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Baseball Season (and the Inevitable Comparisons with Education Reform) is Back

What role should value-added test scores play in evaluating teacher performance? While I’m not going to take both sides of the debate, like the nation’s largest teachers union has done recently, there is more nuance to the question than the purpose of this post is suited to address. Maybe you can come to next week’s Education Policy Center event on Teachers Matter with Dr. Marcus Winters and get his thoughts.

Part of the debate, however, has filtered into the issue of whether teachers’ value-added (aka VA) performance scores should be disclosed to the public. A couple years ago the Los Angeles Times stirred up controversy by publishing teacher ratings. In February the “Old Gray Lady” herself, the New York Times, followed suit.

Rather than opine on the controversy myself, it seems a far better (and easier) approach to bring your attention to the insightful and creative commentary of California’s Larry Sand, author and former teacher known for espousing commonsense views on education issues:

My take is that, while not a perfect measure, VA still should be used and made public. But at the same time, it should be stressed that other factors need to be taken into consideration when measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. Both the NY and LA Times, to their credit, acknowledged this and also allowed teachers to post comments with their scores.

However, there is a part of this story which has not been examined. Publishing a teachers VA rank is no more “public shaming” than publishing a baseball player’s batting average in the daily newspaper. It is what it is. But as any knowledgeable 5th grader knows, there is more to a baseball player than his batting average. Is the player a good base stealer? Can he field? Does he draw a lot of walks? Is he a team leader? Anyone who is interested in baseball knows this. The take-away then is not to hide test scores from the public, but for parents and taxpayers to become as interested and knowledgeable about education as they are about baseball and demand more from the educational establishment.

So if there is any shame to be identified, it is that, as a country, we are more informed about the intricacies of baseball than about how best to assess the people who are educating the next generation of Americans.

Okay, I have to confess. The main reason I wanted to share this passage is that today is Opening Day for many Major League Baseball teams. And any time someone can draw the connection between education reform and baseball, it makes me smile. And actually, the above argument builds off an interesting Paul Peterson piece about differential pay for educators and baseball players.

Sands makes the great point that we need to trust the judgment of those who fund and are served by public education — the students, parents and taxpayers. Like a player’s batting average (last year, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers led the majors with a .344 mark), value-added scores for teachers don’t mean everything. But they do mean something. Let us sort it out.

Anyway, all this talk of baseball has got my mind off blogging. Time to go out in the sunshine, grab my ball glove, and head to the ballpark for a lazy afternoon of hot dog, peanuts and America’s pastime. Aahhh….