Posted on | February 10, 2011 | Comments Off
I’ve written a piece for the Huffington Post and Thoughts in Public Education about the reanalysis of the value-added teacher evaluation exposé published by the Los Angeles Times last August. Derek Briggs, who heads the research and methodology program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and doctoral student Ben Domingue used the same data at Richard Buddin, who ran the analysis for the Times.
They got different results. Not unexpected. And they wrote a 32 page technical report showing how and why they got different results. Nothing strange there.
The report was sponsored and issued by The National Education Policy Center, a reliably left-of-center organization that is in part financed by teacher unions, and the press release had more of the in-your-face quality than I would have liked to see. Nevertheless, the Briggs and Dominque were free to pursue the work as they wished. Briggs is a veteran of value-added research work and an expert on causal analysis. They completed their work, and the final report was not altered or spun by NEPC.
The same cannot be said about the L.A. Times reporting of the piece, and that is the major point of my HP piece. When a newspaper goes from reporting events that take place to creating the events, which is the case with the value-added teacher evaluation story, then its handling of contrary opinions and evidence must be straightforward. Monday’s story was anything but that. It spun the story to make it look as if Briggs and Dominque essentially agreed with the Times analysis.
(It also broke the embargo on the story’s release (everyone else with the exception of a Washington Post blogger) played by the rules, but that’s a relatively minor issue, even though it really tees off other journalists.)
The larger point is that if value added analysis is going to be accepted as a reasonable form of research and if it is going to be applied to individual teachers rather than entire schools, very careful work needs to be done in order to polish the method and make it credible. The Times stonewalling prevents an important public policy discussion from taking place. There has been a barrage of scholarly and policy criticism of the Times. Little of it has gotten serious attention in the paper.