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.

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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.

Are You Listening? – Does the Government Listen to Pundits

Eliot Cohen brought something troubling to my attention in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Our government functions in a vacuum. The government doesn’t really listen to pundits and outside advisors say. If they rarely pay attention to people who study policy for a living, maybe even for fun, could we even hope that they listen to us?

Cohen said that in his time working for Condoleezza Rice in the State Department he read outside works with passing interest. He called outside sources, “a background noise of which I was dimly aware, unless it was either unusually nasty, or unusually perceptive, which often merely meant that it fit my own views.” So if you are only following that which supports what you think already, how can you be getting the full picture? You can’t, but most of us are guilty of that behavior. It’s a hardy soul that can read Ann Coulter and Michael Moore without becoming steaming mad at one of the two.

Cohen goes on saying that outside information is seldom listened to because it is just that, outside the circle. Those of us not right in the mix cannot have all the knowledge of what is going on. He compares it to the telephone game. “Government resembles nothing so much as the party game of telephone, in which stories relayed at second, third or fourth hand become increasingly garbled as they crisscross other stories of a similar kind”

I get a great deal of comfort from what commentary officials do listen to.

“What, then, is a pundit to do? The best commentary has an impact, less because it offers new ideas (most ideas have been considered, however incompletely, on the inside) than because it clarifies problems or solutions that the insiders have only vaguely or incompletely considered.”

Blabbermouths like Limbaugh, Ingraham, Olberman, and Matthews are seen for what they are; people with huge egos trying to see who can shout the loudest. “WATCH ME!” “NO ME!” I’LL SAY SOMETHING SHOCKING SO YOU LISTEN TO ME!” Bla, bla, bla. Only serious work gets the attention it deserves. Those talking heads have much less of an impact then they would like to think.

I have hope for the voice of the common people though. We are in the trenches. Policy choices have a direct impact on our lives. If you want to know if a policy is successful just look out in the streets. President Obama’s pledge for transparency and an almost wiki style government, coupled with the ease in contacting our reps through email and online petition sites like Change.org will give us unprecedented access to the halls of power. Will we make use of these tools or just get on TV and yell? It’s clear what gets better results.

The Plumber Has Landed

Important update!

Joe the Plumber has touched down in Israel. Joe immediately went to work telling the Israeli news networks how they should be reporting.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” he told foreign reporters, “You should be patriotic, protect your family and children, not report like you have been doing for the past two weeks since this war has started,” he said. (Jerusalem Post)

Come on Israel! Our morbid fascination can report on your news in a patriotic way, which you haven’t been able do to since 1948. Geesh.

Joe then hit Israeli reporters with this gem of foreign policy: “I know if I were a citizen here, I’d be damned upset.” He described himself as a “peaceloving man,” but added, “when someone hits me, I’m going to unload on the boy. And if the rest of the world doesn’t understand that, then I’m sorry.” (Jerusalem Post) Well, I’ve heard even Kissinger was floored by Joe’s keen strategic genius.

Just when I thought we were going to get a little respect from the world community again. I would laugh if it weren’t so tragic.

The Plumber Has Landed

Important update!

Joe the Plumber has touched down in Israel. Joe immediately went to work telling the Israeli news networks how they should be reporting.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” he told foreign reporters, “You should be patriotic, protect your family and children, not report like you have been doing for the past two weeks since this war has started,” he said. (Jerusalem Post)

Come on Israel! Our morbid fascination can report on your news in a patriotic way, which you haven’t been able do to since 1948. Geesh.

Joe then hit Israeli reporters with this gem of foreign policy: “I know if I were a citizen here, I’d be damned upset.” He described himself as a “peaceloving man,” but added, “when someone hits me, I’m going to unload on the boy. And if the rest of the world doesn’t understand that, then I’m sorry.” (Jerusalem Post) Well, I’ve heard even Kissinger was floored by Joe’s keen strategic genius.

Just when I thought we were going to get a little respect from the world community again. I would laugh if it weren’t so tragic.