“Good teachers can now be fired because of bad math”

Take time to read this great essay in Education Week by Florida teacher Nadia Zananiri, who teaches AP World History at Miami Beach Senior High School and serves as AP World History mentor teacher for Miami-Dade county.

In the essay, Zananiri explains why, despite a school she loves and wonderful students, she plans to go work in a private school.

She notes that even “after the state Legislators decided to exempt Advanced Placement classrooms from the twice voter approved class size amendment, and my student work load ballooned to 190 students without any extra pay, I was planning on staying.”

So what changed her mind?

This is an except. Please read the entire piece.

But after the last faculty meeting, the state dealt the final blow to my teaching career in Florida public schools. We were told about the wonders of a magical algorithm that would be able to predict student growth. It’s called the “value-added model.” I refer to it as voodoo mathematics. If teachers do not meet the predictions of student growth projected by the algorithms in relation to their peers, they will be rated “ineffective.” Teachers are ranked on a curve, thus a certain percentage will always be considered failures.

When the value added ratings were published in New York newspapers last week, many were surprised to see talented teachers ranked in the lowest percentiles. I was not surprised. One teacher of the gifted was ranked in the 6th percentile after her students’ mean score dropped from a 3.97 to a 3.92. Students are placed in gifted and Advanced Placement classrooms because they have scored at the top range of state tests. If they are scoring high already, they will have a difficult time showing growth and statistically they are more likely to regress towards the norm.

Good teachers can now be fired because of bad math. As mandated by Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers imposed under current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, which require districts and states to use standardized test scores as a significant portion of teacher evaluations, the Florida Senate passed bill 736 last spring. Under Race to the Top and Senate Bill 736, teachers with two years of “ineffective” rankings will be fired and their teaching license will be revoked by the state of Florida, thus banning them from teaching in any other public school in the United States.

Well, not exactly. These fired and banned teachers will probably be able to find work at a charter school where teachers don’t have to have professional teaching licenses and are not subject to this new teacher evaluation system, despite the fact that charter schools also receive public funds. The exemption of charter school teachers from both the state and federal mandates, leads one to believe that politicians are less interested in accountability than they are in busting unions and making sure no teacher lasts long enough to collect a pension. In the name of firing the worst teachers, we will be firing some of the best.

I refuse to be a victim of the Russian roulette nature of value added models. I will not let myself be labeled an “ineffective” teacher after continuously striving to improve my instruction, my knowledge base, my relationship with my students and parents. I will not be labeled an ineffective teacher after spending hours on the phone, in person and over email contacting parents over skipping students, sick students, struggling students, amazing students….I will not be labeled an ineffective teacher after spending hours on my weekend and evenings grading student papers when I should be reading to my own young children.

I can’t play by the rules of your game. It has reached the point where I know that I will inevitably end up a loser, no matter how hard I work. Private schools have become the Promised Land. Small class sizes, no government testing, unscripted curriculum and only accountability to my students, parents and administrators. I am a proud product of public schools from elementary to university, but the policies imposed in recent years by politicians are destroying the same system politicians claim to be saving.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

68 comments Add your comment


March 23rd, 2012
5:18 am

Hear, hear! This echoes many statements I have made here in the past. Of course, many will simply claim this is liberal drivel from someone afraid of being cut off from the gravy train. Yep, anything that flies in the face of some people’s world view is inherently wrong and suspect. That’s the American way, isn’t it?

What I’d like to know is what conservatives who espouse school reform are really afraid of–an educated populace who might be able to think critically and, thus, question what is spoon fed to them via Fox News? Because, deep down, all profit-mongering aside, I smell fear and a lot of it.

I can only hope that public schools are as predictable as Dracula–he always comes back.

I’m off to toss out my cup of the Kool-Aid, how about you?


March 23rd, 2012
5:31 am

Objectively, I hope this clear example does demonstrate the flaws in the math to fix the issue. Nothing is perfect in the first year out, but maybe politicians aren’t like scientists and business people.

Subjectively, I am an award-winning teacher wondering about the same thing. I also look at what is required of home school students vs. public school students: homeschoolers have to take the SAT, etc., but not shuffled along in our Henry Ford system of bells at the hour. We are making progress sometimes, but it is still within this crowd control box that was designed to corral immigrant teenagers at the turn of the century (read “The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System” by Mirel).

As a math person, I like have the predictive range, but her point is valid: will kids with severe autism improve, will a student with straight A’s improve, will someone who just moved here from Korea and does not speak English improve?

I also have 190 kids, and it just won’t happen for all, and not because of me.


March 23rd, 2012
6:02 am

The VAM may not be the answer, but the days of yesteryear when teachers evaluated each other and created tenure are over. The old system reeks of the much-maligned “good ol boy” network that everyone laments in every other environment.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

March 23rd, 2012
6:07 am

@Jeff “The VAM may not be the answer, but the days of yesteryear when teachers evaluated each other and created tenure are over.”

I NEVER evaluated another teacher, and I NEVER “created” tenure…. and I have been in the system for many, many years.


March 23rd, 2012
6:16 am

I knew it was coming. and when it comes to me, I, too, will be gone. Teachers have done more than they were asked to do to raise student achievement. But people continue to ignore the fact that students are NOT products coming off an assembly line. I will not teach under such a system. Neither will many other teachers. Teacher shortages will soon put unqualified people in classrooms to babysit. Wait till you see the test scores then. When the economy finally recovers, we will be gone.

I'm a teacher

March 23rd, 2012
6:57 am

Tenure does not exist in Georgia – what you are referring to as tenure is the fact that more documentation is needed to get rid of a continuing contract teacher than the fact that the principal does not feel they are effective. (which is all that is needed to fire a 1-3 year teacher)
A example of the “better” system in place now – my administrator came in to do one of the 3 observations in my class this week – I told him that this was a bookwork day for my AP class (which I have to schedule because I do not have enough books to issue one to each student – I only have a classroom set) and instead of coming back another time, she decided to stay. Unsurprising – I received several “emerging” because she did not see active teaching taking place. Do you really think that 3 observations a year accurately shows the effectiveness of a teacher?


March 23rd, 2012
6:59 am

A plague on their houses!

In GA a teacher rarely gets fired

March 23rd, 2012
7:01 am

I can’t speak of NY state teachers but here in GA, teachers rarely, if ever, get fired. We need to clear out the ranks of ineffective teachers and if some of them leave the ranks because of measurements, then I agree with it. My kid’s teacher cannot speak or write common, standard English. I don’t know how heshe ever graduated high school.


March 23rd, 2012
7:12 am

It seems to me the most straight-forward way to evaluate a teacher’s performance- and I do believe that teachers should be evaluated just like everyone else in the workforce- would be to give a “pre-test” at the beginning of the year, and a “post-test” at the end. Then you could see if kids learned what they should have. I’m sure there are issues even with this format, but if, perhaps, the politicians would at least let more teachers have more input into developing a process instead of them having to respond to a “done deal” issues could be addressed at the front end instead of “overhauls” coming after the unintended consequences come to light.

The other piece should be truly effective administrator and peer review. Principals and fellow teachers know who the less effective teachers are. Principals and lead teachers/department heads/whatever they are called need to be trained like resource managers and know how to evaluate, set up an improvement plan, and follow it up. When I taught, I had 2 evaluations a year in my first 3 years in the classroom, and then only 1 year after that- 15-20 minutes of a principal watching my best lesson because they told me in advance they were coming. Of course this was to avoid coming on a test day when I really wouldn’t be “teaching” , but if administrators were out walking the halls and just dropping in unannounced instead of holed up in their offices, those evaluations could have been much more honest. The less effective teachers couldn’t have hidden behind a great 15 minute “show.”

AND, principals should be given the authority to fire ineffective teachers with reason. Job protections are one thing, but, as we have seen in APS, the hoops that must be jumped through to get rid of bad teachers are absurd.


March 23rd, 2012
7:16 am

They gonna run our schools using algorithms. Sounds about right since common sense is out of vogue.


March 23rd, 2012
7:34 am

The eye-opener for me (maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention) is that Charter School teachers don’t have to deal with this “value added model.” Talk about an uneven playing field. So all the benefits our students supposedly enjoy as a result of “school choice” come with less teacher and instructional accountability. Live and learn, I guess.

Joe Frank

March 23rd, 2012
7:36 am

You may say ‘tenure’ does not exist, but try and fire any teacher, good or bad! The ‘de-facto’ unions that exist underground, and the resistance to having the “bad” teachers eliminated has led to this situation. So when looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror!
I have never unsterstood the “all for one, one for all” attitude teachers have when protecting the very worst of their profession!
I am opposed to the charter school movement, and hope the voters do what the legislature would not, and vote it down. However, solutions like this are born from outrage, and like it or not, the teachers and their demands for life long employment regardless of ability, are one of the parents of this baby!


March 23rd, 2012
7:37 am

there is nothing wrong with the math, it is how it is applied


March 23rd, 2012
7:42 am

just home school your own kids. don’t worry about college you won’t be able to afford it. pretty soon we will be the call center for india, telling them how to fix their computer problems.


March 23rd, 2012
7:45 am

Formerteacher: We are already evaluated by a pre and post test. The pretest is LAST YEAR’S CRCT. The post test is THIS YEAR’S CRCT.


March 23rd, 2012
7:53 am

I have alreadly put in my two year notice. In two years, i will be vested in TRS. I get my promised money and i am out of here!! someone else can teach physics and chemistry, i am going to the private sector.

Progressive Humanist

March 23rd, 2012
7:54 am


That’s not exactly correct. If you have a pre and post test it should be the same test or at least test the exact same contructs and should be normed for equivalency. CRCTs are not structured that way.


March 23rd, 2012
7:58 am

March 23rd, 2012
7:45 am

Well, I stand corrected. Comparing last year’s kids and different kids this year makes perfect sense. (Boy, I can’t wait until someone invents a “sarcasm” font. I need it desperately).

Inman Park Boy

March 23rd, 2012
8:04 am

I spent more than fifteen years in public schools before I moved to the private sector. Some of my reasons for moving are echoed here, but not all. First of all, there is no difference between public and private school teachers in terms of quality. I have seen magnificent teachers in both arenas. I have probably seen fewer really bad teachers in private schools, but that is because it is easier to dismiss a teacher here. In public schools, the COURTS have deemed that teachers have a property interest in their jobs, making it far more difficult to dismiss. If you are a relatively weak teacher, I urge you to stay in the public system. But beware: contrary to popular belief, salaries and benefits are lower in private schools unless you happen to work at one of the “elites.” Also, be aware that you will be under coinstant scrutiny by administrtators and parents, even more so than in public schools. If you want to work in the private sector JUST because of the supervisory rules in public schools, I’d say stay where you are.

Progressive Humanist

March 23rd, 2012
8:13 am

I have a lot of experience in assessment and learned something about statistics while doing a PhD in psychology. I don’t believe that any model based on predictions, the like the value added model, can be valid in the long run. They rely on too many assumptions. If the assumptions are correct, then the results should be, but assumptions are too often incorrect when we’re trying to measure human traits. And therefore, predictions are often inaccurate due to factors other than the independent variables (the teachers and instruction). It is unjust to base decisions that affect people’s lives on these models.

A statistical analysis called an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) may be able to provide the desired measurement. It adjusts for initial differences in students’ scores so that the final playing field is level. It also doesn’t rely on assumptions or predictions; it takes actual data and compares it. But ANCOVA would necessitate even more testing. You’d have to test students at the very beginning of the year and the end of the year, or beginning and end of a semester if you’re on block. It would also cost tens of millions of dollars to create multiple sets of pre and post tests at every level that are normed for equivalency, because if you gave the same test at the beginning and end, which is acceptable statistically, the cheating we saw in APS recently would become commonplace all over the state.

So it would actually be much more complicated to do what they are trying to do on the fly. The value added model is not the answer, and there is the likelihood that there will be great damage caused to many people’s lives as they try to implement and fix the kinks in this flawed system.

Taxi Smith

March 23rd, 2012
8:18 am

You had me until you called yourself “Progressive Humanist.” That queered the deal.


March 23rd, 2012
8:24 am

Sing it, sister! If one has a decent grasp of child development, and a sense of what crunching numbers can and cannot really tell us (quantitative research), the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn about this value-added measures bologna is that it is bologna…or voodoo mathematics, as Nadia Zananiri. But who expects reason from the bozos that are ever so patronizingly corporatiizing out schools. I am not a teacher, just a parent with sense enough to know this VAM is ultimately bad for kids.


March 23rd, 2012
8:28 am

Many students are below average in IQ and will never achieve much in the classroom, no matter how well they are taught. Look like the latest social experiment is “blame the teacher”.


March 23rd, 2012
8:39 am

When you are checking the accuracy of widgets, it isn’t too difficult. However, PEOPLE are much more difficult, because they can refuse to take the test, answer the questions by guessing, or even try hard but their parents had a big fight that morning and that is all they can think about. It is inherently unfair to judge one person based on another’s actions or lack of actions. The students have no reason, other than personal pride, to give a real effort to the CRCT. And personal pride is in short supply right now.

Would you want to be judged for fitness as a parent the day your own children had a very bad day? If you are an attorney, would you want to be judged on the number of cases won (and you don’t get to pick your cases?) Or a doctor or a dentist? How about a mechanic? Do you want to be judged on how well a car lasts if it belongs to someone who abuses it? Or, as a CPA, should you be judges on how your clients are doing, no matter how negligent they are in keeping up with their receipts, etc.?

Add to that the exteme fallability of the CRCT, and you have a perfect storm of inaccurate data.


March 23rd, 2012
8:43 am

The writer states “When the value added ratings were published in New York newspapers last week, many were surprised to see talented teachers ranked in the lowest percentiles”.

Who determined that these teachers were in fact talented? Are we just to take that on face value? Were they in fact liked….and that was translated into “talented”? Or perhaps is measuring the progress kids make in learning, over the course of a year, the true measure of whether a teacher is talented?


March 23rd, 2012
8:45 am

@Joe Frank

You’re full of it. My principal has nonrenewed (fired) several teachers over the years. Not one of them has successfully fought it. In fact, most didn’t even try. Know why? Because their incompetence had been documented. The old “You can’t fire anyone” line is an invention to protect lazy administrators who don’t want to do their jobs.

Brilliant Idea!

March 23rd, 2012
8:50 am

A sarcasm font is a brilliant idea! Why didn’t I think of that!


March 23rd, 2012
8:53 am

The problem with many of these ratings schemes is that they assume that standardized testing will show how much the students have learned. Standardized testing has an important place as a diagnostic tool, but the student has NO incentive to perform on the test, save 3 times throughout the K-12 period (here in Florida, 4th, 8th, and 11th grade. Each year covers either math, science, or reading). My own kids have told my how on “non-counting” years students “Christmas tree” the answer sheets (mark answers at random) because their performance doesn’t count against them.

As for “getting rid of ineffective teachers”, if that is a problem then you need to look at the administrators and ask why they are not effective. In spite of what common wisdom on the subject says, you can fire an ineffective teacher. You must follow the rules and document after attempting to correct their performance, otherwise it will be challenged and the school will loose because they didn’t follow the rules. Tenure is not the problem, as all it does is require that you show cause (by following the process above and documenting) before you fire a teacher.

I was a supervisor in a Federal Government Agency for more than 10 years (another place folks say you can’t fire someone) and I can tell you that in every event where a disciplinary action or removal (firing) was overturned, the official taking the action didn’t follow the rules and document the problem. They simply got fed up one day over a “final straw” event, and decided to fire them. It works the same with teachers.


March 23rd, 2012
8:54 am

Government Schools or why do we put politicians in charge of education. Privatize the entire system

Misty Fyed

March 23rd, 2012
9:07 am

I wonder if the first poster…Brandy…realizes this program is a democrat initiative. So typical of a democrat to blame the failure of their own initiatives on conservatives.

The article has some valid points. It’s kinda like comparing piano teachers. The greatest piano teacher in the world can do only so much with a student who doesn’t practice. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bad teachers; but when you fail to take into account the student’s effort, it’s impossible to get a true gauge on a teacher’s effectiveness.

Plus please remember; you are requiring a 4 year degree to teach but only pay them about 38k to start. Now they haven’t had a pay raise in years. The only way they can advance is by getting an advanced degree. Try doing that on 38k. Don’t forget about furlough days. Now there’s an algorithm that can “predict” adolescent behavior. Yeah right. Why would anyone want that job?


March 23rd, 2012
9:13 am

I have been, in theory, fan of public education for most of my life.

Alas, the great idea of public education seems to be in the final stages of being strangled by an uncountable number of threads of destruction, springing from all sides: fearful administrators avoiding attacks by litigious parents, unacceptable student sloth and misconduct, whole weeks of student motivation and learning vanishing in the wake of high stakes testing, teachers who wish to be treated like professionals suffering a death of 1,000 cuts from petty micromanagement, and now the emergence of a flawed metric which will ultimately throw out a lot of wheat with the chaff, teacher-wise.


March 23rd, 2012
9:28 am

Education begins at home. Most of these under-performing children were doomed the day they were born. For whatever reason,


March 23rd, 2012
9:30 am

Sorry, had not finished. For whatever reason, the unstable home lives of these children are the main culprit. Teachers can only do so much.


March 23rd, 2012
9:52 am

@RCB,,,you are so right about unstable home lives. We can start the “healing process” of eduction by eliminating the Federal Department of Education and limiting control on the state level. Education for the masses is no longer viable.

Old timer

March 23rd, 2012
9:56 am

Brandy, in many cases the schools are not really educating children enough for them to think….


March 23rd, 2012
10:18 am

It sure seems like some of us managed to get while the getting was good. I am ever grateful that I saw what was coming and got my children into a school where they are challenged with real learning based on a real curriculum. They understand the value of moving on when it is time to go. I will do my best to make sure that the one thing that doesn’t happen to them is that they ever get thrown into the cesspool of public education in Georgia again. My oldest is finishing secondary two years ahead students in Georgia, so this child is forever safe. One more to go.

I wonder how long any good teachers will continue to take what someone aptly called the death of a thousand cuts. Every good teacher knows that standardized testing leads only to standardized thinking, which does not raise students up so much as resign them to a life that holds no mystery and certainly no joy of discovery. I wonder what it is exactly that students in Georgia schools are being prepared for. Somehow, I think it must be not to cause trouble and to follow the rules and never ever to shade but one oval on each line with a number two pencil.

As a life-long supporter of public education and as a person who gave years to trying to raise up students in one of the most backwards and benighted places on earth, it pains me to see that things for both teachers and students are now much worse than when I fled. I would never do it again.

The only hope is that we are on the leading edge of a radical transformation process that somehow will lead to the creation of schools truly functional for the world we live in, preparing students for a world in which they need to learn-unlearn-relearn constantly. I am not particularly optimistic, but, then again, I voted with my feet. They do so love a plantation in down in Georgia.

Had enough yet, teachers?

Give up. Throw in the towel. Flee.

Dr. John Trotter

March 23rd, 2012
10:37 am

This idiocy value-added evaluation continues to drives good teachers out of public education, and it discourages talented young people from entering into to the profession of teaching (whatever is left of the “profession”). I can’t help but to think about the comment that my rather blunt but very funny father said while the family was sitting in the car at a gas station over 40 years ago: “There goes _____________ and ___________. They don’t have a brain between them.” He was looking at two elected officials walking together beside this service station. One was a State Senator (eighth grade education) and the other was one of his former high school students who was a big shot on the Metro City Council in Columbus. It’s these people who get into power and think that they know what is wrong with education. But, none of them (including U. S. Secretary Arne Duncan) know their butts from deep center field!

What is wrong with public education today is not the teachers. It’s the students — their lack of motivation to learn and their often defiant and disruptive conduct — who are the problems…along with their irate and irresponsible parents. Folks, let’s get real: Most of the problems in public education are located in urban schools. Not all of the problems, but the lion’s share of them are simply urban school problems. But, our politicians and educrats do not have the nerve to hit head-on what the real problems are. They want to appear to be finding a solution to the problems but they are only compounding the problems and exacerbating the problems. Then, these numb-skulled and mean-spirited administrators carry out these truncated and benighted “plans” for improvement with all due alacrity like good Educational Nazis.

I have written several articles against this idiotic “values-added” evaluation and/or merit pay. It has never worked. It will never work. It is a legislative Red Herring.


Dr. John Trotter

March 23rd, 2012
10:39 am

Forgive typo, please. Idiocy should be idiotic. Sorry.

Ron F.

March 23rd, 2012
10:49 am

“student growth projected by the algorithms in relation to their peers”

ROFL!! I have two teenage sons and teach at-risk teens all day. There isn’t now, and will never be, an algorithm that can predict teenage boys. How could anyone believe you can predict human behavior, especially the wildly inconsistent behavior of a teen based on a mathematical guess?

David M

March 23rd, 2012
11:47 am

After all the staff training to “improve” teacher performance such as the common core standards, evaluations etc. we will be all shined up to welcome the students who for years have come to school ready and eager to learn. We educators are bearing the brunt of a failing educational system because the “experts”, movers and shakers, politicians, etc. can get their hands around our necks rather easily. But try to tell a parent that their child has not been properly raised . They all get a free pass. Want to improve our schools? Get the target off the teachers and put it where it belongs. Anybody out there with a backbone?

HS Public Teacher

March 23rd, 2012
12:06 pm

And with GA marching right behind Florida with vouchers, with Race to the Top, and so on, we are next.

Hey you republicans and people crying for “school choice” – this is what you are asking for!!!

Florida education is our future unless we somehow stop this madness!

Beverly Fraud

March 23rd, 2012
12:07 pm

Not that teaching conditions are bad in Georgia, but “teaching in Georgia public schools without a gun being put to your head” has now become an official DSM-IV qualifier for being certifiably insane.


March 23rd, 2012
12:12 pm

It is ridiculous to evaluate a Teacher based on the performance of their students. With this approach a Teacher is judged like a Coach who is fired because of his player’s performance. If the Teacher gets a couple of years of students who care more about Tweeting, playing Football, or keeping up with the Kardashians, there is nothing even they can do. It should be mandatory for lawmakers proposing this type of legislation to spend a week trying to teach Middle School Math.

Old Physics Teacher

March 23rd, 2012
12:24 pm

@Joe Frank,

Really? Tenure is the problem, REALLY!? Administrators lost tenure almost a decade ago, and the number of IDtenTs HAVE INCREASED. Losing tenure didn’t stop them. How about letting me have the same “tenure” you have after being 3 months on the job? That’s what I have now: the administrators have to document my errors and give me a chance to refute his/her misstatements to a higher level. If they still fire me, I have the right to sue for my job back. That’s what you have under federal and state law. Why do you want to have rights that I don’t?

Once again, a reasonably educated individual has ignored facts and bought into the “Waiting for Superman” movie theme: It’s all because of tenure. I’m sure no one ever took video tape and edited it so the “facts” were slanted in the way the producer wanted, have they – Andrew Breibart??


March 23rd, 2012
1:09 pm


fed up with public school? need stress relief? watch this!


March 23rd, 2012
2:24 pm

Can’t tell if that was attempt at sarcasm, BLB, but if not, what a hilarious example of exactly what a teacher needs to do…..work with the kids and incent them to perform, just like coaches have to. And if you don’t get results, stop teaching (as coaches do).


March 23rd, 2012
2:45 pm

Incent them to perform? What are these incentives? Where are they coming from? Who is paying for them? B/c players often get cash for performing.

Beverly Fraud

March 23rd, 2012
2:50 pm

dc, indeed the football coach who can’t perform gets let go…the difference is, he has the authority to cut the PLAYERS WHO CAN’T PERFORM.

Give teachers that SAME authority, and I think you’ll find teachers are willing to be held “accountable” by even some of the more inane “metrics” politicians dream up.

But let’s be real: we don’t want to actually EMPOWER teachers, do we? We just want someone to BLAME.


March 23rd, 2012
3:20 pm

@formerteacher at 7:58 a.m.–When Elizabeth brought up using the CRCT as a pre- and post-test, she did not mean to compare this year’s class to last year’s class. She meant that you take a student’s test from the previous year and compare it to their test scores this year. Yeah, we do need a sarcasm font.


March 23rd, 2012
3:30 pm

Really, why?