Thursday, November 04, 2010

Eric Hanushek, Politically Inspired "Research"


Hanushek appeared recently (September?) at a public forum organized by the UC 
Berkeley School of Journalism to address the controversy over the LA Times' 
infamous publication of individual teachers'  "effectiveness"ratings based on 
test scores. That's the publication that provoked Rigoberto Ruelas' suicide 
because he dared to teach difficult students. Somebody posted the links to the 
videos of this forum on this list. I describe the video of the opening panel.

Hanushek was on an expert panel about the technical aspects of value-added (VAM) 
teacher ratings, and in my opinion, he came across as reasonable and an expert 
on educational measurement because he was able to focus on some of the narrower 
weaknesses of the current application of VAM, like the sloppiness of attributing 
scores to the wrong teachers, the failure to consider ALL of the teachers 
teaching a child (not just the teacher of record), the unreliability of year to 
year scores, etc Hanushek admitted to the fact that such weaknesses needed to be 
"fixed" but was able to defend VAM as a necessary and useful approach to 
improving our schools. In effect, he made teacher bashing look legitimate.

Within the narrow context of that panel's discussion, I think the general public 
got the impression that an improved VAM is a necessary tool for real education 
reform, especially for poor minority kids. In other words, more grist for the 
corporate standardistas' teacher bashing propaganda mill, more spin for their 
bogus civil rights ploy.

On this panel, there was not sufficient discussion of the fact that the REAL 
causes of low test scores, and of kids' weak learning, are poverty and the 
narrow behaviorist teaching that has taken over in low income schools. There was 
insufficient criticism of the use of standardized tests to measure learning. The 
two Berkeley professors, good people and true experts, may have mentioned these 
criticisms, but I just don't remember because the whole premise of the panel was 
a set-up that gave an ideologue like Hanushek undeserved respectability. As a 
minion of the conservative corporate hypocrites, who now clamor for "deficit 
reduction" as they promote astronomical war spending, Hanushek has played with 
statistics unrelated to teaching and learning to argue for twenty years that 
"schools don't need more money"  His writings are a part of the CAUSE of low 
achievement in working class schools. They have been used as a justification for 
the deliberate underfunding of public schools that began under the Reagan 

The point is, UCB School of Journalism, you can't give right wing ideologues a 
free space in which to look legitimate. Their false premises (school funding is 
unimportant, teachers are the prime cause) should be frankly addressed and 
exposed BEFORE they are given a platform to spin them.

Those of us who know the truth about education and the politics of education 
must take any limited opportunity we have to highlight the real issues, as 
Stephen Krashen does below, and not get drawn into technical debates that 
legitimize the standardistas' lies, like how best to use standardized tests to 
fire teachers.

Pete Farruggio

----- Start Forwarded Message -----
Sent: Wed, 3 Nov 2010 20:16:04 -0400
From: Stephen Krashen <>

 There has been a change in strategy: supporters of value-added and
making teacher evaluations public now admit that there are problems
but think that they can be easily fixed. 

The relevant section of the New Jersey Star-Ledgrer's editoral: 

"In New York, the teachers union filed a lawsuit to block such a
release saying errors are rampant: Some teachers were scored based on
students or classes they never taught, and there’s a high margin of
error. Unpredictable swings rank a teacher in the top tier one year
and near the bottom in the next. If true, that must be fixed."

I suspect that this confession comes from Hanushek's article in the NY
Daily News, available at

My response:

Fixing value-added evaluations: Not our first priority

Sent to the NJ Star-Ledger, November 3, 2010

The Star-Ledger feels that value-added scores, the gains a teacher's
students make in a year on standardized tests, should be released to
the public (Nov. 2). The Star-Ledger recognizes that there are
problems with using value-added scores, and states that they must be
"fixed." It's not that simple.

Studies show that value-added ratings are unstable. Value-added
ratings based on one year are weak predictors of value-added ratings
the next year. A teacher who succeeds in boosting scores with one
group will not necessarily succeed with others. Studies also show that
different reading tests result in different value-added scores for the
same teacher. 

Value-added ratings may not represent real learning. There are ways of
pumping up test scores without student learning, including teaching
test-taking strategies and making sure weak students don't take the

It would take years of hard work and major financial support for
research to fix these problems. Our schools are facing tremendous
financial problems: In high poverty areas, science classes lack
equipment, libraries lack books, and even bathrooms lack toilet paper.
Funding complex and subtle studies to attempt to create what might or
might not be a better teacher evaluation measure is not our first

Stephen Krashen

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