Earlier this year, when a lawsuit by the Florida Times-Union forced the release of evaluation data for thousands of Florida teachers, Daniel Woodring saw an opportunity.
The release of value-added model, or VAM, scores meant that for the first time, the public had access to a trove of quantitative data on the effectiveness of teachers all over the state.
Woodring, a Tallahassee attorney whose clients include charter schools, used the data to create a website, myflteacher.com.
The site uses the unprecedented release of data to help people find the most highly rated teachers. Woodring (who also provides legal counsel to Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) hopes the data could also change the way charter schools recruit top teachers.
Parents can search the site by school to see which teachers are among the top 30 percent. But the more intriguing aspect of the project may be the password-protected area for charter schools, where they can log in and find the top teachers in surrounding schools.
The idea is charter schools could search the data for top teachers in their area. Since they are not unionized and not bound by collectively bargained salary schedules, charters could, in theory, look up the teachers with the highest ratings in the database and offer higher salaries to lure them to their schools.
“Districts are pretty much sitting ducks” for charter schools looking to recruit their most highly rated teachers, Woodring said. But right now, “unfortunately, charters aren’t really taking advantage of that.”
This was the third year Florida evaluated teachers using value-added measures, which run student test results through a complicated statistical formula intended to isolate teachers’ impact on students’ improvement from one year to the next.
The use of value-added measures to evaluate teachers has been controversial around the country. Teachers unions criticized the release of teacher scores after the newspaper’s lawsuit, in part because scores for teachers in many grades and subjects could have been based on students they did not teach.
Right now, Woodring’s database includes only English and math teachers, because those are the subjects in which teachers’ VAM scores are based on their own students’ results on state standardized tests. Before the Legislature made changes in 2013, teachers in other subjects could have received scores based on school-wide or district-wide averages in reading or math.
The public database includes only the top-performing 30 percent of teachers, since its main purpose is to identify high performers.
Groups that promote use of quantitative measures to evaluate teachers have often concluded they should be used alongside other measures, like classroom observations or feedback from students.
But Woodring also points to research tying highly rated teachers to improved outcomes for students as they get older. If the best teachers can improve student learning in ways that can pay dividends later in life, then perhaps they should command a premium from schools looking to hire them.
For too long, he said, teachers have been paid based on factors like years of experience that assume they are “fungible” – that is, that one is as good as another.
“It is snubbing our best teachers that we treat teachers as fungible, when they’re really not,” he said.
So far, he said, charter schools have been slow to take advantage of the data. He said he’s considering looking for private donations to help spur the new marketplace for teaching talent, with the hopes that once schools start using it, it will change the way they hire.