Zero-Sum Parent Engagement

Sara Mead has a smart, tongue-in-cheek take on the LATimes value-added database.  Short story: the policy implications of this will play second fiddle to the tidal wave of parents demanding the highest rated teachers:

“But ultimately, parents trying to get their kids into the class of the “best” teacher–whether based on word of mouth or value-added data–is about the most zero-sum form of parent engagement you can come up with.  It distracts school leaders, is a drain on their time, and can create combative dynamics that hurt school community. To the extent that parents are successful in lobbying for better teachers for their kids, it only locks in inequities between kids with more engaged and savvy parents and those without.”

First, I adore the expression “zero sum parent engagement,” as it captures so much truth about the parent role in education.  We expect parents to look out for their own children’s best interests, while simultaneously increasing the overall positive outcomes of an educational system through unselfish general involvement.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if these two things were mutually exclusive, as opposed to mutually reinforcing?  Seems like a possibility, when examined in this context.

Second, we shouldn’t pretend like this is a new phenomenon.  “Value-added” – from the parent perspective – is just a new proxy.  A proxy for that highly unscientific method that always has led parents to demand certain teachers for their children.  Just the other day, my cousin posted on her Facebook page to brag that her daughter got into “the best second grade teacher’s classroom.”  Is she right about whether or not that teacher is the best?  Who knows.  Is her decision-making framework more objective than a value-added assessment?  Probably not.

So, I agree with Sara’s point about the locking-in of inequities.  But the scenario above also obviates the fact that hard policy and bargaining decisions are necessary to make this list anything but the quantitative version the zero-sum qualitative game that already goes on.

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