Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants schools to give parents, teachers more data

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010; 7:28 PM

LITTLE ROCK - Education Secretary Arne Duncan, stoking a national debate over a Los Angeles Times series that examines how much individual teachers have raised test scores, urged public schools Wednesday to give educators more data on student achievement and parents a full report on teacher effectiveness.

"In other fields, we talk about success constantly, with statistics and other measures to prove it," Duncan said in the advance text of a speech he planned to give Wednesday evening in the Arkansas capital. "Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like? What is there to hide?"

Duncan added: "Every state and district should be collecting and sharing information about teacher effectiveness with teachers and - in the context of other important measures - with parents."

The Times this month began publishing the results of a lengthy investigation of elementary school teacher performance in Los Angeles, based on several years of test data it obtained and on classroom observations and interviews. It asked experts to examine the data through a method known as "value-added" to help determine which teachers were lifting scores significantly over time and which were not.

The newspaper reported that its analysis had inherent limitations but that the results showed noteworthy trends, including wide variation in performance within schools. It is planning to publish a database of its findings.

Although some teachers have said they welcome the information, others sharply criticized the newspaper's approach. United Teachers Los Angeles, the local union, urged a boycott of the paper.

National union leaders also have raised concerns. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Times that teachers "look at this as a hammer, a sledgehammer, and they're scared about it. They're schoolteachers; they're private individuals. . . . They're not public figures. And they just woke up one day and 6,000 names were going to be in the newspaper."

Duncan, who plans a back-to-school bus tour this week through the South, appeared to straddle a fine line: He wants more disclosure to teachers and the public but wants it to be done judiciously.

"More than 2,000 L.A. teachers have asked the Times for their scores," he said in the advance text. "It makes no sense that they had to wait for a newspaper to share this information with them and for this to be unfolding in such a public way without their input. We didn't publish this in a newspaper in Chicago, and I don't advocate that approach for other districts - but the fact that teachers did not have this information is ridiculous.

"Local school districts must decide in collaboration with their teachers how to share this information - how to put it in context - and how to use it in order to get better."

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