Skip to main content

Once President Barack Obama referred to the claim that teacher quality translates directly into increasing lifetime earnings of students, that assertion and connected study are destined to remain in the public domain in the same way that claims about three quality teachers in a row has persisted. These claims share something other than being quickly and broadly embraced, however; they are also misleading, incomplete, and harmful to our understanding and pursuit of higher teacher quality (see DiCarlo on three great teachers in a row claims and NEPC's review of NBER study connecting teacher quality and student lifetime earnings).

Part of the problem with building education policy on flawed research is that the debate tends to focus on the quality of the study in question, and as a result, we fail to ask broader questions about the process. For example, even critics of some of these studies and policies coming from the studies remain steadfast in pursuing metrics-based teacher quality research:

"I've long argued that the worthwhile debate over value-added accountability is not whether it's 'good' or 'bad' but how to do it smart." (From Rick Hess's Straight Up blog at Education Week)

"Most of the controversy surrounding value-added and other test-based models of teacher productivity centers on the high-stakes use of these estimates. This is unfortunate – no matter what you think about these methods in the high-stakes context, they have a great deal of potential to improve instruction....Hopefully, these productive low/no-stakes uses for value-added have not been drowned out by all the controversy over its high-stakes use. Research and policy should start focusing on the former as well." (From Matthew DiCarlo at Shanker Blog)

The pursuit of better metrics for identifying high-quality teachers is just as flawed as the recurring pursuit of better/higher standards and better tests—all of which have failed to produce the reform they are intended to support.

Reforming the Pursuit of Teacher Quality: Rejecting Metrics

If teacher quality matters, and it does, and if all students regardless of their life circumstances deserve high-quality teachers (or at least should never be subjected to years of inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers, as high-poverty, minority, and ELL students currently experience), we must rethink how we determine teacher quality, specifically by rejecting our traditional mania with metrics. This rethinking must include the following:

• Reject the rising culture of high-stakes testing by embracing appropriate uses of test data, which include understanding what data can and cannot explain (test data is a pale metric of learning, but it isn't learning) and avoiding using test data for purposes other than what tests were designed to measure (don't use student test scores to identify teacher quality, for example). [See the work of Bracey and Popham.]

• Shift away from focusing on teacher quality's correlations with test scores, drop-out rates, lifetime earning, and other metrics, and toward teachers' use of authentic assessment and teacher feedback to support student learning and development of the whole child. Expand, then, the evidence of high-quality teaching to include a wide range of artifacts, and not mere quantitative data.

• Decrease and then eliminate credentialing, certification, and accreditation bureaucracy that dilutes the power inherent in education as a rich and vibrant field of study. As someone who certified to teach (and taught high school for 18 years) and now is a teacher educator, I firmly believe certification bureaucracy to be the weakest link in how we move students into the field of teaching. Teachers must first be engaged and challenged students who experience and examine the most effective teaching practices that combine content knowledge with pedagogy.

• While majoring in education must combine sophisticated examinations of content in the context of teaching that content as well as placing future teachers often in the field, the first few years of every teacher's career should be heavily mentored to insure that no students find themselves in classrooms with inexperienced teachers alone. Teaching must be supported as a communal profession, one in which all teachers support and share in the teaching of all children. Current moves to implement merit pay and other forms of competition among teachers destroys the essential need for experienced and high-quality teachers to mentor new and struggling teachers.

• Professional organizations must be allowed to assume their rightful role as organizations that provide professional support and resources for autonomous educators (and not be reduced to extensions of the bureaucracy of certification and accreditation).

• Teacher salaries, advancement, and accountability must be linked to only that which is within those teachers' ability to control: (1) the learning conditions provided by the teachers, (2) the teachers' content knowledge as that is couched in pedagogy, (3) teaching experience, (4) levels of education attained related to content and/or teaching, and (5) teachers' scholarship. Teachers being held accountable for student outcomes is not equitable accountability since student outcomes are not within the control of any teacher.

• The use of data as descriptive must be distinguished from the use of data as predictive. The former is often powerful, and the latter is of little value and often more harmful than helpful.

For over a century, measuring, labeling, and ranking students has been at the center of our education system. During the past three decades, that process has been intensified. We sit in 2012 knowing that these metrics-based paradigms have failed miserably.

Applying that same metrics-mania (within punitive and competition-based policies) to our pursuit of high-quality teachers is more insanity and the only outcome possible is predictable failure—most notably diluting the pool of people willing to teach, discouraging high-quality teachers from working with the students having the greatest needs, and reducing an honorable profession to a service industry.

Suggesting that we need better metrics for identifying high-quality teachers is the same mistake as suggesting we need better standards and better tests. U.S. public education is struggling under the weight of problems that have nothing to do with these seemingly common-sense arguments. There is nothing worse than continuing to seek this fruitless array of "better" that masks what we should be doing instead.


Bracey, G. W. (2006). Reading educational research: How to avoid getting statistically snookered. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Popham, W. J. (2003). Test better, teach better: The instructional role of assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Popham, W. J. (2001a) Teaching to the Test? Educational Leadership, 58(6), 16–20.

Popham, W. J. (2001b). The Truth about testing: An educator’s call to action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Popham, W. J. (1999) Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality. Educational Leadership, 56(6), 8-15.

Sawchuk, S. (2011). EWA research brief: What studies say about teacher effectiveness. Washington DC: Education Writers Association. Retrieved 7 July 2011 from

Related Reading

Thomas, P. L. (2012, January 30). Further confessions of an outlier. Daily Kos.

-----. (2012, January 15). Accountability without autonomy is tyranny. Daily Kos.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Thu Feb 16, 2012 at 10:03 AM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Well said in all respects. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plthomasEdD, Teachers Advocate

    You've laid out the best set of arguments against the current "blame teachers" regime and the clearest set of ideas on what really should be done for (and about) teachers that I've ever seen.

    Now if we could only get anyone who actually has a hand in setting education policy to listen to them.

    Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

    by Stwriley on Thu Feb 16, 2012 at 11:52:21 AM PST

  •  Misfire: teacher accountability for student scores (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Avoid using test data for purposes other than what tests were designed to measure." Excellent analysis - right on the money!  Here's a real life example of a principal in Gilbert, AZ misusing student data to evaluate a national board certified teacher:

    "I put a statement about ATI Benchmark data in all the -- everybody's evaluation this year because year after next a component of the evaluation will be based on data and I didn't know what kind, but I thought I'd put something about data in here, so I picked ATI. And so according to ATI Benchmark data, out of 25 students total, 15 students were on course to meet the standards in AIMS Math. Two students are on track to exceed the standards in Math. And so I thought that was a really nice result."

    The principal did not share with the teacher how this data was derived or produce a report showing the data was correct. In fact, the text on the teacher's evaluation was quite different -- and wrong.

    What does ATI say about using student assessment data in this manner? Jason Kane Feld, Ph.D., Vice President, Corporate Projects, Assessment Technology Incorporated, stated that ATI Benchmarks are not intended for teacher evaluation. He added that ATI Benchmark data should not be used to compare teachers, either. His company presently is developing assessment instruments to comply with various states' new laws requiring teacher evaluations to include student data.

    The teacher responded to this evaluation: "There is no correlation between effectiveness as a teacher and the data you selected. Further, the data cannot support your conclusion "that was a really nice result." Your reference to a future requirement, "year after next a component of the evaluation will be based on data and I didn't know what kind" does not justify misusing student achievement assessments for teacher evaluation."

    One would think that Gilbert Public Schools superintendents or the Arizona Education Association would be concerned about misusing student assessment data to evaluate teachers and rely on such misused data to make critical employment decisions. One would be wrong.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site