“Widget Effect” report is rolling in its grave

You don’t have to be as flip as Leo Casey to see the problem with Jocelyn Huber’s op-ed in the Tennessean today, which is a generic, bland defense of tying student test scores to teacher and principal evaluation. Huber’s op-ed is almost certainly in response to Monday’s NYT article by Michael Winerip, which identifies (and dramatizes) the concerns of a number of Tennessee educators in the state’s new evaluation system. Like Florida’s and Colorado’s, the Tennessee system has a number of arcane pieces to the algorithm tying test scores to evaluations, and like those and other states, it’s jerry-built.

On the one hand, on principle I think student outcomes should play a role in evaluation. On the other hand, there is something naive or creepy going on when advocates of doing so leave out all the caveats and problems in plunging in without caution. Or, to quote someone with whom I often disagree,

None of this is cause to shy away from incorporating value-added metrics into teacher evaluation and pay. But it’s cause to move deliberately, encourage experimentation, and note that respected, knowledge-based firms like Apple and 3M don’t try to drive all their employees’ evaluations or pay off a handful of uniform data points.

Rick Hess was right in his comments in April, especially the last one: for everyone who cheered the Widget Effect report blasting evaluations and HR policies that treated teachers in standardized fashion, I hope you’re all standing up and fighting evaluation algorithm fetishes in Tennessee, Florida, and elsewhere. Because when you look at it, there is nothing more widgety-absurd than imputing fourth-and-fifth-grade reading scores for the evaluation of a kindergarten teacher or an arts teacher.

All these sparkly-new teacher evaluation systems that put a heavy weight on student test scores for every teacher, willy-nilly? The new widget effect.

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4 responses to ““Widget Effect” report is rolling in its grave”

  1. Mary Porter (chemtchr)

    Sherman, let’s pretend you wrote,

    “On the one hand, on principle I think entrail reading should play a role in evaluation. On the other hand, there is something naive or creepy going on when advocates of doing so leave out all the caveats and problems in plunging in without caution.”

    Because you did. There isn’t any threshold of gibberish you can manage to stand all the way up to, is there?

    Your cult answers to the high priests of data, who easily overrule any sense of reason or decency you “reformers” can muster after your long and abject service to them.

  2. Mary Porter (chemtchr)

    Yes, I’ve read your stuff. Your subtitle on Accountability Frankenstein about sums it up, though. “Understanding and taming the monster” turns out to mean perseverating in the monster that is destroying public education, even as it discredits itself again and again. You’re like one of those endless sequels, in fact, where somebody keeps coming along and reanimating the poor dead thing.

    So, after you express your disgust, you utter Rick Hess’ magic incantation, “None of this is cause to shy away from incorporating value-added metrics into teacher evaluation and pay.”

    Here you are mocking the teachers who had the courage to stand up and walk out on Bill Gates at the AFT convention:
    http://www.shermandorn.com/mt/archives/003251.html

    And here you are, in the comment discussion on that piece:
    “I don’t think questioning Gates’s intentions are productive.”

    And, here’s Gates, parading naked among the ruins of Florida’s public schools, looking to hire new tailors for his new, improved, and even more invisible teacher-accountability wardrobe:
    http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/teacher-suspended-after-defying-hillsborough-school-districts-evaluation/1201139

    So, you have to decide whether you’re holding out to be hired as one of those new tailors, or whether you’re actually going to stand up and oppose him. There is, indeed, “something creepy going on”.

    This isn’t a question you can actually straddle, so I’m inviting you, once again, to either take stock and actually come over to the opposition, or stop claiming to oppose the discredited accountabillity-to-billionaires agenda while you wait to see whether they can get away with it.