Do parents have the right to know which of their kids' teachers are the most and least effective? That's the controversy roaring in California this week with the publication of an investigative series by the Los Angeles Times's Jason Song and Jason Felch, who used seven years of math and English test data to publicly identify the best and the worst third- to fifth-grade teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The newspaper's announcement of its plans to release data later this month on all 6,000 of the city's elementary-school teachers has prompted the local teachers' union to rally members to organize a boycott of the newspaper.
The disclosures are unprecedented, and it remains unclear whether other school districts or newspapers will follow suit; local laws prevent some school districts from publicly identifying their most ineffective teachers by name. It also remains unclear how the LAUSD will deal with parent complaints that their child has been assigned to an ineffective teacher. Los Angeles is the second-largest school district in the country.
The reporters ranked the teachers using "value added" scores, which are based on the amount of progress individual students make from year to year on standardized tests administered by the school district. The teachers whose students consistently made more than a year's progress over a school term were judged to be the most effective, and those whose students made the least progress were considered the worst.
Many education researchers say teacher effectiveness is the single most important determinant of student learning, and that two consecutive years of bad teaching can prompt a student to fall so far behind that he or she never recovers. The Obama administration, urged on by many education reform groups, has been offering incentives to states through the Race to the Top program to encourage the use of teacher-effectiveness measures when making hiring and retention decisions, although teachers' unions and their allies have had mixed reactions to the idea.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded the Times's investigation upon its publication, saying parents have the right to know how effective their children's teachers are. Duncan said he hoped such data could be used to identify superior teachers that others can learn from, as well as those who need professional development or should be counseled out of the profession.
The investigation found very different effectiveness scores among teachers working in the same school with similar students from similar backgrounds in classes of similar size. It also revealed that excellent teachers are found in schools that serve all types of kids and are not concentrated in those serving the most affluent kids or those teaching the kids who earn the highest overall test scores.