In discussions of the reasons for using value-added data to assess teacher effectiveness the following argument for firing teachers comes up a lot: “If a heart surgeon fails at his job, she/he will no longer retain that job.”
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Who in his right mind would want an incompetent heart surgeon? Probably the same people who would want an incompetent teacher.
But there is a serious problem with this argument: even the best heart surgeons have patients who die.
The best heart surgeons have patients who die for most of the same reasons that patients of less stellar heart surgeons die; and, oddly enough, they are many of the same reasons that students fail, even some students who are taught by really, really good teachers.
It is really very simple and can be explained in three words: uncontrollable external factors.
Heart surgeons have patients who don’t follow aftercare instructions,who smoke, eat fatty foods, eschew exercise, drink excessively and otherwise engage in other activities that render the heart surgeon’s skills moot.
They also have patients who come from high poverty areas where getting good nutrition is more difficult and high-calorie foods are more common. And they have patients with genetic proclivities that make maintaining good heart health particularly challenging.
Many of those patients die. It is not the heart surgeon’s fault.
Even the best heart surgeons will tell you that they are not miracle workers and can’t make you healthy if you don’t do what you have to do.
Patients have to take responsibility for their own health; if they don’t, no heart surgeon can save them, no matter how well-trained or how highly skilled.
Teachers deal with uncontrollable external factors, too.
The uncontrollable external factors affecting teacher effectiveness include poverty, inadequate early childhood development, and brain-based aberrations that make learning particularly difficult.
Teachers have students who don’t take responsibility for their learning the same way some heart patients fail to assume responsibility for their health. We have students who don’t pay attention to instructions, fail to exercise their minds, watch high-fat television programs and otherwise engage in activities that render our teaching moot.
Many of those students fail. It is not the teacher’s fault.
Of course, heart surgeons have one big advantage over teachers.
They can replace defective or damaged parts. New valves? Not a problem. Reroute blood around a clogged artery? We do it every day! Need a new heart? Done!
I wish surgeons could do the same with brains.
But even then, it would be up to the individual to use it.