(Update: Video added; wasn’t visible in earlier version)
What question would you ask to Education Secretary Arne Duncan if you had the chance?
Patrick Hayes, a fifth-grade teacher in Charleston, S.C., and director of EdFirstSC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group working to empower people who care about public schools, got that opportunity recently when Duncan had a video chat with hundreds of Charleston educators and administrators. The discussion hit on a number of topics in educational policy, including the Common Core State Standards, which South Carolina legislators recently voted to abandon and replace with new standards in the 2015-16 school year.
As Hayes relates in this post on Jennifer Berkshire‘s Edushyster blog, Duncan blasted South Carolina for dropping the Common Core standards, a decision made by legislators who said the federal government was too involved in promoting the Core and that education should remain a local issue. Duncan said:
“When we dumb down standards … it’s terrible for students. Historically, South Carolina has set a low bar. That’s not something anyone should be proud of.”
Duncan may have forgotten, as Hayes noted, that in 2009, his department released a report that said while many states had lowered their K-12 standards, Massachusetts and South Carolina had the highest.
Hayes finally decided to ask Duncan about the administration’s support for “value-added methods” of using student standardized test scores to evaluate the “value” of a teacher, a method that many assessment experts say is unreliable but that the Education Department has pushed states to adopt. The use of value-added in some states has gotten so out of hand that many teachers are being evaluated on the scores of students they don’t even teach. (Really.) Hayes asked:
“Your own department found a 36 percent error rate for value-added. Your department’s merit pay brief says: ‘Texas, Nashville, and Chicago programs all showed no effect on student achievement.’ We can add NY, Denver and, more than likely, DC to that list. Why are you spending our money on policies that are unfair to teachers and have an extensive record of failure?”
And how did Duncan respond? You can see the full response below but here are the salient points:
“That’s a really good question. I don’t quite agree with your analysis… Recognizing and rewarding excellence is something we need to do in education…. There is no perfect model…. To be very, very fair, value-added has to look at like students against like students… If it is not done that way, I agree with your premise that it is not fair….”
And then he went on to defend value-added. Watch the video and tell me what question you would ask Duncan if you had the chance.