Adding Value to the Value-Added Debate

Liam Goldrick & Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

Seeing as I am not paid to blog as part of my daily job, it’s basically impossible for me to be even close to first out of the box on the issues of the day. Add to that being a parent of two small children (my most important job – right up there with being a husband) and that only adds to my sometimes frustration of not being able to weigh in on some of these issues quickly.
That said, here is my attempt to distill some key points and share my opinions — add value, if you will — to the debate that is raging as a result of the Los Angeles Times’s decision to publish the value-added scores of individual teachers in the L.A. Unified School District.
First of all, let me address the issue at hand. I believe that the LA Times’s decision to publish the value-added scores of individual teachers was irresponsible. Given what we know about the unreliability and variability in such scores and the likelihood that consumers of said scores will use them at face value without fully understanding all of the caveats, this was a dish that should have been sent back to the kitchen.
Although the LA Times is not a government or public entity, it does operate in the public sphere. And it has a responsibility as such an actor. Its decision to label LA teachers as ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ based on suspect value-added data alone is akin to an auditor secretly investigating a firm or agency without an engagement letter and publishing findings that may or may not hold water.
Frankly, I don’t care what positive benefits this decision by the LA Times might have engendered. Yes, the district and the teachers union have agreed to begin negotiations on a new evaluation system. Top district officials have said they want at least 30% of a teacher’s review to be based on value-added and have wisely said that the majority of the evaluations should depend on classroom observations. Such a development exonerates the LA Times, as some have argued. In my mind, any such benefits are purloined and come at the expense of sticking it — rightly in some cases, certainly wrongly in others — to individual teachers who mostly are trying their best.