The selective and convenient use of VAM

There is no excuse for giving up on the obligation to help children learn.

Poverty is no excuse. Having difficult and disruptive students is not an excuse. That more children are struggling with abandonment, separation and divorce is not an excuse either. None of these things are excuses for not helping a child, any child, to learn.

Chronic transiency as parents are chased out by or choose to run away from late rents and bill collectors is not an excuse.  Poor pre-natal care, chronic hunger and poor nutrition are not excuses. Substance abuse, addiction, neglect…none of these is an excuse. When violent “M-rated” video games outnumber books in the home, and when hours connected to a screen outside of school outnumber hours connected to positive human influences; not an excuse. When there is rarely a role model or guardian available to support the completion of academic work or transmit the intrinsic value of academic goals…yep, you guessed it: not an excuse.

As a teacher, there is no choosing to ignore the mission you accepted. Poverty is not an excuse teachers can use to “opt out” of helping all children to learn. The impacts and consequences of poverty and/or conditions of a student’s home life do not free a teacher from the obligation to teach. As a school, when you are challenged by a high percentage of students facing these challenges-you have no excuses, and shouldn’t. It is your job to help children make progress.

So how do we as a society demonstrate our dedication to joining with and supporting teachers in making academic and life outcomes more equitable for all students? When there is an immeasurable amount of data demonstrating that the factors and conditions already described (plus too many more to describe) can have negative impacts on developing bodies, brains, academic achievement and life outcomes, how do we measure and define the value a teacher and a school bring to the lives of these learners-despite the challenges…You know, make sure the profession isn’t “opting out”?

With tests!

Oh, and accountability and consequences.

I know, I know…the unwilling naysayers out there; the overpaid and overprotected unionized teachers out there enjoying their due process and tenure protections that a growing class of indentured servants doesn’t have; the supposed professional teachers reluctant to listen to interested politicians, business managers, television personalities and private school profiteers that look to redirect public dollars to a privately managed education market of “choices”…These wet blankets complain that a snapshot summative test, an extended, seated and silent moment in time isn’t a fair measure to use when there are so many other influences on student performance- and when careers could be ended unfairly.

Well then…We add more tests and collect more data! That is adding value…Value ADDED Measures, it’s called by those number-minded folks-or so it has been said. The more numbers you use to define humans the more valuable those numbers become.

We give them tests that are made for their grade level, but are written at sometimes two or more grade levels above their “zone of proximal development” (or ZPD), and we are told it’s okay because results are normative and comparisons are made between “like peers”-a cohort that shares numerous characteristics (age, grade level, marital status in the home…).

So how does inclusion of a myriad of data justify an evaluative and possibly firing correlation, but the myriad approach of influences over outcomes and who should also be accountable is avoided in favor of the “no excuses for schools and teachers” approach? How can we abide by a scope of accountability for student outcomes that is limited to one factor, the teacher, and absolve anyone else from addressing the other factors?

It has to do with who can be held responsible, and who refuses to be held responsible. It has to do with two classes of people: 1) a working class, educated profession that consistently and daily steps up to the plate to try whatever they can to make a difference, (while being historically left out of the development of standards and accountability design process); and 2) another class of people, well connected to money and politics but disconnected from the profession, that can see a path to profit while protecting themselves.

But there is no excuse for giving up on the obligation to help children learn, for anybody-especially those connected to or have chosen to connect themselves to the endeavor professionally or politically.

The scope of reform, especially if VAM is to serve as methods validation, needs to be widened. The narrative needs to reach beyond the immaturity of all of the additional things teachers need to be held responsible for, and mirror common-core critical thinking: include the leveraging of this new breed of education non-profits to impact and reform social and economic policy; support families, homes and communities, in order to support equitable student outcomes.

So when writing, sharing, propagating, supporting, and liking all of the angles on how to improve teachers, shame teachers, replace teachers (and make no mistake, I have met a few whose value I question but the reform narrative has had a perseverant focus on teachers and unions): don’t be dismissive of what I read is “the inevitable Finland comparison”…Maybe instead ask why comparison to China, India, and Singapore comes up so often, but Finland does not.

For truly VAMMY data and measures, widen that scope to the many other factors influencing outcomes and equity and share the accountability burden with those responsible for those social/economic conditions. The lead voices of reform should use connections, money, and influence to make policy makers know that there will be consequences for them as well;that there shall no longer be quarter held in the revolving door between political appointments, corporations, non-profits, and the selective and convenient use of VAM.


One thought on “The selective and convenient use of VAM

  1. I taught for thirty years and I witnessed teachers who started out idealistic and wanting to save the world broken. Some left adding to the growing turn over rate and some stayed and became cynical because of the way this country treats all teachers and stopped doing all they could to reach the students who needed the help the most.

    Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: …

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