Fatal Merit Pay Flaw – Funding

Paying our teachers $100,000 plus a year is a noble idea. After spending a tour of duty in school district tech support, I firmly believe government school teachers are underpaid. Reforms tout the merit pay method as the savior of our schools. Michelle Rhee is a known fan of merit pay and has proposed the idea in D.C. NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg too.

Can states really afford to reward their teachers at this level?

I questioned whether merit pay would be feasible budget-wise a few days ago.

from The Maine View:

Then there is the cost. The idea of a $100,000 plus a year teacher. As long as schools still run on tax dollars I don’t see that big a pay rate feasible. Something else would have to be cut. Sports, music, other teachers perhaps. I wouldn’t mind cutting the fat and more efficient spending in schools. In fact it should be a priority. None the less I don’t see many states being to afford such increases.

In Texas they have dropped one of two incentive programs

from Dallas News:

The TEEG plan began as a pilot program ordered by Gov. Rick Perry in the 2005-06 school year. It was expanded to a statewide program a year later by the Legislature, which put up $100 million for teacher bonuses at 1,150 schools.

Proponents said targeting the money to the best teachers at schools with a large number of low-income students would motivate teachers to do better and improve test scores and achievement at those schools. Individual bonuses were based primarily on test score results.

But studies showed that although affected teachers liked the extra money, more than three-fourths said the bonuses had no effect on the way they taught or their performance in the classroom.

Here we have a program cut because it just plain failed. Poorly planned and poorly executed, TEEG was a waste of money. It seems as though there wasn’t much more thought in this plan beyond a straight injection of money. The plan was especially flawed when taking into account that TEEG drew much needed funds from the already questionable state wide DATE plan. Of course this is not the first fumble in Texas education policy.

The situation in California is dire. The state is in a financial disaster. California’s budget is short an estimated $24 billion. No matter what the Governator decides to do, it is a given that education will take a hard hit.

from LA Times:

The governor would take $3 billion from public schools if the ballot propositions pass and $5 billion if they fail — potentially forcing a seven-day reduction in the school year — on top of billions the state cut several months ago. California’s public colleges and universities would lose $1 billion if the measures pass and $1.2 billion if they fail.

Administration officials said the education cuts would be cushioned by incoming federal stimulus funds.

But a lobbyist for school districts, Kevin Gordon, questioned whether the U.S. government would allow the state to use federal money to replace its own.

Such cuts would violate “the spirit of what leaders in Washington, D.C., intended,” Gordon said. The federal money, he said, was not meant to enable the state to cut its own spending.

You can bet merit pay doesn’t look like such a good idea when your pockets are empty. When the private sector is cutting back, employ bonuses will almost certainly be cut. Now imagine those bonuses are being funded by public tax dollars. Stretch that vision even further if you will, and picture that you’re now starring at a budget billions of dollars in the red. Extra pay will take a hit.

Perhaps we should think of implementing merit pay like getting to the Moon. It took almost a decade to get everything right and still it was a long shot. How many rockets blew up on the launch pad before we could even get one in orbit? Creative dedicated minds at NASA finally got it right. It took innovative thinking from those scientists to solve their problems. Maybe we need to start channeling a little of their ingenuity into this merit pay conundrum.

Merit Pay Is Here To Stay

Merit pay for teachers is not going away, not anytime soon at least. It may be a fad that will disappear in a few years. We may continue to debate how to implement it or if we should even try for some time.

Most of us can agree that the current mode of pay, tenure/time based, is not the most effective way of paying our teachers. Generation Xers and Generation Ys (Millennials) are less likely to stay in one place or at one company. Serving a lifetime at one place of employment is no longer a goal like it was for previous generations. Living in the same town, state, or region isn’t a given for Gens X and Y. Tenure based pay makes little sense for the upcoming generations. As a Time article states, we’re getting off the ladder.

The discussion of new pay systems for teachers must continue. It is essential we work toward a more efficient system.

As of right now, the best (read only) system proposed has been merit or performance based. This is a subject I’ve taken to heart. Merit pay has been written and discussed here, here, here, here, and here.

The Washington Post and School of Blog have provided us with two more examples of merit pay systems.

Jay Mathews from WaPo critiques Michelle Rhee’s *a cacophany of boos and hisses rises from the crowd* merit pay plans. Mathews and I agree that current hiring and compensation practices are a mess in DC and many other districts nationwide. It keeps talented people from sticking around or joining the teaching force in the first place. Merit pay discussions bring these issues into the light. Rhee’s solution, however, is vague, possibly intentionally so, and flawed.

from Washington Post:

Rhee has proposed paying teachers as much as $135,000 a year based on achievement gains, classroom practices, meeting school goals and choosing high-needs students, as long as they are willing to forgo tenure protection. The chancellor is part of a national movement, backed by some leading policy experts, to create for teachers the same kind of merit pay enjoyed by football players, stock analysts and shoe salesmen.

Now let’s pick this apart. Achievement gains means what? Could it be progress in test scores? High test scores? Graduation rates? Vague measurements such as these are pervasive in Rhee’s plan, as mentioned earlier. Really we need a mix of all things I mentioned, shifting focus where applicable. A high performing school would be expected to maintain that performance etc. Of course, as I mentioned in earlier posts, our methods of measuring student performance are severely flawed. Unless Rhee’s plan includes changes to the standardized testing system I expect a her policies to be a huge failure. More of a bad thing will not suddenly make it good.

Gaging pay on classroom practices and school goals are again far too vague for me. It sounds logical at first glance. We need to give teachers flexibility to teach however is best for them. Grading them on what classroom innovations they use, unless Rhee is more specific I’m guess she is going there, is completely off the rails. As long as students are succeeding, who cares how the teachers do it. This standard will be different for every teacher, so again as long as they are succeeding there is no reason to judge pay in that respect.

Briefly on school goals, there is a danger to set the bar low. We’ve seen this happen with NCLB. We’d need well trained principals to assess these goals and classroom practices. It seems like a lot of work to find out if a teacher’s students are learning.

Then there is the cost. The idea of a $100,000 plus a year teacher. As long as schools still run on tax dollars I don’t see that big a pay rate feasible. Something else would have to be cut. Sports, music, other teachers perhaps. I wouldn’t mind cutting the fat and more efficient spending in schools. In fact it should be a priority. None the less I don’t see many states being to afford such increases.

Mathews points to charter schools as an example of merit pay done right.

from Washington Post:

Charter schools — and some regular public schools with special arrangements — often do better by placing decisions on salary and other matters in the hands of carefully selected and trained principals who know what great teachers do because that was what they once were. They judge teacher talent on classroom technique as well as test scores. They help teachers who are struggling. They praise those who are improving. They reward staffers in ways that make sense for each individual. Paying big bonuses to stars based on a formula decided by a district committee means fewer thoughtful conversations about students and more bitter gossip about adults.

Of course, this approach requires great care in selecting and training the school leader, but what’s wrong with that? The superintendent also must be ready to relieve principals whose schools do not raise achievement. Results will be measured, of course, at least in part by test scores. There is no escape from that. But it will be an assessment of gains, or lack of them, by every child in the school, not just those taught by one teacher in one classroom.

How can anyone disagree with better trained principals? What team can succeed consistently with a poor coach, especially when facing tough challenges? Some principals are of course just too busy to really perform the tasks they should, leading their staff. Fielding calls from parents and discipline can take up a lot of time. Do government schools need a PR person? Probably. Many private schools have someone to fill that need, giving principals more time to observe and coach.

I would like to see this formula charters use for “big bonuses to stars.” Also remember, as Mathews does not, all charters are not created equal.

Julie at School of Blog comments of a merit pay system she thinks works.

from School of Blog:

we’ve found a way to do merit pay that sort of fits with our mission. Only 10% of the pay increase is tied to test scores, and that applies to all teachers, not to any teacher in particular – so it gives us an incentive to work together. The rest is tied to projects that teachers come up with at the beginning of the year.

For example, as a social studies teacher my project might be to design and run a class that utilizes oral history. I write up the proposal. If I’m successful in my stated goals, I get the extra pay bump. Q-Comp even provides some funds for materials for my project (such as tape recorders, etc.).

Teachers at our school who experienced Q-Comp in traditional districts and hated it are excited about doing it this way. It’s cooperative rather than competitive. I’ll keep you posted on whether we get the funding.

This Minnesota merit pay is a step in the right direction. I’d much rather see teachers cooperating toward bonuses rather than competing with each other. Still there is danger of a slacker ridding on the coattails of others. I’d like to know how they combat that. On the flip side of that, it does mitigate some of the disruption factor I mentioned in an earlier post. Now that disruption effect in one class will be spread around the school when combined with all classes.

I like that teachers get funding for classroom projects. Still, setting your own goals is troubling. How keeps an eye on how tough or easy the goals are to reach?

I still think it is not comprehensive enough. Maybe other measures are included, but not mentioned. Do colleagues evaluate each other? Students their teachers? Parents their teachers? Those methods are all valuable in improving schools and should be taken into account.

Keep that debate going people! Thoughts?

Team Duncan – Strategic Planning vs Strategic Thinking

Arne Duncan has been at his post as Education Secretary for several months now. I’ve been following his escapades closely at change.org and my own blog. High off Mr. Obama’s election as President, I was on board Team Duncan when I heard of his appointment. Since then, I’ve taken a different stance. Not quite a 180, but I’ve developed a healthy criticism for Duncan and Obama’s education policies.

Way back in 2007, Robert Evans wrote an article arguing against the strict application of strategic planning for schools. “The Case Against Strategic Planning” was given to me by my father in-law after he attended, of all things, a planning sessions at a local private school. The paper is a great read for anyone involved in education, parents and kids too. I suggest you take some time to read the whole piece.

As I read Evans’s article I began to realize much of what Duncan and Obama have detailed in their “race to the top”, “pillars of reform”, etc. are exactly what should not be happening.

Evans states people often confuse construction of plans with creating an actual strategy. Strategic plans focus on step-by-step problem solving, timetables, measurable results, and fixed outcomes. Plans focus on structure and are not open to flexibility, often avoiding addressing uncertainty and unpredictability.

Just look at Team Duncan’s support for merit pay, longer school days, standardized testing, and charters. Not that I disagree with those things, Duncan and Co. fail to realize all the nuances of each approach and think about how to utilize them best to reach their goals.

Duncan and Obama are ignoring all the flaws of strategic planning. They are basing their policy decisions on predictability, objectivity, and structure.

Predictability:

Every teacher knows that schools are fluid environments, as are the communities they operate in. Political, technological, and social landscapes have changed drastically in even five years. Sometimes in ways we could not have predicted(twitter who knew?). The world will not wait while you debate. A plan cannot become and end in itself. Saying we want to close the bottom 5,000 schools and reopen them in five years might seem like a blueprint to better education, but it cannot be a replacement for addressing the realities facing our schools.

Objectivity:

In crafting a beautiful plan it can be easy to overlook the soft data effecting schools. Hard data is so nice, cut and dry. I love it. Graduation rates, test scores, and the like line everything up so nicely. When we base a merit pay system or funding system like No Child Left Behind, which Duncan and Obama still support, on something like our current testing system important mitigating factors are ignored. Our current testing system does nothing to show a students understanding of the material. Current standardized tests prove nothing except how well a student can memorize and fill in bubbles. True understanding can only be shown from written exams asking for problem solving and analysis. This is something I have argued for time and time again.

I also spoke recently on how one disruptive, which doesn’t necessarily denote misbehaving, student can skew test scores for an entire classroom. Linking merit pay to the current testing system doesn’t take this into account. Nor does it factor in the many other tasks teachers perform such as implementing new technology, mentoring colleagues, or tutoring students for example. Without this soft data one cannot get the complete picture of what a teacher is doing.

Structure:

Schools do not often produce rational outcomes. Anyone with children knows kids are pretty damn irrational at times. I don’t care, toddlers to teenagers just do some stuff that make you slap your forehead. Human judgement can adapt to whatever kids can dish out better than a strict plan. Focusing on the plan as an end all be all puts all the weight on the means totally forgetting the end. Look at the 5,000 schools business again or the D.C. voucher debacle. Duncan is missing the most important questions he should be asking. “Why am I doing this? Is this the best way to pursue my objective?”

I’ve spent all this time criticizing Team Duncan on what they should not be doing, I’m going to switch gears and talk about what they should.

Duncan and Co should employ some strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is in many ways the antithesis of strategic planning. Strategic thinking is flexible, creative, considers hard and soft facts, and collects opinions from teachers and students. An outline, not a blueprint.

Innovations are not something to push out like merit pay, charter schools, or longer schools days. New reforms should be adaptable. We should expect to modify them during implementation, as education is fluid. Static reforms are bound to fail. Like so many things in life, reforms must evolve or be pushed aside.

Simplify plans. Having many standards forces us to spend less time on each one. Testing many standards will bring us down the same road. Leaner standards and adaptable skills allow us to prepare students for anything that is thrown at them.

Strategic thinking leaves room for schools to roll with the punches. Less targets over shorter periods of time keep a school flexible. A school can adapt to new situations, instead of being bound by a five year plan that was out of date in less than five months.

Lastly, strategic thinking takes information from many sources into account. Something as trivial as gossip or hearsay from teachers and students can provide valuable candid insight into what’s happening in the trenches. Students and parents should be surveyed on the status of their school and learning experience. Weak spots can be caught quickly and strengths bolstered. Hey, if parent involvement matters to Obama and Duncan, then it should be encouraged in all forms, especially one as helpful as this.

Flexibility has always been a key to education reform. It is a corner stone of strategic thinking. If we are talking in business terms, as some reformers including myself occasionally do, what business can expect to last long that is not adaptable to change? Remember the key to strategic thinking is in the name. Thinking! We should be thinking, considering, evaluating, reevaluating reforms. Always adapting to changes when applicable. Otherwise we will fall back to more of the same ol strategery.

Can They Think Outside the Box? – More thoughts on merit pay and policy wonks

I posted a few days ago about my evolving thoughts on merit pay. The catalyst for this was a study on class disruption and learning. The comments left pushed my thinking on the subject even further. I’d let to post the discussions here today and get some more thoughts on there on merit pay.

Just to recap, the article I read from Change.org pointed out that even one disruptive student in a classroom can taint the learning experience for the whole class. Commentator d.eris of Poli-Tea Party illustrates the principle with a little anecdote from the Simpsons.

from d.eris

I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer and Marge are hauled into the school and are shown a diagram of the grades of students who sit in Bart’s immediate vicinity. In a set of concentric circles, grades go up as distance from the trouble-maker increases.

If someone hasn’t written “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from The Simpsons” they someone damn well should!

It becomes easy to see how one tiny factor can skew assessment scores in any given classroom. Most teachers get their students by pure chance. One teacher could have a classroom full of students ready and willing to learn. Another may have a student with a learning disability or a constant rule breaker.

Chuck of Tongue-In-Cheek weighed in as well. Chuck and I have discussed merit pay before. Chuck applauds me for beginning to see the merit pay light, but also puts my solution for disruptive classrooms in perspective.

from chuckrates

Now you’re starting to see some of what I was trying to tell you about why merit pay is unrealistic. Executing proper discipline/behavior management against the “bad apple” is not always an effective solution. In my 5 years of teaching experience, the “bad apple” is not always breaking the rules. Often, he/she just has a poor attitude, or has special needs that must be accounted for to the detriment of my ability to attend to the other students.

Again, it’s all oversimplification. There might not be one “bad apple” in a certain classroom, but maybe there are three generally good kids who are shy or don’t work well with others. There goes my unit that centered around group projects. Maybe teacher A has a class in which five students miss a week of school because of a band trip, but teacher B has only one such student. Six people in Teacher A’s class (counting the teacher) now have to work significantly harder if they are to keep up with Teacher B’s class, which can pretty much continue as normal.

Just to be clear: I’m not opposed to merit pay. I just consider it unrealistic because there’s no way for it to be fair in the reality we live in. Sort of like Libertarianism — yeah, the world might be a better place in a lot of ways if it looked like Libertarians want it to look, but how in the hell do you get to that point without nuclear holocaust or something?

I’m starting to see the situation is far more complex than can really be solved by one measure. We can’t think that school is a factory line. Info in citizens out. There needs to be some outside the box thinking here.

I’m not convinced Obama, Duncan, etc have it in them to approach the situation in this way. I like you, think there are ways so improve learning, use merit pay, etc. The execution at this point is just all wrong.

It’s like Lee at Gettysburg. Everyone is telling him you know if we just packed up and flanked these guys they will leave their HIGHLY DEFENSIBLE POSITION. Lee just says, “naw let’s just cross miles of open ground and march straight up that darn hill. (I know this is a gross oversimplification of the battle and circumstances surrounding it. Just let it go this once.)

Also I’ve had the Libertarianism argument before. I’ll refer to His Little Majesty James Madison on this one. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Unfortunately a country needs a little more guidance than making sure its citizens don’t kill themselves and countries don’t invade. Libertarianism, and communism for that matter, take a utopian view of humanity I just don’t subscribe to.

There is a point to this. There is really no way to make the pay system for teachers 100% “fair”. There are inequalities inherent in the system that just can’t be avoided. There are circumstances outside of the educator’s hands. People do not carry an equal share of the work. Unless we genetically engineer the perfect teacher there wont be even teaching ability, then what would be the point of paying them anyway.

Can the pay system be made more efficient? Yes. Can the pay system reward teachers for exceptional work? Certainly. Are the current merit pay proposals we’ve seen the solution? No way. Will merit pay raise student achievement? Anyone who thinks any one reform on its own will solve out education woes needs their head checked.

The merit pay proposals we’ve seen attack the problem directly, like a factory. Merit pay crafters seems to have assembly line sickness. If we input this we will get this output. The solution is far from that cut and dry. What we need is outside the box thinking. I’m not convinced merit pay, or at least a better pay system, can’t be achieved. Antiquated linear thinking wont get us anywhere.

Are these policy crafters in need of some lessons in 21st century skills?

Maine Merit Pay – Augusta debates merit pay for teachers

I’ve had several posts about the merit pay issue here in Maine. I categorized Sen. Bolduc’s efforts to block any form of merit pay as lazy. Lazy because it is a refusal to seek a way to get merit pay to work. Chuck, writer of Tongue in Cheek, had a lengthy discussion on Sen. Bolduc’s bill and merit pay in general. Over there in Augusta the debates have begun.

from Kennebec Journal:

“We want to encourage strong, excellent teachers and we want to reward them when they show strong student achievement,” Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, the bill’s sponsor, told the Legislature’s Education Committee during a hearing.

The hearing took place as the U.S. Department of Education prepares to disburse $200 million in federal economic stimulus funds for states and school districts developing new pay models. Two weeks ago, committee members unanimously rejected a ban on merit pay for teachers.

Weston’s proposal doesn’t specifically define performance-based pay models for teachers, but Weston has previously said she opposes tying teacher pay exclusively to student test scores.

The legislation calls on the state Department of Education to review merit pay policies in place throughout the country and to form rules governing those systems.

But it’s too early to do that since so few districts nationally have merit pay systems, said Joseph Stupak, collective bargaining and research director at the Maine Education Association.

“We think it would be premature for the Legislature to adopt any public policy that encourages alternative pay systems,” he said.

Stupak urged legislators to further study merit pay before taking a position.

“There is substantial disagreement as to whether any alternative approach to teachers’ pay represents an improvement … over the traditional education- and experience-based salary system,” Stupak said in his prepared testimony.

The Maine Department of Education did not take a position on Weston’s legislation. The agency opposed the earlier effort to ban merit pay.

I don’t want Bolduc’s bill to pass. Merit pay should come to Maine in some form. I hope that these debates will prompt policy makers to do the legwork to get merit pay right. I fear that they will take the easy road, linking teacher pay directly to student assessments.

What is the solution?

We must change how we assess students. Bridging Differences writer Deborah Meier blogged about how our forms of standardized testing often aren’t measuring what we want them to or think they are. Of course we couldn’t link tests of that nature to teacher pay. We need to move away from this factory lever pulling multiple choice tests. The world does not function that way any longer, why should we continue testing and teaching that way? Problem solving and analytical based tests need to replace the antiquated testing systems.

Basing teacher pay on student performance alone negates the many other tasks teachers perform. What about the teacher who pioneers new technology or teaching methods? Or the teacher who mentors students and colleagues? These and other factors cannot be ignored.

These debates provide Maine with a huge educational opportunity. Anyone who follows education can see the massive restructuring that the educational system needs. One thing cannot solve everything. Merit pay wont either. This is a chance to begin meaningful reform in Maine. I am hopeful that we will continue to step forward rather than back.

What To Do With All Those Bad Employees – Firing teachers or shuffling them?

Alexander Russo wrote today concerning what to do with poor teachers

from This Week in Education

No one’s entirely comfortable with the people we’ve been using. They cost so much. Sometimes they’ve been arrogant and refused to change their ways. (They’ve even been accused of doing some really bad things.)

But you can’t just get rid of them all. There are too many to replace. Not to speak of the whole learning curve that would be involved with bringing in new people, no matter how well trained they were.

So what you’re probably going to do is to end up using the same people again, perhaps just under a new title.

This is just as true for classroom teachers as it is for Blackwater security personnel (NYT).

Full-scale replacement is out of the question. What can be done to make things better at scale?

Some brief thoughts about Alexander’s post on this rainy day:

Performance based pay is part of the answer. Money can be a great motivator for some malcontents. I know, we would all like to have this noble idea that everyone goes into teaching only because they love it. That may be true for most, but messing with someone’s income will move just about anyone.

Mandatory training for those who are in need. We give (or should give) struggling children extra help. Why not teachers?

High performing teachers should be assigned as mentors to low performing co-workers. Mentors could teach part of the day and mentor another part. Mentoring another teacher should also factor into pay assessments.

Of course all of those require reforms in how we assess students and teachers. More on that here (check the comments and Chuck’s blog)

Also, all statistics on assessments etc should be easily available to teachers, principals, and superintendents. It’s time we digitize. Think of the time and money that would save.

Last, we need to reconsider who we hire. A skimming down of certifications to require a candidate hold a college degree, meet essential skills and content knowledge depending on subject and grade level, and of course passing a background check will open up the teaching field to those frustrated with the current process.

More Merit Pay Madness- Sunday Editorial on Editorials

This Sunday Chuck McKay, a Newport, Maine high school teacher launched a brutal attack on merit pay for teachers and teacher accountability. Boy, there is so much to cover. Chuck really missed just about every mark in his assault. Let’s begin at the end. McKay warns us that, “when President Obama announces his support for “merit pay” for teachers, before you stand up and cheer, make sure you know exactly what “merit” really is.” Chuck, before you stand up and jeer merit pay take your own advice. Let me give you a little helping hand.

Later in his article Chuck admonishes those who believe teacher accountability an integral pillar of education reform. He then goes on to preach class size as a magic bean that will solve all our problems

from Bangor Daily News

You could fill an Olympic swimming pool with all the studies that prove lower class sizes result in higher student achievement. You would think that would translate to lots of new job openings for teachers.

Taxpayers seem more concerned about getting more for less, research be damned. So, school boards won’t cough up the coin to hire more personnel; communities would rather maintain status quo and keep taxpayers docile.

Ok, there are studies that suggest class sizes under 20 in the early grades help set a good foundation. A small class does not a good teacher make. A poor teacher is a poor teacher for 1 child to 100. Same goes for a quality teacher. You can’t deny that Chuck.

Chuck claims it is impossible to measure the quality of a teacher. He dismisses merit pay as “goofy” because the lack of a ruler for teacher quality. Or perhaps because he cannot see past what he has been ingrained to believe about merit pay.

Some reformers recognized that student assessments must be part, but not the only piece, to teacher accountability. Chuck assumes that we would only base teacher accountability on student scores, which must be inherently evil.

from Bangor Daily News

How do you quantify the value of a teacher? Test scores? Please. For starters, it is unfair to students to assault them with another battery of tests, this time directly affecting the livelihood of their teacher.

Yes Chuck, part of the value of a teacher is what a child has learned in their class. That is never detached from the profession. That is the main reason for teachers, to teach. One of the ways to measure that is by test scores. Chuck falsely assumes that this will require more exams. That is an unfair scare tactic. Why must we have more tests? Why can’t we use the ones we have. The MEA testing system has been in place here in Maine for some time. I will it say again, as I’ve said before, standardized tests aren’t perfect. We need to reform them away from a multiple-choice format. Tests should be problem solving and analysis based, considering grade level of course. Why Chuck doesn’t consider that possibility I can’t say.

Chuck’s next argument against merit pay based on student assessments? His students are out to get him!

from Bangor Daily News

As a student, I wouldn’t want the pressure of knowing my performance has a direct impact on my teacher’s ability to support a family. As a teacher, I wouldn’t want students who didn’t like me deliberately tanking the test.

As a teacher, or a person in general, you know some people like you and some don’t. Some people are malicious enough to manifest their dislike in unsavory ways. Yes some students may deliberately do poorly on the test, but I find it hard to believe that would be an issue. Students should have a stake in doing well just as much as teachers should. How we could set that I’m not sure of at this time, but their test scores would most likely follow them through school and beyond. Also, what about a teacher who grades a student more harshly just because they don’t like them? That happens too. Not often, but it does. That doesn’t mean we close down the school does it? If you follow Chuck’s logic it does.

In one last jab against testing, Chuck tries this salvo.

from Bangor Daily News

Most importantly, testing as the penultimate measure of an educator’s worth ignores an obvious but overlooked truth: The most important thing you learn in school is not the content of any particular discipline. The most important thing you learn is how to learn. Try measuring that on a test.

Instilling a life-long love of learning in a child is an important endeavor. So is teaching children how to find the answers on their own. If a teacher is consistently failing to impart the basics on their students so that they can continue on their own how can that be called a success in any stretch of the word?

Chuck continues by suggesting that principal evaluations of teachers wont accurately measure quality.

from Bangor Daily News

Most teachers I know in various school districts are observed in class once or twice a year, at most, by their administration. On those occasions, a teacher can usually prepare his or her best lesson, not necessarily the one that best represents his or her typical job performance.

Principals probably have other methods of knowing which teachers are good and which are bad. But then, your next principal won’t necessarily agree with the current one.

You would need to come up with some legendary, magical teacher evaluation system in order to transcend good-ole-boy politics and inconsistent pedagogical philosophies in schools where the principal’s office has a revolving door.

Again Chuck believes that we can only use one form of measurement at a time. Combining many forms of accountability provides checks and balances, negating some of the flaws of each alone. Chuck is right on one thing. We need more principal and administrative visits. Make them surprise visits as well.

As teachers are accountable (partly) for student performance, a principal should be accountable for their staff. Principals should be subject to merit pay as well. This would provide principals with greater incentives to find teachers in need of assistance and reward those with better performance.

Last Chuck says that we are not able to factor in many intangibles when figuring merit pay.

from Bangor Daily News

What is the price of finding the book that turns a kid on to reading? What does it cost to prevent or break up a fight at school? What would you pay to have a teacher discipline a bully instead of looking the other way? How much is it worth to have someone notice changes in a child’s behavior and intervene, thus preventing a suicide or a drug addiction? Or implement a new teaching technology, even if it means more headaches, because it might empower kids? What tax increase would you tolerate to have a gifted child find her passion?

Ah but we can factor in those things. With the combination of peer review, student review, and principal review all of these things will factor into pay. It may seem callous to attach a monetary value to things like providing extra help to a student or taking initiative to introduce new methods, but we should. To pay someone who puts in the hard work the same as a teacher who just floats by is completely unfair. Those who go the extra mile should be rewarded. When we ignore those factors we are effectively saying, “Thanks for the extra work, but we aren’t going out of our way to recognize your excellence.” How much of that can one person take before they stop trying? We have got to break this culture that ignores achievement and rewards complacency.

Chuck assumes, like so many, if we can’t have a perfect assessment system we should have none at all. It’s just not fair! Well Chuck, it’s not fair to let things continue the way they are. I would much rather we get things in place to start progressing toward a better system then continue on the same path. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but Chuck seems to provide none. If you read this Chuck, I was a little harsh, but you got me fired up. Also, I’d like to see your solutions Chuck. Readers, yours too.