority of teachers are assigned to grades or content areas that are not assessed by state standardized tests, that means they don’t receive VAM scores every year. This poses a dilemma for policymakers who want to include an objective component like VAM into every teacher’s evaluation, but how do you do that for a music teacher?

Some states (Florida and New Mexico being two such examples) have opted to include a school-wide student growth measure in the evaluations of teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Essentially, this means those teachers are being evaluated, in part, on their students’ performance in other classes. Not only is this approach illogical and fundamentally unfair, it also gives ammunition to those opposed to evaluation reform who argue that the system is rigged against teachers.


  1. Full disclosure: I’ve previously worked for TNTP evaluating, developing, and implementing teacher evaluation models. 

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Explainer: Does AFT Really Have 1.7 Million Members? How The Union Uses Accounting Tricks To Inflate The Numbers

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On Friday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced its membership had risen to over 1.7 million members, surpassing the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to become the largest union in the AFL-CIO.

According to union officials, the milestone was reached last month when the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), which represents the U.S. territory’s 40,000 teachers, voted to affiliate with AFT.

However, as Education Week pointed out, the pact concluded between AFT and AMPR comes with several caveats. To start, the agreement only establishes a three-year “trial affiliation,” after which the two unions will decide whether to extend their relationship. Plus, although AMPR teachers will be considered full AFT members during this trial period, they will initially pay $12/year in dues to the union – far less than members of AFT affiliates elsewhere.

AMPR got a good deal from AFT: all the benefits of membership at a fraction of the cost.

But AFT’s 1.7 million claim is dubious for a more fundamental reason: the union uses creative accounting when tallying its membership. For example, in AFT’s 2016 annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor, they claimed to have 1.54 million members in 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, but a closer look reveals only 675,000 of those individuals were actual full dues-paying members. A significant portion of the rest belonged to a hodgepodge of special membership classes: one-half members (204,344), one-quarter members (93,047), one-eighth members (34,104), associate members (49,984), and laid-off/unpaid leave members (1,808).

Their count also included nearly 357,000 retiree members and approximately 128,000 members of affiliates – in Florida, Minnesota, Montana, New York, and North Dakota – that have merged with NEA.1

In short, as is often the case with AFT, there is a huge gap between their rhetoric and reality.


Read AFT’s 2016 DOL annual report:


  1. Note that these are self-reported numbers and therefore subject to AFT’s interpretation. In a piece in The 74 earlier this year, Mike Antonucci claimed, “more than 600,000 working AFT members belong to merged NEA/AFT local and state affiliates” in 2016. 
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Policy

Willful Blindness Official Pushing NYC's ATR Plan Has A History Of Giving A Pass to Bad Teachers

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The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is planning to move as many as 400 teachers out of the district’s Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) and into full-time classroom positions at schools this fall, regardless of whether those schools want to hire them.

Principals have had control over staffing at their schools since 2005, when the district officially adopted “mutual consent” hiring. That shift resulted in the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, which is comprised of teachers who were forced out of their jobs or lost them due to school closures, but have not found new positions.

UFT president Mike Mulgrew, Mayor Bill deBlasio & Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a press conference in 2014.

Thanks to NYCDOE’s contract with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), individuals in the ATR pool continue to receive full salary and benefits, even though nobody wants to hire them. According to data obtained by Chalkbeat, the district spent nearly $152 million last year to compensate ATR teachers.

District officials have been trying to shrink the size (and expense) of the ATR pool for years, leading some to wonder whether they would resort to forced placement to accomplish their goal. When New York City Council members posed that question directly to Chancellor Carmen Fariña in 2014, she emphatically stated: “There will be no forced placement of teachers.”

However, NYCDOE reneged on that promise last month when it was announced that principals will have until mid-October to fill vacancies at their schools, after which the district will place teachers from the ATR pool into any remaining openings.

The new policy has gotten an icy reception from principals and parent advocacy groups, who say the district is simply putting bad teachers back into classrooms. As evidence, they point to NYCDOE figures showing that a third of the teachers in the ATR pool ended up there due to legal or disciplinary problems and half have been there for two or more years.

“There is not one parent in New York City who would willingly accept one of these ATRs into their child’s classroom,” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said in a blog post on the ATR plan. “It is unconscionable to put the worst teachers into the classrooms of the neediest students.”

NYCDOE’s Absent Teacher Reserve by the numbers.

In an effort to allay those concerns, NYCDOE issued a statement noting that “DOE has discretion on which educators in the ATR pool are appropriate for long-term placement and may choose not to assign educators who have been disciplined in the past.” Nevertheless, the department has not explicitly ruled out the possibility that teachers with disciplinary records could be used to fill vacancies.

That fact is especially troubling when one considers that Randy Asher, the NYCDOE administrator overseeing the Absent Teacher Reserve plan, was accused of letting bad teachers run amok in his previous role as principal of Brooklyn Technical High School.

Randy Asher, who formerly served as principal of Brooklyn Tech High School, now oversees the Absent Teacher Reserve for NYCDOE.

Asher served as principal of Brooklyn Tech for nearly eleven years before assuming his current role in January. During that time, the elite public high school was racked by a series of sex scandals involving faculty members, including the widely-publicized case of Sean Shaynak, a Brooklyn Tech math teacher who victimized seven female students.

According to a lawsuit filed by the victims, Asher and his fellow Brooklyn Tech administrators knew about Shaynak’s sexually suggestive antics (such as the time he showed up to a school dance wearing a skimpy schoolgirl’s uniform), but did nothing to address them. For his part, Asher claimed he was unaware of Shaynak’s devious behavior, but was “horrified and disgusted at the allegations.”

NYCDOE eventually settled the victims’ lawsuit for $450,000 and Shaynak was sentenced to five years in prison.

Although Asher claimed he was unaware of Shaynak’s sexually inappropriate behavior, photos of Shaynak in drag appeared in the school’s yearbook.

In light of Asher’s history, it’s hard to see how the public can trust that officials will use their discretion to keep the least desirable ATR teachers out of the classroom. That’s why parents and community members should fight to prevent NYCDOE from implementing its forced placement plan and call on city leaders to solve the district’s ATR problem by demanding a phase-out in contract negotiations with UFT next year.

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