If we really care about the education of young people in poverty, we will stop focusing on test results and pay much more attention to the quality of life students and families endure. The more their parents and the students themselves are employed, the better their housing and transportation, the better their health care and nutrition, the more they learn.
Propaganda for testing and fear, however, recently got a boost from media coverage of a well-publicized study out of Harvard and Columbia universities. The study centers on “teacher value added,” or VA, teachers’ rankings by improvements in their students’ test scores. The New York Times headlined its report on the study, “Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain.” But the researchers conclude that for students coming from poverty, the “lasting gains” are very small when present at all, and are only gains relative to other students in poverty, not relative to wealthier students, who remain far ahead by all measures.
For low-income students, the authors write, “Teacher VA does not have a significant effect on college attendance rates at age 25.” “Not having a significant effect” is hardly a “lasting gain.”
By age 28, the study discovers, low-socioeconomic-status students of elementary and middle school teachers who produced high test scores earned only $2.70 more each week than comparable students whose teachers produced average test scores. In Baltimore, $2.70 is not enough for a round-trip bus ride.
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Although the data above come directly from the Harvard/Columbia study, you didn’t see these findings in press accounts, because the purpose of the study is to contribute to the propaganda that distracts public attention from the underlying effects of the caste system on education.
Aggregated data help the authors address their main policy concern: whether it makes sense to pay bonuses to “higher quality” teachers, or to “de-select” (their euphemism for “fire”) “lower quality” teachers. They conclude that it makes more sense to fire the lowest 5 percent of teachers, because the best teachers are likely to stay teaching even without a bonus. But if the researchers had reported only on students in poverty, they would have had trouble justifying “de-selection” of any teachers at all based on test scores, because the effect of “high value-added” teachers as opposed to “low value-added” teachers is either non-existent or very, very small for that population.