The Golden Rule of Accountability: VAM Unto Others as You Would Have Others VAM Unto You

Rick Lapworth’s view on Value Added Models takes on a funny yet, truthful view of the hypocrisy that goes with it.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho bought out UTD for pennies.
United Teachers of Dade sold the teachers of Miami Dade County County Public Schools for pennies to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

What are your thoughts on VAM?

To: School, District and State Educational Administrators

From: Your Passionate, Professional and Committed Teachers

Re: VAM (Value Added Models, or Very Arbitrary Measures)

Dear Administrators and Pedagogical Theoreticians:

Since you believe teachers should be held accountable for results and have a proportion of their paycheck tied to test results, then you must also believe that you too should have part of your paycheck determined by test results. If you disagree with this then tell us why; give us a rationale for your hypocrisy.

Teachers complain that VAM statistics ignore some basic variables (ex. socioeconomic levels) and that they will be blamed for poor performance (aka: low test scores) for factors that are beyond the control and scope of their classrooms and influence. They will even point out all the variables that lie within the affective domain (desire, perseverance, work-ethic, love to learn, will to self-actualize) are primarily developed within the domain of the family (after all, family support-input is the primary predictor of success in school and post-secondary pursuits).

Yet, under VAM teachers will get the blame for low performance, even though the equations are supposed to consider primary factors (but ignore socioeconomics and family). So even when we do our best some kids will not learn in spite of our efforts, though our paychecks will suffer.

So, then you too, dear administrators must get blamed for events beyond your control, because if “it takes a village to raise a child”, then all in the village should suffer the negative reinforcement (lower paycheck) when the child fails.

We, teachers, may decide to blame you for your possibly deficient leadership or ineffective mentoring, or buying junky curriculum, or…? If, in the metaphor of the learning-village, part of our effectiveness as teachers is tied to your effectiveness as leaders and guides, then you too should be held accountable!

Miami-Dade District administrators may feel this is unfair. Some of you might even admit that you choose educational leadership not because it was the culmination of your passion for teaching, but because you would get a bigger paycheck. Some of you could even get hit with the epiphany: “if after only teaching for 3-5 years, and that with no documentation of excellence, I am suffering no accountability for VAM, yet the teachers are, I feel somewhat uneasy; something is not just”.

You may complain that variables beyond your control should not be the reason for you lower paycheck under a leader-VAM statistic, but sorry no double standard. District leaders may grumble that FL DOE leaders, or FL legislators, made choices that negatively affect their performance at the district level. Well, so, should you not be held accountable anyway?

FL Department of Eduction leaders may blame the federal government for poor funding, bad curriculum mandates, unsound/invalid pedagogic assessment models, and whine that getting smaller paychecks is unfair.

After all, should we not all just blame the President? No, of course not, individuals should and must be held accountable for producing excellent products; the “buck must stop somewhere”, agreed. Yet, why does it stop at the teachers? Why are we the only ones who will have a part of our paycheck tied to a VAM statistic? Why not leaders too? Why not parents too? Hey, why not penalize the future salaries of students who deliberately choose not to learn with a student-VAM?

But no, we, the teachers, will take all the blame for failing students (not even the parents get blamed) without any accountability (tied to salary) for our leaders? We are flattered that you leaders believe we have that kind of power in the classroom; that we can lead the horse to water and make it drink; that we can plan and cook the meal and make someone eat it too.

How we wish, as teachers, the assimilation of knowledge was so easy; that all our input equated to student output, but we all know this is false.

Does not Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teach us that no student will self-actualize and desire to learn for the delayed future reward of a good job, or the “love of learning”! Students today, in general, come into the classroom with so much “baggage” (ex. uncertainty of family support after 2 divorces, abusive authorities, excessive premarital sex, an Internet that exposes them to less-than-desirable behaviors, having all the adults they used to look up to disappoint them, etc.).

So, teachers are expected to produce a superior product in spite of the defects in the raw materials that enter the classroom? As a chemistry teacher I believe I can help the student (ore) refine itself, and will do so with all my passion, but I cannot do alchemy; I cannot make efficacious teaching and learning happen when the ore is unwilling to be refined.

Dear Superintendent, if we are going to get smaller paychecks because of an unjust VAM statistic, then why does it not work the other way? Why not divide up the money won for the Broad Award (or all other awards for education) and share the winnings with your teachers? Though, we might feel guilty because if we do get higher wages because of VAM incentives, then should we not share some of that with our students; for they, after all, were the ones performing on the tests. Just where does “the buck stop”?

Mr. Governor, should not a proportion of your salary also be tied to student test scores? Is not the principle “a servant is not greater than their master” be applied to you? If we fail in the classroom, then your leadership must have something to do with it? Of course, the families never get any blame?

Mr. Scott if the FL GDP does not rise during your tenure, should not your salary be impacted? You may complain that federal policy has tied your hands. Well, do you now empathize with how teachers’ input is limited? Teachers strive for excellence, in spite of many of the socio-cultural variables that inhibit learning (ex. multiple divorces, inane and excessive entertainment medias, etc.). So, please treat us with knowledge and respect we deserve, and therefore drop VAM policies, or apply them to yourself too.

Dear Legislators, you approved VAM, so then apply it to yourselves. 50% of your pay should be based on the number of bills your author, and that PASS the legislature. We don’t care how hard you work, how many joules of energy you expend, or the product/profit you produce. No, we only care if your bills get passed (metaphor for test scores). Oh, but you will complain that the rate of bills passed is due to variables beyond your control. So, deal with it; suck it up and be treated in the same way you want to treat your teachers.

Even Jesus would agree to that (the same ONE some of you “right”-wingers believe in, but somehow forgot all of His teachings [the Bible] about social and economic justice, equity and compassion, and act as if the Kingdom of God equates with greater corporate earnings?)

So, to all leaders who are unwilling to have a VAM equations applied to their own salary, STOP the hypocrisy and join us in a more justice and equitable society. Be willing to walk in our shoes, before you arrogantly and pretentiously tell us how they should be worn.


Mr. Rick Lapworth

Science Teacher,

  • Andrea

    I’ve often said there needs to be some accountability for parents .If parents cannot make sure there kids get to school everyday, get there on time, etc,penalize parents. They will take education more seriously if it affects them financially. Kids shouldn’t stay home to babysit, help the family business, or get their nails done for prom. Family vacations shouldn’t extend beyond school holidays. Attendance is so poor, parents excuse it, and teachers get blamed because the child isn’t learning..

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Andrea, I totally agree with you. Can you imagine life with accountability on the parents? Think of how much we could get accomplished. I am very aware of how there are children who despite having food, clothing and shelter are still neglected by their parents. For now, we have to continue to educate others about how it really takes a village to care for these kids. Thanks for commenting. Happy holidays.
      ps. my laptop died so I am using a friend’s laptop to reply to you. Sorry it’s taken so long.

  • Jewels

    I agree One Hundred Percent! But, the last comment about “right”-wingers” was uncalled for. This is about teachers who are from both sides of the isle… let’s keep our focus on the problem: VAM. Several years ago, I also wrote an article like this. I applied the VAM principle to school administration, the police dept., the judicial dept. and so on and so forth. This article speaks for us all!


  • Lynn Atkinson

    All Region, District and additional support staff should be rated on the mean average of all the Title One schools’ test scores. All efforts should be made to ensure that the neediest of students receive the best and the brightest educators and these students need educational leaders who have the true passion to serve students, not their personal financial agendas. Every school board meeting everyone seems to say that it is all about the students, but actions speak volumes.

    Wasteful spending on computers for schools that are overstocked in affluent neighborhoods while less affluent schools have computers that are unable to even open the links sent by district administration. This should not be tolerated by the public, nor the educators within these less fortunate schools. The differences between the socio-economics of schools have become vast over this economic cycle; yet, affluent schools still receive more supplies, textbooks with teacher editions and computers with the software that can be utilized by students and educators. Perhaps with the passing of the recent bond referendum, the funding will rectify the “Savage Inequities” as suggested by Kozol. Maybe actions will be taken to permit equality, so these injustices will no longer exist as the norm within Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

    Discipline, respect and fairness are contractual provisions that could be implemented without cost. We do not permit bullying of students, why do we permit bullying of educators? Why is everything that is amiss in education being blamed on the teachers? We need leaders and leadership, not bullies with ugly dictatorship. As educators, the blame for such treatment is our own, we need to advocate and demand the respect we deserve, if we do not, who will? Stop being part of the flock!

  • L. J. Atkinson

    Today we got our long awaited, long overdue pay raise, only to find out that we lost money due to social security…..previously I paid approximately (I left off the change) $164.00 per pay check…now I pay $210.00 per pay…..we did not even get a cost of living raise. I got a 1,000/year raise …… do the math……This has become terrible. If I am at the top of the salary scale and is still really struggling…then how are the middle level veterans like Nathasha going to make it?
    If the federal government realizes that those on social security need at least a 3% raise why have we not seen one in over 6 years? Not only are we paying more for insurance which is quite questionable given we are self-insured……we are actually losing more and more each year. Those of you who have not been “booted out” of the union for filing grievances and raising UTD ethics questions need to realize if you vote “Artie and the gang” back into UTD leadership roles we will see more of the same…….Who oversees and audits the self-insured, insurance money anyway? Are there teachers on this audit team? I think we need an outside forensic auditor from another state with a team of “Non-sheep” teachers to take a real look at how the insurance money is being utilized.

    Who is accountable for this terrible raise? UTD

  • Reality Check

    Where are you Tornillo?

    Rest in Peace knowing that you were the only real union leader this district will have ever had…….You may have skimmed the coffers a bit (as if this is not happening now in other places)……but we always had a great raise with wonderful insurance when you were our leader….

    I miss you.

  • Ghost of Tornillo

    I agree with your Reality Check, Tornillo would never have tolerated this; yet he was not ethical, but maybe that is the price we must pay for at least a cost of living raise.

  • Ester Perez

    Not one teacher is a VAM (Value Added Model)according to our raises. Who is accountable for our value? Why are we not VAMs?

  • Carla Simmons

    Why not get real jobs or work as a private school teacher? Why do we need to pay for your retirement?

    • L. J. Atkinson

      Are you kidding me?

      • L. J. Atkinson

        Do you realize the pay raise went to Social Security? Oh, I guess you already know because anyone who would make comments like that is on Social Security or better yet, an “entitlement program” that drains the state budget that actually pay educators. We are paying for our retirement; a portion of our salary is given to FRS. In addition, since Governor Scott we give up 3%. You need to get a real job.

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Every time I read this comment I laugh. I can’t help it. I wonder who paid this person to do say such an ignorant comment. Baffling!