Building Better Teachers

TVAAS creator William Sanders to receive national education award

William Sanders, who developed the TVAAS method for measuring a teacher's effect on student performance, died on March 16. Retired since 2013, he had been living in Columbia, Tenn.

William Sanders, the statistician and researcher who developed Tennessee’s system for evaluating teachers and schools, is the 2015 recipient of the James Bryant Conant Award, one of the nation’s most prestigious education honors.

William L. Sanders
William L. Sanders

Sanders, 73, who is retired and lives in Columbia, Tenn., will receive the award during the Education Commission of the States (ECS) national forum on education policy, scheduled for June 29-July 1 in Denver. He is to be presented the honor by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who chairs the commission.

A former professor at the University of Tennessee and senior research fellow with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sanders is best known as the developer of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), also known as the Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS), a method for measuring a teacher’s effect on student performance by tracking the progress of students against themselves over the course of their school career with their assignment to various teachers’ classes.

Sanders’ work is the foundation of Tennessee’s accountability system to measure the influence of school systems, schools and teachers on the academic progress of students. Since 1992, it’s been changing the way that teachers assess students, how principals assess teachers and how superintendents assess principals.

“Dr. William Sanders has been a national leader in value-added assessments, and his work has been a key policy discussion in states across the nation,” ECS president Jeremy Anderson said in news release Tuesday announcing this year’s award recipient. “His achievements are a perfect fit for the James Bryant Conant Award, and especially timely given the 50th anniversary of the Education Commission of the States.”

Hailed by many who seek greater accountability in education, TVAAS continues to be a topic of robust debate in the education community in Tennessee and across the nation. It has been the source of numerous federal lawsuits filed by teachers who charge that the evaluation system—which has been tied to teacher pay and tenure—is unfair and doesn’t take into account student socio-economic variables such as growing up in poverty. Sanders maintains that teacher effectiveness dwarfs all other factors as a predictor of student academic growth.

“With regard to student academic progress,” Sanders said, “the effectiveness of adults within buildings is more important than the mailing addresses of their students.”

Named for the co-founder of ECS and former president of Harvard University, the Conant Award recognizes outstanding individual contributions to American education. Past recipients include former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, American educator and Memphis native E.D. Hirsch, children’s television personality Fred Rogers and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former Tennessee governor and U.S. education secretary.

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.