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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Sham of VAM and the shame of the Times Union

Frank Denton, editor of the Florida Times Union, when suing for teachers VAM scores, half their evaluations, swore they would present both sides of the education reform argument. He said so like there is a moral equivalency between the two camps, like it is just two cordial gentlemen having a disagreement and therein lies the problem because nothing could be farther from the truth.

One side doesn’t rely on facts or data because if they did they wouldn’t have chosen to use VAM scores. This is the same group that has spread misinformation about the quality of teachers for years and has run around like Chicken Little screaming teachers are failing our children. They rely on low information members of the public who have been programmed to think anything the government does is bad and who can’t be bothered with doing the research themselves

There is no moral equivalence between a side that exaggerates cherry picked stats or uses formulas like VAM that are often called junk science. This is just one more attempt to inflame peoples passions by saying our public schools are failing because of all the bad teachers, and now they can point to VAM scores which even if accurate would just present a small sliver of the story.

Education reformers were all smiles as the DOE at the assistance of the Times Union released teachers VAM scores, as they can use them to sell their “school choice” agenda but what they are actually selling is privatization and marginalizing teachers, a dedicated and hard working group that sacrifice so much, has been a successful strategy so far.

Then there is Denton, like an arms dealer who says to himself I just proved the weapons I don’t pull the trigger who is trying to imply there is some moral equivalency between corporate reformers and those fighting for true, evidence based reform, where teachers are treated like professionals. He can't hide behind Journalism with this one. He can't try and justify it away.

Is it too much to ask that teacher evaluations be based on legitimate measures? Is it to much to ask that people look at the totality of what they do?  The Times Union obviously thinks so as it rushes to print the scores.

This is just one more blow to the teaching profession which in recent years has had to endure low pay, attacks to their pensions and work protections, people who have never been in a classroom saying their experience and ability don’t matter as well as ratcheting up the demands. Already nearly half of all teachers don’t last 5 years and people and forget that just a few years ago we were recruiting in Canada, India and the corporate world because we couldn’t find enough teachers to staff our classrooms. What’s going to happen when teachers are even more marginalized by the release of VAM scores?

There is no moral equivalency between the two sides and to imply there is, is disingenuous at best but most likely it makes one complicit with the side that wants to outsource, not improve, our kids education and fundamentally change the teaching profession, changing teachers from professionals to the equivalent of Burger King Workers.

There is a saying making traction, “those that can teach, those that can’t make laws about teaching” and this is what’s happening in Florida to the detriment of our children schools and teachers and the Times Union has just put another nail in the coffin that the teaching profession has become. 

About a year ago a paper in New York printed the addresses of all the registered gun owners in their town and it was perfectly legal for them to do so. People though were rightfully outraged. The Times Union should have learned from their mistake that just because you can do something it doesn’t mean that they should.

When the Times Union decided to print the VAM scores of area teachers they said selling a few papers was worth selling out the regions teachers. VAM creates a prediction and then grades teachers on whether they made that prediction or not. I don’t know about you but I want to be evaluated on what I did do not on what some complicated mathematical formula says it thinks I should do, a formula by the way that have been known to generate scores off by several standard deviations.

Not only does VAM not take into account attendance, behavior, parental involvement, poverty and so many other factors but more than half the teachers evaluated are done so on students they have never seen in their classroom or on subjects they did not teach and that not the scores is what the Times Union should be telling the public. The TU is acting like a gun runner who tells them self I just provide the guns I don’t pull the trigger in an attempt to ease their conscious of the firestorm that this is going to create.

Parents have long had a remedy if they wanted to see their teachers past evaluations and that is to go to the school board building and to check out their files. Now the Times Union has just given them a contextless set of numbers that for the most part aren’t based on what is happening in the classroom.

Teachers already have a tough enough job and have already had to sacrifice so much in Florida over the last few years that they shouldn’t have to endure this indignation. The Times Union should be fighting to help the profession not to further harm it.

Teachers are not afraid of getting evaluated, they just want to be done so fairly and shame on the state of Florida for coming up with the VAM method that no respecting education policy maker or mathematician for that matter say should be used to evaluate teachers and shame on the Times Union for doubling down on this tragedy and making them available. Selling a few papers shouldn’t be more important than doing what is right.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher


  1. Does the honorable editor know that a Highly Effective Teacher in a Suburban High School, where education is valued, could be rendered 'Developing/ Needs Improvement Teacher' or even an 'Unsatisfactory Teacher' in an Urban High School, where only entitlement is valued, or even quit and haul ass within the first year?

    In order for Mr Denton and Other Critics to understand what teaching is like in Jacksonville they need to go undercover as Substitute Teachers and do the required observations. VAM Scores = Sell Out/Marginalize Teachers = Schools Choice = Privatize Public Schools = Steal Tax Payers' money (Legal Extortion) = Bad Karma for Perpetrators = Lower Astral Plain = Unrelenting Fire/ Unquenching Thirst and then return to the Southern Cotton Plantation= For not being your brother's keeper = For Bearing False witness = Cain Slew Abel.

    There is a Special Place for Teachers and Religious Persons, in the hereafter; they mirror the actions of the Rabbi or True Teacher - Christ. Thus they are rewarded well, more than others.

  2. Talking about the Very Asinine Model or VAM for teachers, I wasn't at all surprised to have seen the article about Desirae Royal sanctioning it so eloquently. In fact I knew Desirae Royal when I worked at Jeb Stuart Middle School. She is very dedicated to the children at that school and I applaud her for that; she canvasses the neighborhood and meets with the parents and their students. Incidentally, the herculean effort she exerts does not translate into learning progress. Yet, she persists. She actually has an obsession for 'saving' those students from their terrible urban environment but, unfortunately, she is unable to logically or should I say mathematically figure out the COMMON FACTORS that create the dilemma.

    Unfortunately, many parents in the urban communities view school grades as part of the entitlement purse, especially those who went to school in the projects. And, of course, No Child Left Behind or NCLB law supports just that; thanks to G W and Jeb. Since so many parents are lacking in real education they don't understand the difference between actual learning and school grades. To them, when their children come home with all A,s and B,s on their report cards, the children are doing fine. So, when Desirae comes by, the parent considers it a social visit from their child's teacher. "Oh, how nice it is that my child's teacher paid me a visit!" As I alluded to, in the parent's mind the child is doing fine because the report card SAYS IT ALL. And, by the way, teachers at Jeb Stuart are famous for giving away A,s and B,s. These grades are actually promised for GOOD BEHAVIOR. Grades are used as baits for GOOD BEHAVIOR. In many cases, teachers would not be able to withstand the stress caused by Jeb Stuart's students, compounded with the FLDOE and DCPS requirements and contradictions and erroneous lot of paperwork. And teachers have to hold onto their jobs until GOD GIVES HIS COMMAND to MOSES.

    So, in the entitlement schools the prize has been won for BEHAVIOR and NOT ACADEMICS. And those of us teachers who worked in urban schools know how well the students and their parents play the game. If you compare competence levels in their games for grades, they beat David Gerard in terms of competence level at football.

    Students tend to pander to what everyone else wants for them, except the real educators. Yes, I am talking about teachers! But Desirae really is naive, I must say. Yet, I must give her credit for really managing a classroom. She has an A+ from me for classroom management. This is the only thing that is really important in urban schools; I call it VERY EFFECTIVE BABY-SITTING. Incidentally, though, I have observed that teachers who are not effectively academic tend to run a pretty tight ship, even in urban schools. I knew a science teacher, at Gilbert Middle School, who was undoubtedly the most efficient classroom manager I had ever seen, but reading her very long lesson instructions gave me real headache; her run-on sentences were a nightmare for me.

    And Desirae is so obsessed with such an asinine formula I am tempted to ask what is the level of her math background; I knew she taught Algebra 1 but my 11-year old child is at about that level. If Desirae likes formulas she should try circles, parabolas, ellipses, hyperbolas, and maybe some half angles and double angles in trigonometry, or probably some probability density functions in statistics, and don't bother with the VERY ASININE MODEL or VAM, used to insult and denigrate teachers.