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,