Value-Added Adds Value for Corporate Vultures

Value-Added Adds Value for Corporate Vultures


The first problem with the Value Added model for teacher accountability
is that it commodifies children. In economics, value-added is the
difference between the sales price and the cost of a product. The higher
the sales price relative to the cost of production, the greater the
value added and the greater the profit. Used as an education metaphor,
Value-Added models see students as commodities (i.e., future workers).
Teachers who produce more productive students (as determined by test
scores, or by college/work readiness, to put it in Obama-speak), have a
higher added value. These teachers can be seen as super productive
because they produce higher value future workers, as measured by test
scores or college readiness.

This brings us to a second problem with the Value-Added model: it is not a very good predictor of the actual productivity of future workers. There are a host of factors that
influence how we choose our careers and how successful we become. High
school test scores are arguably the worst indicator of both. The
strongest influence on future success (as measured by income, wealth or
any of the usual indicators), as well as student achievement, is family
background. Working class parents generally produce working class
children. Middle class parents generally produce middle class kids. The
rich produce rich kids. This is due in part to inheritance, but also to
familial and cultural connections:” It’s not so much what you know, but
who you know.” Add to this all the class-based differences in school
readiness and extra-curricular enrichment (e.g., nutrition, pollution,
pre-natal care, travel, summer camp, pre-school, access to books and
learning toys).

Value-Added models are portrayed as statistically believable because they compare student test scores at the end of the year (after the teacher has added his value to the student
by way of good instruction) with those at the beginning of the year
(prior to the teacher’s influence). To be statistically meaningful,
students would have to take the same test twice per year. Yet even this
will produce highly biased results. A teacher in a middle class school,
for example, will have students who are, on average, much more “school
ready.” They are more likely to be reading at grade level, have decent
study skills, financial security, enriching extracurricular activities,
lower stress, and, therefore, likely to show higher gains than those who
are less “school ready.”

Another thing that troubles me about this way of thinking is the presumption that a valuable member of society is one who produces more wealth, for oneself, or for the boss. A student
who goes on to become a CEO or even a small business owner is seen as a
productive, valuable member of society, whereas those who go on to
become musicians, artists, activists, or social workers are seen as less
valuable (some would even call them parasites). What about all the
so-called productive sectors of the economy that exist solely to create
more capital, but provide no useful service or product for people, like
hedge fund managers. (I would call them parasites).

Likewise, teachers who produce students who are good test takers are seen as highly productive under this model, even at the expense of all those other important things we are supposed
to teach, like citizenship, self-motivation, communication, empathy,
critical thinking. Teachers who teach students how to solve problems,
find their own answers, and persevere with difficult tasks are arguably
adding far more value to their students’ lives than those who churn out a
bunch of effective test-takers.

Lastly (and most importantly), the entire discourse about teacher accountability and teacher effectiveness is a case of a misguided solution to a misdiagnosed problem. If the problem
is low student achievement, then let’s address the main cause: poverty.
To get the greatest bang for the buck (or value-added), we must address
the growing and untenable gap between the rich and the poor. Improving
teachers, schools, curricula can help, but their contributions are
infinitesimal compared with socioeconomic changes that help bring more
people out of poverty. Richard Rothstein has identified numerous
policies that have existed in the past that can help (e.g., increasing
the earned income credit, housing vouchers, increased nursing and
medical support on school campuses). Decreasing taxes for lower income
people (especially regressive taxes like sales tax) and increasing it
for corporations and the wealthy (along with closing the tax loopholes
they exploit) should also help. Strengthening unions and increasing the
numbers of unionized workers can help increase wages. Maintaining the
mortgage interest tax deduction will help promote increased home
ownership, which is one way to increase familial wealth as well as
security.

Then again, Value-Added, like charter schools and most ed deform, is not really about improving student achievement. It’s about creating a system that is more valuable to
education corporate plunderers by weakening unions and teacher autonomy,
decreasing teacher pay and job security, and increasing reliance on
commercial tests, textbooks and curricula.

Views: 45

Tags: Added, Class, Education, High, Poverty, Reform, Social, Stakes, Tests, Value

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