Eric Lerum and I Debate Teacher Evaluation and the Role of Anti-Poverty Work (Part 2)

Re-blogging and commenting in one fell swoop…
Hi Ben. It is good to see you advocate for reliable measures of teacher performance, rather than blindly placing trust in a noisy statistical estimator such as VAM as advocated by StudentsFirst. Your stewardship to a teaching profession whose intent is to achieve maximal student outcomes is admirable.

At the same time, I cringed when you adopted the ‘cook’ example first offered up by Eric. In doing so, I believe you inadvertently oversimplified the act of teaching to following a district-prescribed teaching method, which in the limit approaches a script.

While you did not create the ‘cook’ analogy, running with it while narrowing the task to ‘following a recipe,’ which while advantageous to making your point on how to make inferences using conditional probability (Bayesian Analysis), feeds directly into many reformers’ narratives that teachers simply need to follow a scripted lesson. Nothing is further from the truth.

I’ve excerpted the two sections of your response to your question 2) below that upon reading, I cringed. In these, it appears that you conflate a school’s “instructional framework” with “[effective] teacher practices,” where the former is simply a limited, possible example of the latter depending upon the specific circumstances of any learning environment. Scripted instructional methods and/or content are anathema to teaching a diverse student body. I hope you agree.

2) How can we use student outcome data to evaluate whether an input-based teacher evaluation system has identified the right teaching inputs?***

Excerpt 1:
“Suppose a school adopts blended learning as its instructional framework, and suppose a teacher executes the school’s blended learning model perfectly.”

Excerpt 2:
“If we instead focus on teachers’ locus of control – effective execution of teacher practices – and use Bayesian analysis, we will more quickly discover the best teaching strategies and retain more teachers who can execute teaching strategies effectively. Judging teachers on their ability to execute inputs and using outcomes to evaluate the validity of the inputs would, over time, increase the likelihood of student success.”

If I were to rewrite your last sentence in excerpt 2, it would state: “Judging teachers on their ability to select dynamically from an array of effective inputs suited to the specifics of a given learning situation and using outcomes to evaluate the validity of the situationally selected inputs would, over time, increase the likelihood of student success.” In my view, rather than cook as proxy for a teacher in this portion of the debate, chef is more apropos.

Lastly, my interpretations, and concerns, may be moot if your intent was simply to illustrate how Bayesian analysis, using Eric’s example of a cook, could be used to determine the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of actions on outcomes. As such, I hope that you do not believe a teacher’s locus of control consists of “executing” a prescribed method or framework.

I hope all is well as you settle into your new surrounding in Washington, DC metro area.



StudentsFirst Vice President Eric Lerum and I recently began debating the use of standardized test scores in high stakes decision-making.  I argued in a recent blog post that we should instead evaluate teachers on what they directly control – their actions.  Our conversation, which began to touch on additional interesting topics, is continued below.

Click here to read Part 1 of the conversation.

Lerum: To finish the outcomes discussion – measuring teachers by the actions they take is itself measuring an input. What do we learn from evaluating how hard a teacher tries? And is that enough to evaluate teacher performance? Shouldn’t performance be at least somewhat related to the results the teacher gets, independent of how hard she tries? If I put in lots of hours learning how to cook, assembling the perfect recipes, buying the best ingredients, and then even more hours in the kitchen – but the…

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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