Value-Added Measures vs. the Love for Learning

I have been an educator for the past 20 years and a parent for 11. Most of the times when it comes to policy issues dealing with education reform, I usually call on my experience as an educator to help guide my thinking. However, the current reform movement and the damage being done to children in the name of reform have prompted me to write this piece as a parent.

I am concerned about the future of education in our public schools. However, I am NOT concerned about achievement test scores. I do NOT care about No Child Left Behind assessments and Adequate Yearly Progress. I do NOT care about the Value-Added Measures (VAMs) of the teachers my children have in school. What I do care about is the quality of the teaching and learning experience my children receive in school.

Our society needs to understand that teaching to pass No Child Left Behind assessments and other high-stakes tests doesn't provide children with a quality teaching and learning experience. However, if Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and other "reformers" get their way, teachers will be evaluated according to their students' achievement test scores (VAMs) and not the quality of the classroom experience provided to children. This is wrong for a host of reasons dealing with the inability of VAMs to reliably rank teachers from one year to the next.

What is prompting me to write this blog is the amazing experience my daughter is having in school this year. She comes home and talks about what they did in school without any prompting. She eagerly shares papers and projects completed during the day. She brings home library books that are connected to her classroom experiences. She asks questions about the things she learned during the day. She is using technology (on her own) to investigate other questions. She writes her own poetry. In other words, she in fully engaged.

The question: What is happening during the school day that has produced a hunger for learning in my child? The simple answer is that she has a teacher that cares deeply about learning and has helped her develop a love for learning. This is the heart of quality teaching and it will never be measured on a test. There is no statistical operation (VAMs) capable of measuring a teacher's ability to instill a love for learning.

I fear, however, that if the current "reform" movement continues to swallow public schools, my daughter's teacher runs the risk of changing her approach to teaching and learning. If the pressure for high achievement scores and the crazy notion that "we" should hold my daughter's teacher accountable for her test scores continue to drive policy discussions concerning teacher effectiveness, the most valuable experiences associated with learning will be dismissed and her teacher will be pressured into teaching for tests. That would be a sad day for me and many other parents.

While I chose to highlight my daughter's experience in this blog, the bigger picture is that this is happening to all of our public school teachers. The drive for achievement scores has sucked the life out of teaching and learning. Our children are being denied quality learning experiences and our teachers are forced to treat children as possible test scores. The future of teaching and learning in our public schools is in danger. "Reformers," politicians and others have decided that they know what's best for our children. This top-down, condescending view of teachers, parents and local schools is disheartening.

If we (citizens, parents, business owners and community members) care about the quality of our public schools, then we need to be talking about the love for learning -- not test scores.