Merit pay is ‘blocked, diluted, co-opted’

Merit pay plans are blocked, diluated and co-opted, according to an Education Next study by Jay Greene and Stuart Buck of the University of Arkansas.  Even “symbolic” plans are rare. Only 3.5 percent of districts have some form of merit pay, including token plans.

To be truly effective, pay for performance must mean in education what it does in other industries—salary increases for the successful, and salary reductions, even dismissals, for poor performers. State laws governing teacher tenure in most states make implementation of such plans unlikely.

Many plans reward teachers “mostly or entirely for inputs (e.g., professional development, graduate degrees, national certification) rather than for outputs (test scores, graduation rates, or even supervisor assessments).”

Arizona’s Classroom Site Fund (CSF) required districts to allocate 40 percent of the money to “teacher compensation increases based on performance and employment related expenses.” Only 29 of 222 districts created “strong performance pay plans” that linked teacher pay to student achievement, according to a 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General.  One example:

One district awarded performance pay to eligible employees if freshman students’ algebra test scores increased by at least 10 percent between a pre- and post-test. The actual increase in test scores was almost 90 percent. Since the pre-test is given to freshman students who have never been exposed to algebra and the post-test is given to them after receiving a full year of algebra instruction, it should be expected that scores would increase significantly more than 10 percent.

Denver’s much-hyped ProComp program rewards earning a degree more generously than improving student learning.

The largest monetary award is for earning a graduate degree: a $3,300 permanent salary increase plus a tuition or student loan subsidy of $1,000 per year for up to four years. By comparison, teachers receive a one-time award, not a bump up in base salary, of up to $2,403.26 if their students exceed “district expectations” for student growth.

Moreover, as Paul Teske, a principal evaluator of the ProComp program, noted in the Christian Science Monitor, bad teachers face no penalty under the ProComp or similar merit-pay programs: “I guess your salary stays low, and maybe that sends the message that you should look at another career. But ProComp doesn’t directly address that.”

Many districts turn merit pay into a small across-the-board pay boost, write Green and Buck. In Houston, 88 percent of teachers qualified for a small “merit” bonus. That’s nothing compared to Minnesota, where 22 school districts gave Q Comp bonuses to more than 99 percent of teachers.

Schools that don’t need to compete for students have no incentive to design pay schemes that attract the best teachers, Greene and Buck write.  In the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, only 6 percent of traditional public school administrators said they used salaries to reward “excellence.” By contrast, 36 percent of charter administrators and 22 percent of private school heads offer performance pay.

Could Pima College have done more?

Everyone who encountered Jared Loughner at Pima Community College knew he was crazy and many feared he was dangerous.  He was suspended, but college officials didn’t file for a court-ordered mental-health evaluation, which Arizona law allows.  Could the college have done more to force Loughner into treatment and protect the Tucson community?

Tucson risks funding over ethnic studies

Ethnic studies classes could cost Tucson schools 10 percent of state funding, reports Learning the Language. Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne says he’ll withhold district funding to comply with a law that bans classes designed for a particular ethnic group. Horne, who’s running for attorney general, also asked Tucson to videotape all ethnic studies classes, though he’s especially concerned with La Raza Studies.

The district can appeal to an administrative law judge.

In a letter to Tucson’s acting superintendent, Horne says he cited statements from teachers showing the curriculum encourages resentment towards certain races. “They are telling students they are victims and they should be angry and rise up.”

Guestblogger Michael Lopez, who has a law degree, analyzed Arizona’s law.

Hat is 'hat'

From The Onion: Arizona High Schools To Now Teach Spanish Entirely In English

In other Onion news: Struggling High School Cuts Football — Nah, Just Kidding, Art It Is

Undermining ethnic studies

Most readers of this blog have probably heard about the new Arizona law that, depending on whom you ask, “bans ethnic studies“,  “rein(s) in ethnic studies“, or “curbs chauvanism (sic) in ethnic studies“.

I thought it might be a useful exercise, though, to tamp down the rhetoric and just look at the actual text of the provisions.  So here we go:

The legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.

This isn’t an active part of the law — it’s just the declaration of policy.  Courts might take a look at this as part of their determination of whether there’s some sort of nefarious, impermissible legislative intent at work, but it’s mostly just for show.  Still, nothing objectionable here.  I think pretty much everyone agrees that hating races or classes of people is bad, unless you’re talking about child molesters, businessmen, Nazis, clowns, communists, Republicans, terrorists, or the Jews.  (People seem to disagree about hating those classes of people.)  Moving on.

A.  A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1.  Promote the overthrow of the United States government.

While it’s certainly politically protected speech to advocate the future (though perhaps, depending on context, only nonviolent) overthrow of the United States government, there’s a very big difference between the government’s prohibiting speech on the one hand, and the government’s producing its own speech on the other.  I can’t see that this provision is really problematic.

2.  Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

This seems horrifically vague to me.  What is a “class” of people?  I don’t see it in the definitions for Title 15 of the Arizona Revised Statutes… though perhaps it’s defined elsewhere.

Now, we might think that promoting resentment is never a good idea, towards any group of people whatsoever.  But that just puts us in a further bind: what’s “resentment”?  One would hope that the law would be interpreted by courts not to require the actual word “resentment” to show up in a lecture or textbook in order for the offending course to qualify.  But beyond that, I have a hard time imagining how a jurist could make a determination that a course was promoting resentment.

3.  Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

This seems problematic, also.  Good pedagogy might demand that certain courses be designed for certain ethnic groups.   Now, later on we are assured by section (E)(2) that the law does not prohibit:

The grouping of pupils according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.

But there’s more to a course designed for a particular ethnic group than language issues.  I’m imagining something like a group of immigrants moves to Arizona and their kids start attending school and it turns out that what they really need is a primer on existing in a society with television and electronic media.  So the principal designs a quick and dirty course for these immigrants to help them through the culture shock they are experiencing.

Sorry.  Can’t do that!

Moving on.

4.  Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

I can only assume that the person who wrote this provision was either a moron or was just being careless.  Imagine that I made the following illegal: “Persons shall not smell flowers instead of baking pies.”  Anyone arrested for smelling flowers would, rightly, complain that they weren’t not baking pies by virtue of the fact that they were smelling flowers, so they can’t be said to be doing one instead of the other.   Likewise, one can easily imagine that it is possible to advocate ethnic solidarity while at the same time advocating the treatment of pupils as individuals (whatever that means).

After a few passages relating to procedural issues, we come to the other substantive part of the provision: things that aren’t prohibited.

E.  This section shall not be construed to restrict or prohibit:

1.  Courses or classes for native American pupils that are required to comply with federal law.

Necessary to avoid federal preemption, I think.

2.  The grouping of pupils according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.

Sensible.

3.  Courses or classes that include the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students, unless the course or class violates subsection A.

WHAT THE BLOODY BLUE BLAZES? If I am reading this statute correctly, the ONLY place a course can be prohibited is in subsection A.  So… a course is not prohibited under this section, unless it’s…. prohibited under this section.  Is that it?

I’m going to pray that the actual law that was signed by the governor had this problem fixed.

4.  Courses or classes that include the discussion of controversial aspects of history.

Ah… finally.  The release valve from all of our problems.  Classes might be prohibited.  But not if they include a discussion of the controversial aspects of history!  Let’s count the number of things wrong with this provision.

First, there’s no requirement that the discussion of controversial history have anything to do with the material that led to the course’s being prohibited under Subsection A in the first place.  In other words, I can have a course entitled “Why Mexicans should slaughter all those oppressive white people” and as long as I include a discussion of a controversial aspect of history, I’m in the clear.  Now, I’m being somewhat facetious.  Presumably a court is going to read some sort of requirement into this provision that the controversial aspect be what brought it under scrutiny in the first place.  Let’s hope so.

Second, though, one might think that because the sorts of things that are being banned here are inter-racial grievances, and because most grievances happened, you know… in history, and because most grievances require, you know… disagreement about the characterization of such past acts, that every course that qualifies for prohibition under this section is going to do so in great part because of its discussion of “controversial” aspects of “history.”

I’m just sayin’.

So there we are.  That’s the text of the law.  And as much as I might sympathize with the sentiment behind it….. my verdict is this: sloppy, sophomoric, and not long for this world.

Cambodian teacher wins ruling

Arizona isn’t the only state trying to get teachers with heavy accents and poor English fluency out of the classroom.

A Cambodian-born teacher in Lowell, Massachusetts who failed state-mandated English fluency tests may get her job back because she was on a medical leave for post-traumatic stress when she took the tests.

A survivor of the Khmer Rouge camps, Phanna Kem Robishaw, a first-grade teacher, was hired in 20002 to help Cambodian immigrant students. In 2002, Massachusetts voters passed a law requiring students to be taught in English by teachers fluent in English.  The court did not rule on the English-fluency requirement.

Via Education Week.

Arizona vs. accents, ethnic studies

Arizona teachers who speak English with a strong accent or poor grammar won’t be allowed to teach classes for English Language Learners, the state education department has ruled. The decision primarily will affect elementary teachers recruited from Latin America to staff bilingual classes. When Arizona voters ended bilingual education in 2000, teachers were told to use English only. But some aren’t able to speak fluently or model good English, state officials complain. From the Wall Street Journal:

The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

Teachers will be given time to improve their English, but those who can’t meet the state auditors’ standard must be reassigned to mainstream classes or fired, says a state education official.

. . . Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as “biolet,” think as “tink” and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.

Creighton’s principal says her foreign-born teachers are dedicated, experienced and understand the students’ culture. There aren’t enough mainstream early elementary classes for teachers with accents, unless they can teach higher grades. The school — nearly all Hispanic and all poor — is rated “performing plus” by the state. By middle school, students are catching up to state averages, especially in math.

In other Arizona news, a bill designed to ban ethnic studies classes has reached the governor’s desk, reports the Arizona Republic. State Superintendent Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, wrote the bill to abolish classes that:

• Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

• Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

• Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

• Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza studies class, saying it’s “aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment.” He said students could be exposed to various cultures and traditions in social studies classes.

Tucson school officials say there’s nothing in their curriculum that would run afoul of the bill’s provisions. “In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people,” said Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson district.

The district integrates Mexican-American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school.  

Oh, and there’s that law about illegal aliens. Arizona’s new moniker: The Grand Ban ‘Em State.

Dreaming of U.S. citizenship

Principled Chat blogger Yvonne Watterson’s former students have graduated from high school in Arizona but can’t afford college because they’re undocumented. They work “Mexican jobs” for low pay and dream of achieving legal status so they can pursue careers in nursing or pediatrics. A legal immigrant from Ireland, Watterson is a strong supporter of the DREAM Act which would offer a path to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who qualify for college or military service.

She’s starting a charter school, Alhambra College Prep, that will aim to give students a chance to earn college credits while in high school.

The know-nothing party

To become a citizen, immigrants must answer six of 10 basic civics questions, such as: Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution? Who was the first president of the United States?  When the Goldwater Institute asked Arizona public high school students 10 random questions from the citizenship list, only 3.5 percent got six or more questions right, writes Matthew Ladner in a preview on Jay Greene’s blog. Half the students got only one question right.

Fifty-eight percent knew the Atlantic Ocean is off the east coast and half identified the two major political parties. However, only 29.5 percent identified the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, 25 percent identified the Bill of Rights as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and 23 percent knew Congress was made up of the House and Senate. Only 9.4 percent said the Supreme Court has nine justices.  Thomas Jefferson was named as the writer of the Declaration of Independence by a quarter of students; 14.5 percent answered that Senators are elected for six-year terms and 26 percent knew the president runs the executive branch.
Finally, only 26.5% of students correctly identified George Washington was the first President. Other guesses included John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama.

Seniors did no better than freshmen. Ethnicity made little difference.

Profound ignorance is quite equally distributed in large measure across students in the public school system.

Arizona eighth graders are supposed to be taught everything needed to ace the civics test, Ladner writes. Charter students passed at twice the rate of students in district schools; private school students were four times more likely to pass. “Still pathetic,” he writes.

Here’s part one of Freedom From Responsibility.

Arizona’s best charters go after the flops

Arizona is known as “the wild west” of charter schooling:  Anything goes.  So who’s leading the move to evaluate charter schools and close low performers? The high-scoring charter operators in the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

Parents don’t have enough information to pull their kids out of ineffective schools, says Rebecca Gau, a researcher for the association who helped develop a data system to analyze student learning.

The state ranks schools based on the percentage of students passing the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test. But many experts think it fails to recognize the good work of some schools with a high share of low-income students. Many children come to those schools working below grade level and may make progress, but not enough to pass the AIMS test.

. . . The association turned to a growing state database that tracks AIMS scores for individual students every year. Researchers can use the data to determine how well groups of students performing at similar levels change over time, then compare schools on progress rates for each group.

The data is expected to be used by the state in reviews and charter renewal decisions. Schools that can’t meet short-term improvement goals will lose their charters.

Via Education Gadfly.