Eduaction! Carey, Julian, Simmons, Utah, And, Mixed Message: Semantics Or Some Antics?

Kevin Carey gets all pissed-off about all this. And, post diss, he gets Richard Simmons to dish about No Child…Over at Gadfly Liam Julian turns-in a piece on Tuesday’s election returns that is well worth reading. Many readers have written to ask why I haven’t blogged more on the Utah voucher issue and offer their takes on it. The reason is that I didn’t think the plan would improve the schools there, and I don’t think its defeat does either. It’s a tired debate and not about kids or learning much at all.

Meanwhile, I’m completely confused about the merit pay/performance-pay differentiations that are a hot issue in teachers’ union circles. Here AFTie One-L* pushes back on Tapped’s Dana Goldstein writing that, “[The AFT] objected to the federal mandate that student test scores must be used to determine whether teachers get the incentive” in the Miller-McKeon No Child Left Behind draft proposal. But in New York City test scores are part of the bonus plan that was just put in place, the rewards can go to the whole school or just some teachers depending on what they decide at the school. Yet that’s not merit pay, says UFT Pres Randi Weingarten: “Unlike merit-pay plans that provide financial incentives to individual educators, the schoolwide bonus plan will reward the entire staff of any participating school that shows a significant gain in academic achievement.” I’d love for someone to sort this all out.

Seems to me that any plan that deviates from the standard “steps and lane” ** approach to consider factors like market incentives for shortage subjects, how challenging schools and communities are, or performance-pay plans can all be considered to be “differentiated pay.” In other words, all performance-pay is differentiated pay but not all differentiated pay is performance-pay.

Now as to the difference between performance-pay and merit-pay? I have absolutely no idea though it seems performance-pay plans can come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. But in any event this all seems sort of passé since teachers elsewhere have embraced individualized performance-pay anyway! I’m not sure it’s a great idea in the education context but am happy to see the innovation so we can find out. On this pay-for-performance or whatever you want to call it issue, several new papers from Center for American Progress worth checking out: One by free-range former AFTie Joan Snowden and the other by former Eduwonk guestblogger Robin Chait.

*By the way, shouldn’t the teachers’ unions be crowing and flexing not explaining themselves on blogs?  They basically killed NCLB reauthorization for this year. And that’s OK, it’s called democratic debate. Remember that in its post-mortem after the 2001 law Education Week wrote a big story about how the unions were basically cut out of the loop and rolled. Now they’re back baby! I wish AFTie One-L would just take a victory lap and maybe kick sand in someone’s face rather than playing the misunderstood victim card! There were loads of things they didn’t like about the Miller-McKeon proposal and that’s OK, too! Update: NEA gloating here.

**I’m posting the UFT schedule here because they do a nice job making it easy to find, it’s illustrative of what most look like on form.

3 Replies to “Eduaction! Carey, Julian, Simmons, Utah, And, Mixed Message: Semantics Or Some Antics?”

  1. I’m not going to gloat over killing reauthorization. Firstly, we need to debrief and discuss why NCLB failed so badly. Had the economy continued its 1990s trajectory, and had we just sought an incremental tightening of accountability, we would have done better. When Bush and the Left went all utopian on us, that sealed its fate. Next time we need realistic goals.

    Secondly, we now need to work collaboratively on an approach that makes more practical sense. You know my biases. I want Obama’s and Milkuski’s program for enriching Summer School which could close as much as 2/3rds of the Achievement Gap. I also want legislation based on John Hopkins research on drop outs. And, of course, there is pre-K and more early inventions and health programs.

    That leads me to the third issue, and its in line with your comment on the LA approach. A national effort for “earned autonomy” is just “pie-in-the-sky, as long as teachers are supposed to implement Top Down game plans that are doomed to fail. (the oldtimers saw that most of the NCLB approved approaches were just more expensive versions of reforms that had already failed, so it was hard to get us to kick our heels three times and believe that this time the Wizard of Oz would fly us back to Kansas)

    But you are right that dysfunctional schools don’t know how to heal themselves. But top down mandates, by non-educators who didn’t know any more about fixing high poverty schools, didn’t add any more real knowledge. For that reason, we must abandon the Gates/Ed Trust approach of looking at low poverty schools and retrofitting research for high poverty schools.

    Charlie Barone made a good point about “some” staffers who do not care about educational policy and dismiss it as wonkish. This time Education staffers need to start with professional research, not think tank policy driven “research.” (by the way, I’d consider Ed Sector to be a think tank that listens to real research and respects real social science.)

    Regardless of the details, the massive body of research prompted by NCLB has shown that the expensive law produced underwhelming results. I’m ASSUMING that the next two years will bring more of the same. By that point, I look forward to working with Ed Sector and others who want to benefit from the research that NCLB prompted.

    From my perspective in a poor district in a poor state, I see NCLB as having done more harm than good. The Brookings study last week provides an encouraging corrective. I sure hope they are closer to the overall truth.

    One aspect of their study, an analysis of the disappointing results of SES shows how new research could prompt a new approach to NCLB. It cite Farka’s experience that tutoring requires 100 individual learning sessions at 40 minutes each to raise performance by a grade level. Why not abandon the quest for the perfect accountability system and put that energy into standards for after-school and summer school programs? Directly focus on the problems of poor kids, and then invest in “rifle shot” approaches to address the toughest problems.

    NCLB true believers tended to believe that NCLB, market forces, and other forces of “creative destruction” should wipe away our out-moded system and create something brand new. I bet they succeeeded in some low poverty schools. But the real target should be the high poverty schools that are barely able to hold together their fraying social fabric. You are right in arguing that these schools need more than money. We need to attract new talent to these schools. (and we need better methods of firing ineffective educators.) We must sidestep the chicken and egg debate about earning autonomy and create incentives for appracting talent to inner city schools. And that can’t be done without the fourth and fifth R’s of REAL Rigor, Relevance, and RESPECTFUL Relationships.

    Which raises another idea, if the real target of NCLB is high poverty schools, this time around why don’t we listen to real-live teachers in those schools? Give us a voice into how to serve our kids and to attract the type of people who can serve their needs.

    John Thompson

  2. #1 Re: the AFTie blog. They are 100% correct that incentives for a hard to staff schools that is contingent on success metrics will not help with luring the best teachers to where they are needed. A middle ground would be a two tiered incentive structure, with more money on the front end, and the potential for more money on the back end. Where are the people proposing compromise?

    #2: School-wide versus teacher focused merit pay. The #1 reason a teacher who would be willing to work at a hard to staff school but doesn’t isn’t the kids (a teacher who gets faint at the tought of kids coming in hungry or otherwise dealing with out of school stress wouldn’t come to such a school anyway), its the poor leadership, staff & peer teachers. No rational actor would take a chance on a dissociated incentive like that.

    #3: Observation: It seems the basic trend in NCLB and teacher pay is the same: an increasingly micro (individual) focus. AYP should be measured for each child, based on reading/math/writing levels. [This of course would require some sophisticated data tracking, at least statewide if not nationally, but certainly better than current district IT infrastructure. Its gonna cost mucho.] If this was done with confidence, teachers would be less reluctant to tie pay to performance. Education is a hugely complex system, with many inputs, most of which a teacher has very little control over. But tell a teacher they will get rewarding for boosting each (or 95%, etc) child’s reading and math level one grade for a year’s work, and most teachers would be comfortable with that. Bringing a 4th grader that is a year behind up to grade level is hard to do in just one year. Make it an achievable goal. I think kids would be happier with such a system as well, as fewer children would feel like the are being told they are failures every time they take a standardized test. This would also equalize the percieved challenge of teaching in a struggling school (i.e. tough circumstances, but low hanging fruit as far as bring up a reading level) versus a upper middle class school (easier circumstances, but might have to realy work to challenge kids who already come able to pass the end of grade tests).

    #4: The main issue with AYP seems to be the resistance to disrupting a school for failing to serve some small demographic. Perhaps the answer would be allow choice, after school tutoring, etc who are not being served adquately. This might also have the benefit of allowing a back-door bussing/integration scheme, which otherwise seems like it will soon meet its end at the hands of a changed Supreme Court.

  3. I am a teacher in a Title I school, and I am all for merit pay for individuals. I work hard because that is what I was hired to do, and because I operate under the belief that the work I am doing is very important. I am not worried about my student’s test scores, because when one teaches in a well-planned, reflective, and intentional way, with a consistent and robust program, the test scores take care of themselves. I am weary of watching some colleagues who work less than I do (and have students with overall lower scores), make more money than I do. Teaching is hard work – no question about that – and it seems that it is human nature to do less so that, dollar for dollar, it feels like your salary actually matches the time you put in. I think that is what is behind a lot of teachers doing less than what the job truly requires. It cannot be done in the 7.5 hours per day we are paid to do it.

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