This post is actually a response to John Merrow's Huffington Post column on value-added. Recommended - it's quite good!
First, I appreciate Mr. Merrow going to the source. I've known and worked with Bill for years and his work inspired my passion for education, leading ultimately to serving on the school board here in Nashville. His work is solid but the policy recommendations drawn from it are often wrong. Part of that is Tennessee's fault - we've had almost 20 years to learn how to help teachers add more value, and we've failed because we spent most of those 20 years fighting the data rather than working with it. Based on years of working with that data from a policy perspective and my work in positive psychology, here are my policy recommendations:
1. Recruit great teacher candidates. TFA has found that high grades and test scores from top colleges are not enough. We need better data on the qualities of character and outlook that make for great teachers, and how to select for them (I suspect there will be multiple patterns), but, in the meantime, look to resilience - especially optimism and a growth mindset - plus a passion for teaching.
2. Help teachers develop personally to become more resilient, more growth-minded, better at relationships, more focused on strengths - and show them proven ways to help develop these same qualities in students while teaching academic content. The Army is doing this for sergeants to help soldiers; why can't we do it for teachers? http://csf.army.mil/news.html This book I co-authored can help: http://www.smartstrengths.com/
3. Focus teacher professional development on teacher-led instructional improvement through "Lesson Study" or something very similar. http://www.shearonforschools.com/books_lesson_study.htm
4. Develop better leaders. Top young teachers want and deserve good leadership, and they want open, meaningful pathways to leadership. A great principal can help inspire and guide young teachers toward excellence and high value-add; a poor one runs great candidates out of the teaching profession. Many unnecessary obstacles have been placed in the path to leadership by legislators and administrators in the name of "improving leadership" - get rid of those that don't have solid, empirical evidence that they actually make better leaders (when in doubt, cut it out) and focus on leadership opportunities and mentorship to build on the base provided by the professional development and teacher-led instructional improvement cited above.
For more on the thinking behind these recommendations, see the chapter on "Positive Education" in Marty Seligman's new book <i>Flourish</i> or the white paper available here: http://www.flourishingschools.org/Positive_Education_FSWhitePaper.pdf