November 17, 2017
Haines 279
Tala Oszkay

The UCLA Department of Sociology Irene Flecknoe Ross Lecture Series Movements, Organizations, and Markets (MOM) Working Group is pleased to present:

Zachary Griffen and Aaron Panofsky: VAM on Trial: Rationality and Expertise in Teacher Evaluation Lawsuits*

Over the last five years, the U.S. has seen nearly twenty lawsuits related to state teacher evaluation policies and tenure laws. These lawsuits have been prompted by a new kind of data on teacher effectiveness generated by a controversial statistical technology, Value Added Modeling (VAM). As economic and statistical experts became familiar with VAM in the 2000s, policymakers in various states incorporated the technology into teacher evaluation systems. VAM has been presented by education reformers as a rationalizing force based on legitimate expertise, but critics have argued that VAM is overly complex, biased, and unreliable as an evaluation method. In this paper, we first review how economic expertise has influenced the law historically and how experts have promoted ‘accountability’ policies in education. We then map out the landscape of lawsuits that involve VAM and compare several cases in detail to make sense of how expertise factors into legal decision making. How is this expertise constructed and contested in legal settings, in which the stakes of teacher evaluation and tenure policies may differ? We find that while many courts are willing to hear arguments from experts about the merits and drawbacks of VAM, claims that these teacher evaluation methods are inherently rational sometimes make no difference to court outcomes. In these cases, the negotiation of expert and legal rationalities often leads to consequential decisions that affect the autonomy of the teaching profession and students’ rights to a good education.